UEP Colloquium: Reflections on Engaged Universities

By Joseph Sacchi

In the final installment of UEP’s Spring Colloquium Series on April 1, Lorlene Hoyt, Amy Newcomb Rowe, and Brianda Hernandez – Director of Programs and Research, Program Manager, and Graduate Assistant at the Tailloires Network, respectively – presented “Stories of Leadership from Engaged Universities Around the World.”  Hoyt opened the presentation by encouraging the audience to conceive of education as a political act, which can either propagate conformity or prepare students  to “participate in the transformation of their world.”

In supporting the latter ideal, the idea of an “Engaged University” stands in stark contrast to the popularized depiction of Academia as a remote and aloof province. Engaged Universities breach the walls of the insular Ivory Tower, instead focusing resources to address challenges of life, such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, and natural disaster. Globally, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are barred access to higher education by financial, social, and political barriers. In order to counter the inegalitarian trend, in 2005 Tufts University sponsored the formation of the Tailloires Network, a network of university representatives, community partners, and funders who believe in, and actively tether, the idea of the engaged university to the ground in different countries around the world. At its inception, the Tailloires Network’s members included 29 university heads from 23 countries; today, the network extends across 75 countries, with more than 340 university heads counted as members.

In order to allow audience members to more closely examine individual instances of Engaged Universities in practice, they split into three groups, each focusing on a story emerging from a TN partner institution located in the Global South: American University of Cairo (Egypt), Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), and International Medical University (Malaysia). Despite the divergent social, cultural, and political contexts, each of the three stories presented described the risk and unpredictability inherent in working to break down entrenched inequalities; however, the stories also  demonstrated the rewards of these labors, such as self awareness, courage, and resilience. As stages of struggle for the advancement of public life, coupled with the vital resources which they contain, Universities have a unique and essential role to play in moving the larger society towards alignment with the values of justice and inequality. However, as the colloquium session demonstrated, such movement depends upon purposeful leadership and concerted collective action. The Talloires Network and its dedicated staff continue to build the capacity necessary to achieve the vision enshrined in the idea of the Engaged University.