Community-Based Learning Founders Award
Art Warmoth, Ph.D.
Sonoma State University
May 6. 2005
Amra told me that the prize includes a chance to hold the mike for a while, so there are a few things I would like to say.
First of all, I want to thank all of the colleagues on campus and in the community, and all of the students, who have joined me in building bridges between the university and the community over the years. There are too many to name, but this award is as much theirs as it is mine. You can’t do community-based learning without practicing community. I am profoundly grateful for the support of all of the learning communities that I have been part of over the years.
I would also like to say a few words about the personal history of my involvement in community-based education, and then say a few words about where it might go in the future.
My personal investment in the larger community sometimes known as the Redwood Empire began at an early age. My father’s family was from the Sacramento Valley, where I grew up. But my mother’s family was from Point Arena in Mendocino County, where my family still has the ranch that was settled by my grandfather and great grandfather in the 19th century. The Mendocino Coast is thus the heartland of my personal mythology. We would go there often for holidays and during the summer. We frequently passed through Sonoma County, and although we rarely stopped, this was also a magical landmark. It was the place where the scenery got beautiful, and in the summer, it was the place where the weather got bearable.
When I left the Boston area after graduate school--mainly because six months is too much winter--I came back to Mendocino County for a postdoctoral internship at Mendocino State Hospital. This was the late sixties, the beginning of the community mental health movement. Imprinting on the northern reaches of the Redwood Empire happened on road trips when I participated in teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers that paid monthly visits to Humboldt and Del Norte Counties to help them set up their community mental health clinics.
All of this was crystallized in the early seventies when I experienced a minor epiphany in relation to the mission of humanistic psychology. Although I was not framing it in social constructionist language then, I realized that the human potential movement of the time was essentially a project of the intentional reconstruction of the middle class self. The logical next step is the intentional reconstruction of community.
So where do we go from here? I believe that our thinking about that question can be framed by the realization that we are all being whipsawed by profound, rapid, and in many ways unpredictable changes that are being driven by information management and communications technology. The most visible consequences of this technology revolution are summed up under the rubric of “globalization.” But surely the necessary countervailing force is regionalization and decentralization. Technology renders inevitable the global integration of manufacturing and trade, and of the financial institutions associated with them. However, it also makes possible, and therefore probably inevitable, the decentralized local management of the fine structure of natural and social ecologies.
In this context, my central theme is this: The community needs more from the university. And the university needs more from the community.
The community needs more from the university because the faculty are experts in information management. Local community leaders can look to the university for help in designing social contracts and institutions that are uniquely aligned with the social and natural ecologies of the region. Local political leaders can look to regional universities for the new ideas that are needed to make democracy work, rather than relying on second hand ideas handed down from national political leaders who in turn got them from globalization-oriented think tanks.
But the university equally needs the community as the laboratory where new ideas can be tried out and refined. Provost Ochoa in his remarks suggested that research, theory, and pedagogy grounded equally in thought and action may be paradigmatic for the liberal arts and sciences. They are certainly paradigmatic for the regional university.
But in these perilous times, when the funding of higher education continues to be problematic at both the state and national levels, we need the community in even more basic ways. It has been abundantly pointed out in this meeting that our community partners are making a major contribution to the curriculum. President Armiñana underscored the economic value of the voluntary services that students provide in communities throughout the state. But we also need to acknowledge that the mentoring, supervision, and program design expertise provided by our community partners has economic value for the university. As the university becomes more actively involved in serving the needs and solving the problems of the community, we can expect more of the community’s resources to become aligned with and contribute to the educational mission of the university.
Finally, I would like to make a specific proposal. This idea was inspired by a point made by Lani Guinier in her speech on higher education and diversity at the recent conference of the American Association of Colleges and Universities in the City. Actually, the entire speech was inspiring, but a point that stood out for me was her description of the results of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, adopting the surrounding community. Faced with a deteriorating community and the choice of moving out or getting involved, Clark University chose the latter course. It established its own model high school, with admission decided by lottery. And faculty and students became actively involved in all aspects of community life. According to Guinier, the result was a model of urban renewal.
I propose that Sonoma State University follow a similar course and adopt the Roseland/Southwest Santa Rosa area. This is an area that is ripe for renewal and redevelopment. It is a focus of interest of a wide range of community groups, business and nongovernmental organizations, and the governments of both the City of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, which share jurisdiction over the area.
We are actually already half way there. We do not need to start a new high school. University Prep High School is already there, and President Armiñana is a member of the school board. Many SSU faculty are already involved. Many faculty are also involved in a variety of other development activities in the area. President Armiñana has agreed in principle to support the vision for the former Albertson’s shopping center put forward by Professor Francisco Vazquez of the Hutchins School and Steven Greenberg of Results-Based Philanthropy. This vision sees that site as ideal for a mixed use center with an international theme incorporating affordable housing, small businesses, and a variety of educational, cultural, and social service activities.
I realize that not all members of the faculty are professionally interested in the local community. I know colleagues whose research interests are centered in foreign countries, in the laboratory, and even in outer space. But if those of us who are interested in community-based education were to upgrade the level of our focus, communication, and commitment, I believe we could have a significant impact on the community. I believe we could create complex interdisciplinary solutions to complex social problems that up to now have seemed intractable, such as gangs, health care, affordable housing, and intergroup relations.
In short, I believe we can make a difference. I hope we are willing to try.