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President's Q&A, September 2014
September 22, 2014
Dr. Perman held a group Q&A on Sept. 22 at the School of Social Work auditorium. The session included a community engagement progress report from Ashley Valis, MSW, who is UMB’s first executive director of community initiatives and engagement. Excerpts of that and questions and answers that followed appear below.
Dr. Perman: When I came back to UMB in 2010, I found the people here had an amazing grasp of the responsibility we hold as an institution. UMB is literally a public good. And as a public good, in addition to educating future professionals, and doing science and public policy scholarship, and taking care of people, we have to use our resources to make our surrounding communities better.
Those are our communities and we have a responsibility, given the fact that we are supported by the public dollar, to share what we know and what we can do. Sometimes I’m asked, ‘Jay, why do you spend so much of your time and in turn, the university’s time and effort, focused on community?’ I say it’s because I’m a selfish person. If we don’t make the community better, this institution will suffer.
We will not attract the caliber of people in this room, and your colleagues; we will not attract the kind of students we have. If we make the community better, we win, too. That’s why for the past three years, I’ve been co-chairing a task force with the mayor that has been dubbed the UniverCity Partnership. She and I meet every month with a group of civic and government leaders, business people, developers. We haven’t transformed the west side of downtown, I readily acknowledge that. But among other things we are focused on making Lexington Market a bit better. Our University Police Force has made a difference working with the city on safety issues at the market. A lot of University folks were engaged in being surveyed to see what improvements can be made at the market as part of a consultant’s report that is almost completed.
The other thing I agreed to do over the past year is to chair the board of the Downtown Partnership, a member organization of about 700 businesses that are invested in making downtown better. Again I took on that responsibility because the University needs to show leadership in making the city a better place to live and work.
There are hundreds of activities UMB is doing in our West Baltimore community, in its schools, and with regard to health services and social services. Much of that leadership, of course, has come from this very school we’re sitting in today. Our School of Social Work, and particularly the work in Promise Heights that
Bronwyn Mayden so ably leads. But I felt it very important that we could be a little more deliberate about understanding these UMB initiatives and how they fit together.
To that end, I decided to recruit and hire an executive director for community engagement, Ashley Valis, who’s going to share a few thoughts with you.
Ashley Valis: First, let me introduce the team that makes up Dr. Perman’s new Office of Community Engagement. In addition to me, we have Brian Sturdivant, who’s been doing great work on the campus in this arena for years. Dr. Jane Lipscomb, who is the director of the Center for Community-Based Engagement and Learning [CBEL], and her colleagues, Lisa Rawlings, associate director; Gary Williams and Rachael Parran, program managers.
Brian and I are both graduates of the School of Social Work so I feel right at home here today. As Dr. Perman mentioned, it’s pretty apparent to all of us on campus that as we embark on a more strategic community engagement program, we as a campus will gain more than we give. We truly believe that here, and it’s just so exciting to see everything that the University has been doing for the last 10 years since I was here, Now we’re looking at how can we have a bigger impact than what we’re doing? This is a general overview of efforts to develop a stronger infrastructure here as a campus.
What we’ve started to do this summer is look at institutions that are publicly funded, research-based, such as ourselves, our sister institutions around the country. One of the examples we really like is the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). They have two things we’re going to try to emulate. They formed a university community partnerships office and really try to have a one-stop shop on their campus for all the community initiatives. They also formed a community advisory group as a conduit for this dialogue with the external community. They didn’t just include neighborhood leaders, they also have labor union leaders, business reps — a little more broad than what you would traditionally think of. It seems to work really well for them and we’re hoping to form something similar in the coming months.
Another institution, the University of Illinois at Chicago, has OCEAN, the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood, to help partnerships. As Dr. Perman said, they too look at themselves as not simply located in an urban community, but they truly are a part of one larger Chicago community. On their website, they have a map of 42 programs they have around their campus. You can click on the dots and see what those programs are. We’re hoping to get there sooner rather than later.
One of the things we want to do in year one is strengthen our service mission that we already have as a University, and do that by revamping our website and having an interactive map where people can come and really see what Promise Heights is all about, and what the JACQUES Initiative is all about. And hear, from community members’ perspectives, what their engagement with the University has meant to them and what the program is, and really just share our story a little bit more effectively.
To help us do this, we’re forming one Office of Community Engagement so that folks can better understand how to access our services — OK, if I am a neighborhood leader and I am thinking about an afterschool program around childhood obesity, where would I go on campus? Well, hopefully, once we’ve built this infrastructure, this would be the office and we can help them navigate through the schools. Maybe they want a nutrition program, which might draw you to the med school, but the nursing school is also running a similar community program, and by the way, the physical therapy program might be able to add something. So we hope to direct more resources in a strategic way. Then ultimately, in year 2 or 3, we hope to have a place in the community as the state’s first urban extension center.
We are making a conscious effort to focus more in West Baltimore, meaning really a mile radius around campus in all directions. Creating healthier, safer neighborhoods would be a goal of this urban extension center. It also will bring together a lot of the interdisciplinary programming modeled after the President’s Clinic, where Dr. Perman has someone from each school helping assess the patient from all angles, not only from a medical perspective, but nursing, social work, etc. Drexel University this year is opening the Dornsife Center, which we’ll visit, and branding it as the nation’s first urban extension center. So we can say we’ll be the state’s first, at least.
In order to move forward, obviously, funding is important, so we started doing some grants through CBEL that partner with community organizations. Topics of the research have come from the community organizations. Then students from various UMB schools are partnering with those organizations to help with that research. Community support is obviously key. And dean support is always important when you’re trying to coordinate across the schools. Dean Barth, our host today, has been part of our local initiatives meetings since I’ve been here, and for months before that.
Thanks to you and others for being so engaged. Any and all ideas and suggestions are welcome, and I’ll leave it there.
Dr. Perman: Thank you, Ashley. Now we’ll open the floor to questions on this or anything else.
Q: I’m engaged in a community just across MLK, and I have encountered a number of questions when they’d seen signs about the University expanding its footprint, or the University of Maryland planted this garden or something like that. Would this Office of Community Engagement be the go-to entity when neighbors have questions?
Ashley Valis: I think that’s what we like about UCSF’s model in terms of who they had on their advisory board. Because they do look at issues of land use, and zoning, and what that means for the community, And so yes, if we don’t know the immediate answer, as we develop the infrastructure we’ll hopefully know in one or two phone calls how to address their question.
Brian Sturdivant: As a quick follow-up, the Office of Government and Community Affairs has fielded those questions and I, as a part of that office, have done so. So I’m sure I’ll continue to field some of those questions with the Office of Community Engagement.
Q: Just to follow up, Ashley, on your mention of a community advisory structure. What are your thoughts about how that would connect with this campus planning group that you and President Perman mentioned, the community engagement leadership group that’s been meeting, the Promise Heights community advisory board — have you given any more thought as to how all those pieces would fit together?
Ashley Valis: I would love to have someone from each of the other bodies represented on this larger group, because while our internal group is useful, there aren’t external stakeholders on it and so we need to broaden that.
Q: We have a lot of interschool research that’s going on, and a lot of us try to focus on community-based participatory research here in the School of Social Work, patient-centered work in the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy. We would like to be able to engage the community more in terms of helping us with data collection and things of that nature. But the issue is always the IRB [Institutional Review Board]. I have been looking at how some other institutions do it, and there are other institutions that have maybe once a semester or once per year a time where community members that you’re willing to work with for data collection can come in and basically learn all of the things that you need to learn for the ethics class that most of us take online, that they may not be able to do, so that they are then available to help with data collection from the University, because we are also research-based. This would help us to have a way to engage the community, to teach a skill that’s sustainable long-term for them, as well as to help us as researchers to better do community-based research.
Dr. Perman: Great idea. Your suggestion is terrific and we will take it forward with Dr. Bruce Jarrell, the institutional official responsible for IRB matters. Thank you.
Q: My question concerns the rights of tenure on this campus, and does tenure protect faculty from being dismissed from responsibilities of leadership, teaching, or research in cases of scientific misconduct that results in the retraction of one or more papers?
Dr. Perman: That’s a very complex question. I think if there is scientific misconduct, or allegation of scientific misconduct, we have a very well-defined process, starting with the Faculty Senate, to examine the issue and to advise. I think it’s an appropriate process comparable to what I’ve seen in my entire academic career, and in my previous life as the dean of a medical school, and a process that results in what I think is a fair outcome. With regard to the specifics that you’re asking about, one or more instances of scientific misconduct or retraction and what that does to one’s tenure status, that’s an individual decision based on the particular matter.
Q: When is the campus safety report going to be released, and why does it take so long to release it?
Col. Milland Reed: That report has to come out by Oct. 1, and we’re working with the Office of Communications and Public Affairs now to put it out. While it’s an annual report, we have to work with other entities, such as the city police, to get their stats and pull them in. So we’re just pulling all the information together, making sure it’s accurate, and we’ll put it out by the deadline. We also can look into it coming out sooner.
Q: There’s been a lot in the news about sexual assaults on campus and requirements for a reporting process, and an investigation process. How is that impacting the University? Are we being required to do additional planning, take different steps if there are sexual assaults occurring here?
Dr. Perman: As a sibling member of the University System of Maryland, I believe that we’re ahead of the curve because in response to a complaint that was made by a student several years ago, we worked out an understanding, and agreement, with the Office of Civil Rights under whose aegis this whole dialogue that you’re seeing in the media nationally has been supervised. We put into place group processes several years ago under this agreement. So I would say that in terms of UMB, I believe we are ahead of the curve.
Q: When you threw out the first pitch at UMB Night at the Ballpark was that a fastball or a knuckleball?
Dr. Perman: No false modesty here, I really did throw a good pitch. When it was time to walk off the field, I was basking in the glow and some wiseacre says to me, ‘Man, that was a great slider.’ I said, ‘No, it was a two-seamer.’