Case Study Examines Penn as Global Model for Leadership in Civic Engagement

An interdisciplinary team at the University of Pennsylvania points to a successful local engagement program that Penn has employed during two decades as a model for developing cities and communities that thrive both in the United States and internationally.

Published in the Leadership and Governance in Higher Education Handbook for Decision-makers and Administrators, the article chronicles the evolution of Penn’s community engagement, why and how colleges and universities can serve as anchor institutions, as well as the importance of continuity between previous and current University administrations.

Effective Governance of a University as an Anchor Institution: University of Pennsylvania as a Case Study,” is co-authored by Ira Harkavy, Joann Weeks and Rita Hodges of Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships with Matthew Hartley, a professor in the Graduate School of Education, and Tony Sorrentino from the Executive Vice President’s Office.

"In the U.S., the founding documents of our colleges and universities underscore their role serving our local communities,” Hartley said. “This idea is beginning to be taken up in other countries as well, and Penn's experience has a great deal to offer explaining the possibilities and challenges of this important work."  

Reaching its potential as an anchor institution in West Philadelphia took Penn more than 20 years. The article notes that senior officials understood that the prosperity of Penn, West Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia were all intertwined, and over time the University fully embraced local engagement as a core part of its mission.

Harkavy said the article, which is intended for an audience of higher education administrators and government leaders across Europe, “can help advance the global university civic engagement movement, which focuses on the development of ongoing democratic anchor institution-community partnerships.”

The co-authors say a successful effort requires presidential, trustee and faculty leadership, noting that local engagement came to be seen as an integral part of Penn’s academic mission, as well as its role as a corporate citizen. Key elements also include developing democratic, mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships within the community and creating organizations within the university to sustain this level of commitment on a long-term basis.

“While it’s not a prescription because local context differs, the ‘take away’ is the critical need for universities and health systems to develop governing principles and a mindset that leads to sustained leadership in local and civic engagement,” said Sorrentino. “The article shows the longevity of Penn’s commitment, at the most senior levels, to a philosophy of local engagement. It is a model that others can replicate and likely the underpinnings of why the Penn story is increasingly gaining positive attention both nationally and internationally.”


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