Study Day on Academy-Community Relations

Study Day on Academy-Community Relations, The Council for Higher Education, Jerusalem, November 27, 2005

The study day was dedicated to investigating possible ways of integrating student social action and academic learning, the focal point being a lecture by Prof. Marshal Ganz, who introduced a model he has developed at Harvard University.

The study day comprised two main parts. The first was facilitated by Moshe Aharoni, in Charge of Special Projects at the Council for Higher Education, and Secretary of the Planning and Budgeting Committee's Steering Committee on the issue of social involvement of students and the academy in the community. This part was open to an audience of individuals from various higher education institutions, included a presentation of two initiatives and of activity in the field, and a keynote lecture by Prof. Marshal Ganz from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The second part of the day was conducted as a workshop for faculty members interested in teaching community engaged courses, and was facilitated by Prof. Marshal Ganz and Dr. Daphna Golan-Agnon, Director of the Students and Academy for Social Change forum.

In the beginning of November the Council for Higher Education in Israel published a call for cooperation, calling for the submission and reporting of programs comprising social involvement of students and higher education institutions in the community. The initiative was introduced by C.P.A. Shosh Berlinsky, Director General of the Council for Higher Education. The main goals of the call for cooperation: formulation and expansion of social involvement programs of students and higher education institutions in the community, with greater cooperation and involvement of faculty members and heads of institutions, and advancement of research in this area. The Steering Committee that formulated the call for cooperation at the Planning and Budgeting Committee proposes several options for integrating student social action, and emphasizes the importance of academic guidance of this activity. The call for cooperation defines a frame for budgeting the programs, as well as scholarships and research grants. One of the important requirements of the call for cooperation is that each academic institution submit a social report specifying the various activities of students and faculty members in the community, as well as a recommendation to make social commitment a criterion for promotion of faculty members.

Shoshy Bohadana, a social activist from Florentine neighborhood in Tel-Aviv, and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of “Mahapach”, an organization active for education, housing, and labor rights in seven communities across Israel, told her story of joining “Mahapach”. This story relates the evolvement of a partnership between Shoshy, the students, and other activists in the “Mahapach” community. Initially, Shoshy’s expectations of “Mahapach” were different from the interaction that eventually materialized, and so the relationship, which began through her children, became a space in which she can express opinions and ideas, and consult with others. With time, the relationship became a source of power and knowledge that developed through joint work with the students.

Dr. Daphna Golan-Agnon, Director of the Students and Academy for Social Change Forum, and faculty member at the Minerva Center for Human Rights in the Faculty of Law, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, introduced the forum’s objectives: encouraging research and public debate concerning the commitment of the academy to the community; helping to develop academic courses that integrate students' community action; creating settings for peer learning, exchange of knowledge and consultation; promoting research on the subject and assessing the contribution of courses and projects to students, the community, and higher education institutions.

The keynote lecture by Prof. Marshal Ganz outlined desired components and characteristics of student social involvement programs. Prof. Ganz, who came to Israel as a guest of SHATIL (Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations), participates in a project under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that includes twenty-one courses from different universities around the United States that integrate student action in the community. The goal of this group of faculty members is to encourage social and political commitment of students through their participation in the courses, and to engage in ongoing learning and evaluation. The model developed by Prof. Ganz originates in his life story, which has involved work in different unions and social organizations. This model differentiates between types of social action – activity that is individual and voluntary, as opposed to activity that is collective, conducted in cooperation with others, and that acknowledges that social action involves acquired, learned practices, and that interaction with others in the community is an essential element that has to be learned. Prof. Ganz argues that courses cannot lead to implementation of theory in the field – they can provide theoretical background, but more so need to provide tools with which to learn, analyze, and interpret the field experience, thus redesigning the students' practices during the course of their work. Prof. Ganz's outline of the courses also addresses issues of climate: creating an environment suitable for deep reflection, criticism, and debates that promote learning, as well as many other elements concerning motivation, resources, etc.

The discussion and practice of programs integrating social action of students in the United States began approximately 25 years ago, and so did the use of various terms – civic engagement, community based learning, and community service learning. The different terms imply different developments and directions. In Israel, the matter requires joint study and discussion in order to create a community that will be able to lead the activity and offer terms relevant to the Israeli reality.

The questions raised in the discussion following the lecture touched upon principle aspects: how is the connection between the field work and the academic knowledge created in the courses? How are courses made to be effective, influential? What is the role of this type of activity as opposed to the existing social systems, and does this kind of activity not lead necessarily to de-politicization? How are courses and activities integrated across different disciplines and faculties?   

In the second part of the study day a workshop was conducted with the participation of a smaller number of faculty members, students and staff members of social involvement units of several institutions. The workshop was facilitated by Prof. Marshal Ganz and Dr. Daphna Golan-Agnon. Discussion of some of the questions raised earlier carried on into the workshop. It was an opportunity to raise further questions and establish contacts between its participants, including possible cooperations at various levels. The discussion included, among other things, a conversation about terms or definitions. For example, use of the term community – how is a community defined today? How do students and residents of an area regain some sense of community or solidarity? Does the discipline through which activity is generated predetermine the community in which the activity will take place? 

Another issue discussed is the objectives of the courses. The theoretical frame proposed by Prof. Ganz includes the objective of a collective activity that links students, community and faculty members/academy. Other faculty members raised the need to conduct courses that combine practical work with more specific objectives that focus on the students, on their experience as a foundation for their engaging in social action in the future.

All these are only some of the many things discussed at this seminar. As Prof. Ganz described it, the important thing is the transformation from reflection to action. The upcoming meetings of the Students and Academy for Social Change Forum will include peer learning with the aim of guiding the move from discussion to development and design of courses, and their implementation at various institutions of higher education.

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