Institutionalizing Community Engagement in Higher Education helps me understand the history of the designation, the issues that application processes raises, and how the first schools who were awarded the designation accomplished the task. In that sense and in light of my new position, I read the book(let) as a how to guide, but I am also deeply skeptical about what the designation is meant to achieve. Who cares about the designation, and why?
I care about it because: (1) it connects to my research; (2) the Faculty Fellow gives me some course reassignments, which in turn allow me to focus on my research interests if not on scholarship in particular; working at a 4/4 that places increasing emphasis on research and creative expression means that one has to figure out how to get that done with a demanding teaching load and hefty university service expectations; (3) I am sympathetic to arguments that undergird the "community engaged campus" designation, specifically that institutions of higher ed. should benefit their local communities and not simply draw from community resources to educate students or make them marketable. All that being said, I am skeptical about what moving toward this classification does, that is to say how it forces a certain view of engagement onto universities, and this view is imposed onto faculty and curricula, students, and people in places near the university (or wherever the university becomes "engaged"). From the outset, I note that the Carnegie guidelines are extremely explicit. They define community engagement in one way, and their criteria reach into and tinker with university identity, culture, and practices. That does not sit well with me.
My research on service in computer networks and my attempts to define networked engagement work against the idea that any one entity can codify concepts like service or engagement. I argue that we, as representatives of or administrators in institutions, can make moves to increase participation, that we can shape infrastructures to be useful to myriad people, and that this should be our focus, not pushing one particular definition, critique, or course of action. In other words, my research runs counter to my new position, or so it seems.
With all this in mind, I read Institutionalizing Community Engagement in Higher Education as a practical guide to work toward the Carnegie designation as well as challenge. This challenge reflects my desire to create an infrastructure for community engaged work at St. Edward's that allows for faculty and students to succeed in such work, however they define it and choose to pursue it. (As a note to myself, I'm immediately inclined to draw from feminist ethics of care and the rhetoric of care from St. Edward's mission statement to define engagement as care that takes many forms. It connects to my university's existing institutional identity, and I can use it to help faculty and students reflect on their work in ways that concepts like community engagement cannot. I'm sure I will come back to this later as I read more over the summer in prepping for my position.) Still, the Carnegie guidelines, or the folks who wrote them, argue that the designation and the points enumerated in the application provide a flexible framework that institutions should adapt for themselves. The authors' aim to help universities consider, from top to bottom, how to show value for community engaged work and to articulate best practices. For now, I'll take their word for it, having noted my skepticism.