10|January 17, 2005|UP F R O N T|The ScientistPublic research universities face enormous challenges in the21st century, perhaps none more compelling than the obliga-tion to serve society. A 2004 National Academy of Sciencesreport, for example, represents the latest in a series of calls forincreased commitment to interdisciplinary, socially relevant research.1And yet service is often portrayed as a university’s third function—taking a back seat to and competing with research and teaching—instead of as academic engagement, in which collaboration andpartnership with the community produce solutions to society’s mostvexing problems. Service is, after all, the ethical imperative drivingresearch and teaching as well as a principal product of these enterpris-es. Discharging this duty in an ever-changing world requires radicallyrethinking “service,” finding innovative ways to leverage academe’sintellectual capital to transform lives for the benefit of society.While accomplishing this will be arduous, the payoff could beenormous. Fortunately, at my own institution there is a critical massof faculty poised to meet this challenge, viewing themselves as citi-zen-scholars—researchers supplying more than narrow, theoreticaldisciplinary knowledge. Several of these faculty—a poet, an econo-mist, and a neurobiologist, to name but a few—along with distin-guished members of the community, including a US cabinetmember, a corporate executive, and two educational leaders, arecontributing to a newspaper series exploring how to engendergreater connections between the university and community.
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Academia, academic engagement, Richard A. Cherwitz