Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Center for Civic Engagement Plan Under Review

By Emily GlazerThe Daily Northwestern

University President Henry Bienen said an informal proposal to open a Center for Civic Engagement that would promote volunteer service and community partnerships would need to be reexamined in order to have a possibility of working.

Such centers located at other universities are gathering places where students, faculty and staff collaborate on community projects. Discussions, volunteer efforts and lectures comprise the majority of their events.

The proposal submitted to Bienen was based heavily on the idea behind the center, which would involve a combination of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The proposal did not include specifics regarding the center’s location or the specific activities that would take place there. It set a target date to begin work on the center sometime during fall 2007 or winter 2008.

Though Bienen told The Daily two weeks ago that there is a possibility the center could open, he said he is uncertain about the financial details.

“I’m not interested in setting up a center that’s not sustainable, and that means it has to be done on an endowment base,” he said.

Bienen said the proposal calls for a “big budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” and that it would require “millions and billions” to sustain.

“I didn’t see (at) first blush that this was something we could do in the present form,” Bienen said. “That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have a different form.”

Prof. Paul Arntson, one of the proposal’s writers, cited a number of NU’s existing civic engagement initiatives, including the Undergraduate Leadership Program, the Freshman Urban Program and the Civic Education Project, as proof of the need for the center.

He said the proposed center would build on these initiatives and create new opportunities for civic education involving all six of NU’s undergraduate schools.

Though the proposal’s core enthusiasts are SESP, Weinberg and Communication faculty, Arntson said faculty from each school has been involved in discussions and students have asked for such a center for the past six years.

A key aspect of the proposal was research opportunities from which all schools could benefit.

Other schools that feature such centers include Duke, Stanford and Pennsylvania State universities and the University of Richmond.

The Center for Civic Engagement at Richmond brings students, faculty and staff together with the metropolitan community to solve social problems though action, research and reflection, said Amy Howard, the center’s acting director.

Howard said activities at the center include weekly lunch sessions, visiting nonprofit organizations and focusing on specific neighborhoods.

“It’s a great way for (students) to see the city and think about how the city of Richmond is their classroom, not just the University of Richmond,” Howard said.

Howard said while about 300 students have sustained commitment to a neighborhood in North Richmond, more than 1,000 people attend weekly lectures.

These lectures usually are given by presenters who discuss “anything from immigration to the death penalty to the war in Iraq,” Howard said.

People involved in the center volunteer at more than 50 sites throughout Richmond, including the James River Association, an environmental protection organization for the James River in Virginia.

Thomas Millisor, director of development of the association, said he was pleased with the center because it makes his job easier.

“When we call the University of Richmond, (we know) it has worked well because I only have to make one phone call (to get volunteers),” Millisor said.

The Center for Civic and Community Engagement at Pennsylvania State Delaware County was established as a way to centralize the civic engagement activities that were already taking place, said Laura Guertin, the center’s coordinator.

Similarly, one of focuses for NU’s proposed center is to “combine the community service student activity with academic reflection, learning and research,” Arntson said.

Howard said it is important for any university to try to coordinate efforts to work with its surrounding community.

“I’m sure there’s work with the community that’s happening at Northwestern,” Howard said. “But if there’s work to bring all these efforts together under a collaborative engagement, it will bring a deep and lasting impact.”

Bienen said he received the informal proposal from NU’s development office, which is unusual for proposals that seek money.

“It came very late – long after the budget windows were closed,” he said.

Bienen said he never saw an earlier version of the proposal but had heard the “original intent was something on a much smaller scale financially that might have been doable.”

Cortney DeArmond, manager of special events and volunteers at the Christopher House, a family resource center in Chicago where students volunteer through Northwestern Community Development Corps, said she would “absolutely” applaud the idea of a Center for Civic Engagement at NU.

DeArmond, the former outreach coordinator at NU’s Civic Education Project, said she knew “quite a lot” about the effort for the center.

“I think anything you can do to sort of unify the efforts of volunteers in the mind of nonprofits is a good thing,” she said. “It’d be great to make it a one-stop shop for people.”

Reach Emily Glazer at [email protected].

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Center for Civic Engagement Plan Under Review