The Engaged University: What Does it Mean for Applied Anthropology?

Society for Applied Anthropology Meeting, 2009

A podcast (audio recording) is available at


Linda Bennett (U Memphis) and Linda Whiteford (U S Florida)


Stan Hyland (U Memphis); Susan Greenbaum (U S Florida); Paul Shackel (U Maryland); Kendall Thu (N Illinois U.); Kathryn Kozaitis (Georgia S U); Miguel Vasquez (N Arizona U)


Panelists address the question: What would an engaged university” look like, and how would one become one? Engagement—be it global or regional—bridges the voice between the university and its surroundings. “Engagement implies strenuous, thoughtful, argumentative interaction with the non-university world in at least four spheres: setting university aims, purposes and priorities, relating teaching and learning to the wider world, back and forth dialogue between researchers and practitioners; and taking on wider responsibilities as neighbours and citizens.” How are the universities represented by the panelists becoming engaged, and what is the place of anthropology in that vision?

Summary of Discussion

Linda Whiteford introduced the session within the context of a workshop that she and Stan Hyland had participated in June 2008 at Virginia Tech University on the Engaged University. Panelists began the discussion by identifying the number one critical issue his/her university is dealing with at this time with regard to the relationship between the university and the surrounding community. Given the fact that we had a wide range of types of universities and departments represented on the panel, many different issues were raised by both the panelists and, very encouraging, by members of the audience. Here is a sampling of such “problematic” issues that that were identified:

  • Essential that the university itself makes engaged scholarship a strategic priority, with resources to support that priority.
  • Underfunding makes developing and maintaining an engaged university incredibility difficult, if not impossible.
  • Anthropology is not always identified by central administration as a potential site for civic engagement, and that needs to be communicated well. Archaeology has great potential for civic engagement.
  • Essential to work through channels as well as circuitously in some universities and a major challenge is to educate colleagues in other disciplines regarding anthropology’s strong promise for effective community outreach.
  • In a university setting with partnerships between the university and the public schools, a question from the faculty emerges: will it count? Why should we do this? Why me? The application of such faculty work to tenure and promotion is ever-present in faculty members’ minds.
  • Working with Native Americans is both an opportunity and an obligation. This requires educating deans and other central administration leaders as to both the opportunities and the obligations of the academic programs of the university, especially anthropology’s.

COPAA will build upon this discussion in a paper session for the 2010 meetings.