Lambier: Offering up a 'Blueprint' for community engagement

By Joshua Lambier
February 28, 2013


What roles do community engagement and public scholarship play at Western as it renews its Strategic Plan? During a time of change and crisis in higher education, what does it mean for an international research university to reimagine its civic commitment, and to explore new spaces of engagement at the student, faculty and institutional levels? How do we cultivate a student experience that fosters global thinking, while also promoting programs and partnerships that feature community-based learning and research that are mutually beneficial to Western and its publics?

How, in short, will Western advance the ‘civic turn’ currently taking hold in higher education across Canada and the United States?


With these questions in mind, Public Humanities at Western developed The March Blueprint: Reimagining Public Engagement, a lecture series throughout the month of March. Working in collaboration with multiple partners across campus and the community, this series seeks to foster a renewed spirit of citizenship and engagement through arts and humanities programming.

Our speakers will challenge us to think critically and creatively about the ways in which university research engages with broader publics.

Now in its second year, Public Humanities at Western was built by graduate students in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities to enhance our commitment to the promotion of innovative forms of public engagement, experiential learning and campus-community collaboration. Our objective is to foster a more recognized place for public scholarship as a valued mode of academic inquiry, and open new opportunities for young scholars to pursue civically engaged research projects that form new partnerships with our surrounding communities.

Each of our distinguished speakers in The March Blueprint is a trailblazer of such activity, forging new links between traditional scholarly research and public academic work.

While many successful campus-community projects and exchanges are taking place at Western, we believe we can do more to promote public scholarship initiatives, as well as bring further visibility to the invaluable work we already do.

And yet, there are persistent obstacles for those pursuing community-based research projects.

Young scholars are rarely trained to effectively translate their research to fit policymaking processes or broader forms of engagement, and there remains a widespread resistance on behalf of Canadian universities to include publicly engaged scholarship in considerations for granting promotion and tenure. Western’s 2007 Strategic Plan, Engaging the Future, reflects this challenge, though a great deal of emphasis is placed on producing “engaged citizens” at the undergraduate level. The same cannot be said of the section devoted to graduate education where community engagement goes missing.

While many universities and colleges in the United States have begun to address these challenges by introducing centres and institutes devoted to public engagement, the dissemination of new models of public scholarship in Canadian universities has lagged behind. The promotion and practice of democratic scholarship is, however, beginning to find regional and national champions, such as McMaster’s newly launched Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest.

If Western were to reaffirm its strategic emphasis on the development of innovative forms of engaged scholarship and campus-community collaboration, we believe it is well placed to be a national and international leader in the civic engagement movement in higher education.

The upcoming talks constitute a blueprint of the creative possibilities for an engaged research community. Rather than offering yet another dire announcement of the growing “crisis of the humanities,” The March Blueprint proudly celebrates the public values and affirmative potential of arts and humanities education.  

Joshua Lambier is the director of Public Humanities at Western.


Public Humanities at Western presents The March Blueprint: Reimagining Public Engagement, featuring a cluster of four speakers throughout the month of March. Visit for details. Speakers in the series include:

Erin Manning, University Research Chair in the Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia
Brian Massumi, Communication Sciences professor,
Propositions for Thought in the Act: A Public Lecture

5:30 p.m. March 4 in Conron Hall, University College, room 224;

Robert Enright, University Research Professor in Art Criticism, Guelph
The Compounded Eye: Beauty and the Body; its Beholders and Beholdings
7:30 p.m. March 7, North Campus Building, room 117;

Ruth B. Phillips, Canada Research Chair in Modern Culture, Carleton
Museum Utopias, Museum Dystopias: New National Museum Agendas and the Dawning of the Age of Hybridity
4:30 p.m. March 14, University Community Centre, room 56; and

Jeff Melanson, president, Banff Centre
Creativity and Change: The First Annual ‘Public Matters Lecture’
7 p.m. March 28, Museum London.


8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(holidays excluded)


Helen Connell

Jason Winders

Paul Mayne

Adela Talbot

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