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Tidings Quarterly Reflection
Thoughts on Community Change and Higher Education
As leaders of state universities across the country, including our own, work assiduously to remake their institutions into de facto private for-profit revenue-generating institutions as public funding for their operations continues to fall, I am reminded that this turn has resulted from our society’s collective choice to fear the future. For it is fear, fear of economic and social change particularly, that has persuaded our nation’s citizens to turn to a neoliberal governance philosophy that has promoted an atomistic individualism and that has assigned the market to serve as the primary arbiter of social choice. That collective decision has also resulted in the ongoing delegitimation of our nation’s principal democratic institutions, including its public and private universities, and a companion pressure to make those institutions that do survive this assault resemble for-profit entities.
It is important to emphasize that contrary to the misleading claim that higher education institutions exist apart from society in an “ivory tower,” public universities are rooted in their states and communities and have not been exempt from the overwhelming force of this epistemic shift in our society. Instead, their executives have for decades now attended to the latest management and leadership constructs at play among corporate leaders and adopted and adapted those in an ongoing attempt to retain a modicum of legitimacy and to demonstrate that they, too, can be “entrepreneurial,” efficient and “nimble,” and that their organizations can survive in the neoliberal environment thrust upon them.
I mention none of this to criticize those leaders who in good faith have sought to navigate what has effectively been a Hobson’s choice for their schools: “Take what you are given and behave as demanded or be deprived completely of the resources necessary to address your assigned missions.” Most public higher education executives have been moving their institutions to align with the neoliberal reality they confront by agreeing to commodify what their organizations do and to evaluate virtually all that they undertake against market-derived metrics. Moreover, many, if not all, public universities are now increasingly asking their faculties to design educational experiences for students so as foremost to maximize revenues for their institutions and to serve existing job markets, with any broader purposes becoming secondary considerations.
These trends have been carefully analyzed and have been the subject of sharp argument by many authors, including some highly respected higher education leaders. I describe this overarching trend here for context, as I want to comment briefly on a significant consequence of this shift in what public universities do and how they do it: the loss for the civic imagination and for self-governance that this turn represents. That truncation, in turn, is consequential for our society’s post-secondary students because their capacity for self-governance or lack thereof represents our future. Indeed, our current governance crisis, symbolized by demagogic leadership and active efforts to abridge, if not abrogate, the civil and human rights of selected/targeted groups, provides partial evidence of the dangers of our society’s choice to cower before the future and to pretend that markets can govern. Nevertheless, in the name of ensuring relevance, whatever that may mean in a constantly changing consumer-driven society, students are now treated to curricula tailored ever more carefully to perceived market requirements and are provided experiences that enshrine preparation for employment as the principal measure of what constitutes a successful education.
While none of this is new, this trend toward remaking universities into simply vocational training centers is now proceeding at an unprecedented pace as tens of thousands of students enter post-secondary institutions pressed relentlessly by their families to take only such courses as those mentors perceive to be job- and occupation-relevant. This unremitting force suggests that public universities can scarcely be expected to be immune from this cultural tsunami of claims, rooted finally in fear. And that fear appears rapidly to be creating an environment in which only that curricula and those activities that serve the perceived present desires of the market place are likely to receive university leaders’ attention, let alone their support. Indeed, many public education leaders are today celebrating private corporate actors as “partners” in curriculum design and delivery in the name of ensuring their institutions’ market relevance.
What is in danger here are experiences that universities have long afforded students that enable them to grow personally and to deepen their self-understanding and their comprehension of other human beings and the broader human experience, and that will enable them to pursue fuller personal and professional lives. Ultimately what may be in jeopardy is their individual and collective capacity to imagine possibilities beyond those now extant and to deliberate as citizens in ways that can ensure their continued freedom and engagement in self-governance.
In a recent keynote presentation at a conference of the nonprofit organization On Being, the English poet and philosopher David Whyte shared a poem he recently published that treated the question of human possibility, broadly understood:
Just beyond / yourself. // It’s where / you need / to be. // Half a step / into / self-forgetting / and the rest / restored / by what / you’ll meet. // There is a road / always beckoning. // When you see / the two sides / of it / closing together / at that far horizon / and deep in / the foundations / of your own / heart / at exactly / the same / time, // that’s how / you know / it's the way / you / have / to go. // That’s how / you know / it’s the road / you / have / to follow. // That’s / how you know. // It’s just beyond / yourself, / it’s / where you / need to be. 
When reading this poem, I was struck that while it can be read several ways, it can be interpreted as a clear statement of the raison d’etre of universities. At their best, higher education institutions seek to engage and encourage those who enroll in them to enter into a journey, a life-long quest, to become more deeply aware of their own frailties and possibilities and of those of humankind. This fraught intellectual and moral adventure requires reflection, empathy, imagination and courage, even as it encourages an ever-deepening self-awareness.
The intellectual and emotional voyage that lies at the heart of higher education is not for the faint of heart and it does not rest on technical capacity in whole or even major part. Rather, it demands that those who traverse it grapple with the complexities of the human experience and have the courage finally to admit the humbling truth that they can only do what their talents and enterprise will allow and that these will never permit all they might wish to attain. Along this path, those launched well on their voyage can learn much, devote themselves deeply and emerge a more fully human and more fulfilled professional. But to enjoy such fruits, or rather, to experience all the vicissitudes that they may accompany or themselves yield, requires an openness and a curiosity to that “beckoning road” rather than a closed sense of self driven foremost by fear and therefore characterized and limited by a dearth of imagination.
All of this is of moment for the Institute as we work with an interdisciplinary group of graduate students developing IPG’s rapidly evolving Community Change Collaborative (CCC). One piece of that multi-faceted effort has found the students working with towns and communities in Appalachia hard hit by calamitous economic and social change in recent decades and seeking to discern a way forward amidst the polarization, poverty and shock their populations are experiencing. The students have assumed this responsibility aware that the present political moment blames those communities for their woes on the one hand and simultaneously and paradoxically, promises a nonexistent panacea for those difficulties on the other hand. The Collaborative’s members enter these communities, too, deeply aware that there is no known “technical fix” for the citizens’ plights and that their very brokenness makes it harder for the populations of each to take such steps as they can to survive in the existing political economy. Finally, even should the initiative successfully aid a share of these towns as they elaborate a way ahead for themselves, the students involved must nonetheless humbly acknowledge that there is no such thing as certainty in such efforts because it remains unclear that the market will again support these communities as communities over the long run.
The capacities these students most require as they engage in this work with communities are empathy, moral courage, a profound respect for those with whom they interact and an abiding hope that shared action can make a difference for those most affected. These values and capabilities and the deep sensitivity that must join and suffuse them necessitate that those involved, in Whyte’s words, realize that their work in these towns will demand foremost, “that the road [they] you have to follow… it’s just beyond yourself, it’s where you need to be.”  They must work to assist citizens as they seek to overcome their own divisions and fragilities to fashion possibilities for themselves. Moreover, the CCC students must undertake this work in a way driven not by a hubris born of apparent market value or false certainties, but instead by humility and an abiding belief in human dignity and the energy arising from their shared humanity with those they would assist.
One may hope that Virginia Tech will continue to support those values and the educational paths that culminate in the realization of such efforts. Anything less would not only result in the potential collapse of this and future similar projects, but also represent a deeper and more eventful societal failure of these students and of the broader democratic project of this country. Whether this nation succeeds or perishes depends not on these young leaders’ technical training and knowledge, but on their deeper and abiding understanding and disciplined pursuit and veneration of human dignity and possibility.
 Whyte, David, “Poetry from the On Being Gathering.” https://onbeing.org/programs/poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-david-whyte-opening-night-sep2018/?utm_source=On+Being+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d9c031eea6-20180915_ThePause&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1c66543c2f-d9c031eea6-70098757&mc_cid=d9c031eea6&mc_eid=d39b572b52 Accessed September 16, 2018.
 David Whyte, 2018. “Just Beyond Yourself,” The Bell and the Blackbird. Langley WA: Many Rivers Press, p. 21.
Max Stephenson appointed Visiting Scholar at Dalian University for 2018-2021
SPIA Professor and IPG Director Max Stephenson has been appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Governance at Dalian University of Technology (DUT) in Dalian, China for the 2018-2021 period. He will visit Dalian each year to deliver lectures and work with faculty and PhD students. This new role grew out of Stephenson’s work as a mentor to a PhD student from Dalian this past year. Chunxue Mu was in residence at IPG for 2017-2018 as a part of a special and highly competitive Chinese government sponsored program that pairs doctoral students from that nation with mentors of their choice in the United States for one year of study. Stephenson will technically be considered a “Sea Sky Scholar” by DUT, an evocative and memorable title!
Sarah Lyon-Hill (PGG) successfully defended her PhD dissertation proposal on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. Her committee included: Chair Dr. Max Stephenson (Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance), Robert Leonard (Professor of Directing and Performance in the School of Performing Arts), Dr. Kim Niewolny (Associate Professor of Community Education and Development in the Department of Agriculture, Leadership, and Community Education), and Dr. Scott Tate (Associate Director in the Office of Economic Development). Sarah’s working Dissertation Title is Exploring the Agential Possibilities of One Organization in the Community Cultural Development Field: A Story of Appalshop. Congratulations and best wishes, Sarah, as you move to the next phase.
ASPECT student Jordan Laney successfully defended her PhD dissertation Wednesday, August 8, 2018. Her committee included: Chair Dr. Katrina Powell (Director of the Center for Rhetoric in Society), Dr. Elizabeth Fine (Professor Emerita, Humanities), Dr. Kwame Harrison (Associate Professor in Sociology), Dr. Barbara Ellen Smith (Professor of women’s and gender studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences) and Dr. Max Stephenson (Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance). Jordan's working Dissertation Title is Recreating and Deconstructing the Shifting Politics of (Bluegrass) Festivals. Congratulations and best wishes to Jordan!
Vanessa Guerra M (PhD candidate, Environmental Design and Planning) has been invited to present her research at The Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University on October 22nd. Dr. Tim Schwanen invited her to present her work at his research lab as part of a program called "Oxford talks". Vanessa is really excited about this opportunity and looks forward to presenting her work. She is also looking forward to network and develop potential opportunities for future mutual collaboration with the colleagues and professors she will meet during her visit. For more information, go to https://talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/id/0090b3f0-55ad-4fbb-a1fe-bf0f474aeb42/
Leeann Budzevski (MURP) has been accepted to begin her PhD in Environmental Design and Planning this Spring. Congratulations and best wishes, Leeann, as you move on to the next phase.
Thanks to Lara Nagle’s hard work (supported by Dr. Max Stephenson) the Institute for Policy and Governance has been awarded a supplement from the Women & Minority Artist and Scholars Lecture Series fund to bring Dr. Theresa Williamson (Founder and Executive Director of Catalytic Communities) to Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus during the 2019 Spring Semester. The visit will include a combination of meetings with faculty and staff interested in study abroad opportunities; a public lecture; lectures or documentary showings followed by facilitated discussion in selected classes on campus; participation in the CCC’s Trustees Without Borders podcast interview program, and an evening workshop for the VT Mozaiko Living Learning community.
Research & Sponsored Programs
Mary Beth Dunkenberger, Liz Allen and Laura Nelson recently completed an assessment of Montgomery County (Virginia) Children’s Service Act process and structure on behalf of the Montgomery County Department of Social Services. The Children's Services Act (CSA) is now the name for a law enacted in 1993, then known as the Comprehensive Services Act, that establishes a single state pool of funds to support services for eligible youth and their families. State funds, combined with local community funds, are managed by local interagency teams who plan and oversee services to youth. Montgomery County child services leadership requested the assessment to better understand how the county’s CSA process and structure operates in comparison to other peer localities.
David Moore has expanded his responsibilities as Project Director for the Total Action for Progress (TAP) Swift Start program by helping TAP expand the project and deepen the impact. The SwiftStart Program assists unemployed and underemployed parents with child care responsibilities to access training for higher-paying middle-skilled careers in health care, information technology or advanced manufacturing. It does this by bundling tuition assistance and child care with other supports and intensive mentoring to help ensure parents are successful in improving their employment and thus their family income. Mr. Moore has expanded his time on the project significantly to oversee additional efforts to improve how the workforce system in the Roanoke Valley performs for families in poverty, to expand educational opportunities that better meet the needs of low-income families, and to build pathways to sustainability for all these efforts. Since its inception, SwiftStart has served 168 participants, assisted 99 to begin training, helped 43 obtain credentials and seen over 30 participants enter improved employment in their chosen career.
This past Spring and Summer VTIPG provided assessment and mapping services to United Way of Southwest Virginia through Smart Beginnings Southwest. Led by Liz Allen and Mary Beth Dunkenberger, and supported by Laura Nelson and Lara Nagle, the assessment and mapping of early child development risk and protective factors was concluded with a final report and a presentation on July 18th to the United Way and Smart Beginnings leadership. Smart Beginnings Southwest Virginia includes the localities of Bland, Bristol, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Galax, Grayson, Lee, Norton, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Washington, Wise, Wythe and Tazewell. The research will be used to further strategic planning and programming for early child initiatives in these localities.
Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance received seed funding through the Vibrant Virginia Initiative for a project titled: Building Healthy Families and Communities through Collaborative Strategies to Reduce Opioid Use Disorder. A major goal of Vibrant Virginia is to connect and grow a network of researchers and practitioners interested in addressing concerns throughout Virginia’s urban and rural communities. IPG is collaborating with researchers from Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Health Practice and Research to help strengthen Virginia Tech’s approach to multidisciplinary networks surrounding opioid use disorder research. Specifically, this project aims to connect public health expertise with policy and organizational assessment capabilities to provide a foundation on which to build upon a continuum of care that can assist in the prevention and treatment of opioid use disorders. The opioid epidemic continues to impact Virginia residents with a current focus at the individual level. This research will broaden the knowledge of opioid use in Virginia by focusing on family, community, and institutional systems. To obtain additional information and to be involved with the project please contact Laura Nelson.
News & Events
CCC Forum with Professor Jordan Laney and Students from the Introduction to Appalachian Studies Course: “Collaborative Learning as Empowerment”
By Lara Nagle, Graduate Assistant at the Institute for Policy and Governance
The Community Change Collaborative (CCC) welcomed Professor Jordan Laney to the first Forum session of the semester on September 13, along with her students in the Introduction to Appalachian Studies course. Prof. Laney is currently a Presidential Pathways Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow teaching in the Department of Religion and Culture. She conducts research focused on gender within bluegrass, emergent alternative economies, and qualitative methods. At Virginia Tech, she designed and taught the first bluegrass music courses for the humanities and a special topics course on the music of the (global) south.
The focus of the CCC Forum session, entitled “Collaborative Learning as Empowerment,” was an exploration of how Freirean pedagogy and community power mapping interrelate with the course curricula in Introduction to Appalachian Studies, as well as with Prof. Laney’s research more broadly. CCC members Garland Mason and Colie Touzel facilitated the discussion. Andy Morikawa, Senior Fellow at the Institute, recorded the event for the Trustees Without Borders online podcast.
Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian scholar and community leader who devoted his life to the pluralistic research and practice of education, which he considered a non-neutral system with potential to decolonize the mind from a dominant, oppressive worldview or to solidify this worldview further. He is well known for his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), as well as his spoken texts including We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change (1990), a dialogue with Myles Horton (1905-1990) who co-founded the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center, the folk school was a hub of progressive activity during the civil rights movement and has provided ongoing support for adult literacy and democratic participation, worker protections, and environmental justice. Interestingly, this “talking book” provides a direct connection between Freire’s work and the Appalachian context.
In the spirit of Freire’s problem-posing education, students in Prof. Laney’s course presented community power maps of their homes to demonstrate how identifying community capital and power of different forms, such as economic, social, natural, or cultural, can emphasize both assets and challenges within a place. The scale of the map, as well as the participants drawing it, will influence the types of detail included. Indeed, during the interview and Q&A with Prof. Laney that followed the presentation, one student noted that having a high schooler’s perspective of a place highlights cultural and social hubs specific to that age group. Prof. Laney followed up with the suggestion to draw a community map with a grandparent, to expand this perspective across generations. We can extend this concept further to suggest that without stakeholder representation across race, gender, socioeconomic levels, different sectors, etc., community maps will not fully describe a place for the past, present, or future. Yet, using this tool inclusively can help stakeholders build partnerships they hadn’t considered before.
Thanks to the students’ work, Prof. Laney’s insight and experience, and Garland and Colie’s thoughtful facilitation questions, we also considered the meaning of place beyond what we see and hear; critical assumptions of banking education; how to give one’s power away to empower others to speak and participate; tensions between research and teaching; how to engage more inclusively; avenues for amplifying community voices; flipping knowledge to ensure authenticity in local economic development decision-making; and specific case studies within Appalachia that demonstrate some of the above themes.
The Community Change Collaborative (CCC) is an interdisciplinary group of graduate students and faculty hosted by the Institute for Policy and Governance (IPG) at Virginia Tech. We are interested in the methods, frameworks, and forces shaping community development, approaches to community engagement, and how to build sustainable, cross-sectoral partnerships. Our research interests range from local to international case studies, applying a variety of approaches to connect theory and praxis for the benefit of our community partners, practitioners, and researchers interested in community change.
Undergraduate students in the Introduction to Appalachian Studies course presented community capital and power maps based on their hometowns. The maps were created during a single class period.
Panel and Workshop for Visiting Saudi Electronic University Leaders
By Max Stephenson, Director of the Institute for Policy and Governance
The day-to-day management of resources and personnel is an often overlooked and underdeveloped skill among newly appointed deans and department chairs. This panel discussion sought to assist a group of 25 such officials newly appointed to their roles at the Saudi Electronic University in Saudi Arabia to develop and strengthen the administrative skills needed to ensure their success, including identifying and resolving daily issues and conflicts, setting a vision and goals, building consensus among their team, garnering financial support for their colleges, exploring paths for academic program growth and differentiating their school and college from others. The Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute (LCI) brought the Saudi academic leaders to campus in late July. Dr. Wafa Al-Daly of LCI coordinated their visit and Dr. Max Stephenson, (Director of VTIPG) participated in a panel and workshop for the guests aimed at acknowledging the above concerns alongside Dr. Devi Gnyawali (Chair, Department of Management), Dr. Robin Russell (Chair, Department of Information Technology) and Reza Barkhi (former chair of Accounting and Information systems). Thanks to all for what participants reported was a very productive session!
IPG’s Senior Fellow, Andy Morikawa, serves on the steering group of the Dialogue on Race. This summer was their sixth Annual Summer Summit. More than 200 people came together to share conversations about racial injustice and law enforcement work in Montgomery County. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was present, encouraging attendees to share thoughts about how to strengthen our community.
Conference & Print Representation
Mary Beth Dunkenberger will be part of a panel presentation entitled Considerations for Collaboration and Partnership for Research to Practice at the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) to be held in Austin in mid-November. Along with collaborators representing the Loudoun County Budget Office, Mary Beth will present an overview of a paper in progress for an in-progress special issue on research-to-practice from the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership entitled Guiding and Informing the Local Government – Nonprofit Relationship: A Case Study of an Cross-Sector Partnership in Loudoun County, Virginia. Liz Allen also has contributed to the paper and presentation.
ASPECT doctoral student Nada Berrada presented “Representing Youth of the MENA Region: Discursive Implications of Youth as a Category” at the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES), which was held July 14–22 in Seville, Spain. WOCMES is the biggest international congress on the Middle East and North Africa, nearly 3000 participants from more than 70 countries attended representing researchers, professors, students, media, professionals and other groups interested in the region's studies.
New Issue 2.1: "Culture and the State: Explorations in Community Change" is published!
Titled “Culture and the State: Explorations in Community Change,” articles in the second issue of Community Change critically interrogate various community building initiatives. These works aim to locate where change is (or is not) happening, why, and in what ways. The authors and articles explore a range of conceptions, issues, and locations, including sustainability, democracy, art, gender, and race.
Laura Zanotti and Max Stephenson, Jr. have published “Sport for Development, Peacebuilding and Social Theory: An Overview,” in Holly Collison, Simon Darnell, David Howe and Richard Giulianotti, Eds., Routledge Handbook of Sport, Peace and Development, Oxford: Routledge Publishers, 2018, Ch. 14. The new book addresses its subject in a thoroughgoing way.
Student Spotlight: Beng Abella Lipsey
Beng is a 2nd year graduate student in Urban and Regional Planning. She is also a graduate assistant at the Institute for Policy and Governance. One of her projects is the compilation and transcription of various recorded conversations on community engagement with key movers in the field, as captured by the IPG Community Voices series. The book that will arise from these transcripts, to be published in early 2019, will be edited by the Institute’s Director, Max Stephenson, and is entitled Conversations in Community Change: Voices from the Field.
Beng is pursuing a graduate degree in urban planning to complement her Master of Business Administration degree and a career in real estate and hospitality project development. Her interests include urban design, creative placemaking, and the use of culture and culinary art in community engagement, urban revitalization and increasing social capital.
In the Philippines, from which Beng originally hails, she managed the research, product development, financial feasibility, construction, marketing and sales of several award-winning real estate projects such as Anvaya Cove, Spin Hostel and the Canvas Boutique Hotel.
Finding herself at a crossroads in her life and career, Beng decided that it was a good time to study again. She is now learning more about the various perspectives through which different cultures and individuals view the world, diving into the history of architecture and urban design, pursuing ways by which arts and culture can encourage community engagement and collaboration, enjoying herself by learning more about wine and winery tourism and immersing herself in community change projects through her work at the IPG.
Reflecting on this new phase in her life, Beng is grateful for the opportunity to learn from and interact with IPG faculty, staff and affiliated students and with members of the Institute’s Community Change Collaborative (CCC). She values the perspectives they bring and the friendship they have extended. She hopes to be able to make a small difference in the lives of the people in the communities with which she is now interacting through the CCC.
In her leisure time, Beng dreams and plans with her husband John and their dog Wasabi about their next travel adventure, the bed and breakfast that they will build at a location at which there is both water and mountains, the restaurant they want to open that will offer seasonal delicacies and even simply what to grill for dinner tonight.
Commentaries & Essays
A commentary from Director Max Stephenson
September 24: Attacking Human Rights and Accountability
September 10: A Mass-Delusion Event
July 2: An “Infestation” of Lies 
RE: Reflections & Explorations
Online essay series hosted by VTIPG, written by graduate students across the University to reflect on their ongoing work in governance and policy related concerns.
September 13: The Political Economy of Trade Agreements