4.20.2007

Researching and Teaching and Doing Good

The setting was a university campus and the topic was social entrepreneurship.  So it was disappointing that, when asked the question why research universities aren't as civically active as community colleges, the Ivy League professor responded, "Because our job is to research and to teach."

To be sure, it is easier for a juco to pursue the enlightened self-interest of partnering with local employers such that they are essentially serving as training annexes between students looking for jobs and companies looking for workers.  Ivy League institutions have steep expectations heaped on them to churn out top-notch research and dispense top-notch instruction.

And yet the research university's true calling is not to research and teach, but to advance human knowledge.  I would argue that do-gooding, whether locally or globally, can be integrated in researching and teaching towards that higher end. 

And I know there are many at Penn who would argue that same point much more persuasively, passionately, and learnedly.  Ira Harkavy is a world leader in the integration of cutting-edge research, classroom teaching, and urban engagement.  Joseph Sun has mobilized technology resources and engineering minds towards the establishment of computer labs in poor communities around the world.  Penn has made, in inner-city West Philadelphia, a direct impact on nutrition and education and design.

It may take a minute longer to figure out how to pursue initiatives that effect positive local and global change while simultaneously tending to one's important researching and teaching obligations.  But I would argue that's a minute well worth spending.
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