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A Quiet Crisis: Great Universities and their Cities - Part 1

Thursday, January 30, 2003 at 12:30 PM

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Often times cities are defined by the academic institutions that inhabit them. New Haven – Yale. Boston – Harvard. Princeton… well, Princeton. In some instances such associations have been scarcely more than geographical; in others the relationship is more symbiotic. In that vein Case Western Reserve University and the city of Cleveland are stepping into a partnership they say will touch many sectors of the community. That’s the topic of discussion today at Severence Hall, where CWRU and the city are hosting a day-long conference titled “Great Universities and their Cities.” ideastream’s Bill Rice has more.

While Cleveland isn’t the first to collaborate with its academic institutions, it stands to become a well-known champion of the idea. Soon-to-be Case Western Reserve President Edward Hundert, standing alongside Mayor Jane Campbell, talked up today’s event in dramatic terms earlier this week.

Edward Hundert: Our goal is really to establish CWRU and Cleveland as THE national dialog about these local relationships around the country and help universities in cities and countries around the world do a better job in this.

And they’re bringing in some voices of experience to get it started – from Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and other cities that are trumpeting their own partnerships with their universities. Hundert says the old notion of the academic ivory tower – separate and sealed off from the surrounding community to pursue its own solitary endeavors – dates back centuries. But, he says, institutions today recognize they have much to gain through better cooperation.

Edward Hundert: This is a time of great difficulty for cities across the country and a time of great difficulty for universities because of the financial impact of the last few years on endowments and so forth. And the time seems to be ripe for universities and cities to say “How can we make the whole greater than the sum of the parts?”

Mayor Jane Campbell points out that Cleveland already has a certain synergy with its post-secondary institutions. Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs is engaged with the city in neighborhood economic development, she says, and is helping pursue some technology transfer opportunities in conjunction with Nasa Glenn. Kent State, while not in the immediate neighborhood, is nevertheless involved with architectural planning. And then there’s Cuyahoga Community College, which Campbell says is intrinsically connected to the city and its residents.

Jane Campbell: At Tri-C we have partnerships that are related to training for firefighters and hazardous materials management, in workforce development training, in basic computer skills for our own staff as well as a partnership to train Cleveland citizens in the workforce skills that are needed for tomorrow both in health careers and computer skills and other areas.

Tri-C President Jerry Sue Thornton says these partnerships are a good fit for the College because they closely match its mission. She says most colleges and universities recognize their place in their communities, and each contributes based on its strengths mission.

Jerry Sue Thornton: We all view ourselves as playing different roles, and some of us may be directly involved with the community, or very close to the community, while others may be engaged in a mission that sets a tone or direction for community development and development of a state or a region.

Tri-C, by its very definition as a community college, fits more closely into the former category, Thornton says, while Case Western Reserve – with its emphasis on research – is in more of a position to help shape the future economy.

So just what is this new CWRU/Cleveland partnership? In part it’s a formal recognition of the interactions between the school and the city that are already in place - in the areas of medical and social science research, for instance. And it’s a pact to pursue more such collaborative efforts. But another aspect of it, says CWRU President Edward Hundert, is the university’s desire to increase its prestige at the national and international level. It wants top talent, and is banking on innovative partnerships to help attract it

Edward Hundert: It really is a think globally, act locally philosophy that says if we want to achieve national and global leadership, if we want to tell the world how to make patients healthier, lets make Cleveland healthier. If we want to tell the world how to improve technology, lets improve technology here.

And they hope to get some useful advice from today’s colloquium at Severance Hall. The event precedes the swearing in ceremony of Hundert as Case Western Reserve’s 23rd president. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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