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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Urban Mission Not Impossible

It seems next to impossible to speak at length with any university administrator or faculty member on campus without them dropping a sentence or two about the university’s urban mission.

Last Friday, the campus community appeared to hear a definitive answer to the question of what is the urban mission with the Urban Connections Forum. The four-hour forum was designed not only to reinforce the urban mission, but also to show the avenues in which it has and continues to be a force on campus.

“The urban mission was the intent of our founders…it is our identity as a campus,” said Motley, adding that the urban mission is what distinguishes UMass Boston from the other colleges in the UMass system and determines the university’s place in the city and in the commonwealth. “There’s no one area here that owns this urban mission. We own it together,” he said.

In the Campus Center Ballroom, lined with posters boasting the urban connectedness of departments, organizations, and institutes at UMB, Motley outlined the “Key Working Principles” of the university’s urban mission as determined by the Coordinating Committee.

Along with an educational obligation “to the underrepresented and underserved,” these principles include “an institutional obligation and responsibility to employ resources in partnership with urban institutions and residents to help create viable social fabrics, economies, civic and cultural institutions, and service organizations.” The Urban Mission Coordinating Committee (UMCC), which worked on the urban mission’s definition since April and pulled in faculty, staff, and administrators alike, continues, “all the traditional functions of the university – teaching, research, and service -can and do contribute to furthering the urban mission.”

The urban mission’s definition and its centrality on campus had been the source of some contention between some faculty, staff, and administrators, especially those who made up the UMCC.

“When the university was created, it was understood that in addition to whatever else it does as a university…that one of its specific functions would be to focus on what is called an urban mission, meaning that it would provide access to people who would normally not have access to higher education at four year colleges, and at the same time ensure that that education would be at least equal to what students at the best private universities have,” said Associate Provost Winston Langley after the forum.

“I think it’s a very good statement of principles,” said Paul Watanabe, political science professor and co-director of the Institute for Asian American Studies. It encompasses the broad range of what the university does in research, service, and teaching, but also suggesting a commitment to inventory the things it does, and invoking advocacy inside and outside the university for the principles.

“I wouldn’t want, and I don’t think anybody wants the university to all be focused on exactly the same problems or limit ourselves to only the concerns that are relevant to the immediate environment,” says Russell Schutt, a sociology professor, a week before the event. “I don’t see a division between speaking to and being engaged with the urban mission and the orientation to good scholarship and to the body of work that academics pursue wherever they are. And, I think it’s very important not to construe the urban mission in a narrow way that somehow defines us as involved in a different enterprise than other universities are.”At the forum, keynote speaker Paul S. Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation, a community-oriented charity and major grant-maker, pointed to the impact of university-community partnerships. “There is no more important issue really for cities today than for them to figure out the role and impact of their colleges and universities,” said Grogan.Stressing the importance of breaking away from the traditional “fortress and mote strategy” of isolation from the community and envisioning universities as a predecessor to hometown companies of past years, Grogan cited colleges like UMass Boston as “truly permanent institutions” and a business-like “force for reviving communities.”

Grogan outlined the university’s role as purchaser, employer, real estate developer, advisor, network-builder, and incubator of scientific technology as examples of its consequence in the city. He added that as a public institution, where nearly 70 percent of graduates remain in Massachusetts, UMass Boston is “the number one talent generator in the state.”As a result of the university’s significance, Grogan said, “Everyone should be beating down the door of UMass Boston and asking, ‘what can we do for you?'”

At the forum, the beginnings of the Urban Mission Coordinating Committee’s latest venture, the Community Research Center, were revealed, mapping out the geographical areas in which UMB faculty and staff are active in the urban mission.

According to co-principle investigator of the $150,000 Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) grant for the center and director of the Environmental Studies Program, Dr. Rob Beattie, the “fuzzy math” of the project’s early stages has yielded that members of UMB faculty and staff are furthering the urban mission in “112 different communities across the commonwealth,” including 174 projects within the greater Boston area, 74 in Dorchester, 48 in Roxbury, 38 in Jamaica Plain, and 39 in Boston proper.

Joan Arches, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) professor and co-principle investigator of the project, closed the forum by urging attendees to sign on as committee members for the next stages of finalizing the data collected and getting the community involved.Faculty and staff were urged to browse the posters, from Arts on the Point to the Graduate Program in Dispute Resolution, many had constructed to display their contribution to the urban mission.

“I loved the remarks of the keynote speaker and looking at the map,” said Peter Langer, as he walked around looking at the posters.Rajini Srikanth, director of the Honors Program, agreed, saying that it was nice to have the opportunity to be reminded of the array of things going on at UMB. “It was the first time I felt immersed in the connections,” she said.

“The turn out was terrific,” said Gregorio Carrajal, a CPCS student intern for the Community Research Center. “People are lingering around making connections. This is what we wanted to see.”