August 2015 | Volume 3, Issue 3  


 Grantee Spotlight: Butler University: Education from Community Collaboration
 USC’s Commitment to South Los Angeles
 Achieving Effective Governance: Examining the Evolution of an Anchor Institution
 Nancy Zimpher: Striving to Make a Collective Impact


Achieving Effective Governance: Examining the Evolution of an Anchor Institution

In “Effective Governance of a University as an Anchor Institution,” authors Ira Harkavy, Matthew Hartley, Rita A. Hodges, Anthony Sorrentino, and Joann Weeks claim that American colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to improve the economic, social, and physical health of their surrounding communities. With approximately 4 million employees and 21 million enrolled students, institutions of higher education can draw on substantial human capital. These institutions also have access to a combined $400 billion in endowment funds and annual operating budgets of $460 billion to carry out their community development initiatives. For these initiatives to be successful, however, the institutions’ culture, priorities, operations, and procurement policies must be carefully and comprehensively managed. The authors discuss some of the factors that have led to effective governance among universities that engage with their local communities. Using the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) as a case study, the report highlights lessons learned and examines how Penn’s approach can be replicated by institutions of higher learning across the country.

Effective Governance

Although various constituents participate in a university’s governance, including students and alumni, the authors identify three key groups that make decisions about the institution’s anchor activities: the board of trustees, senior administration, and faculty. To achieve effective governance, these key constituents must be attentive to the institution’s founding mission, recognize the university’s role as a corporate citizen, and form “democratic, mutually beneficial, mutually respectful partnerships” with the local community (p. 98). Having an integrated operational strategy is also important. Without common priorities and goals, meaningful, systemic change cannot be achieved. By forming a cohesive strategy, a new organizational structure can establish outreach centers that connect faculty and students with community groups.

Case Study: University of Pennsylvania

The report highlights Penn as an anchor institution that has exhibited effective governance and details the university’s efforts to improve the surrounding community. Even so, Penn did not readily acknowledge its position as an anchor institution in West Philadelphia, which the university took 20 years and three university presidencies to fully realize.

Recognizing that the success of the university depends on the health of West Philadelphia, then-president Sheldon Hackney created the Center for Community Partnerships in July 1992. The center represented a radical shift in thinking. Penn no longer viewed itself as a separate entity detached from the surrounding community; rather, the university began to address mutual problems and use its resources to improve the surrounding community. Perhaps the center’s greatest accomplishment during this time was the advent of its University-Assisted Community Schools initiative, which linked local public schools to the university. Despite the Hackney administration’s achievements, more comprehensive approaches were still needed to “engage all of the university” (p. 106).

After becoming Penn’s president in 1994, Judith Rodin’s first priority was reforming undergraduate education at the university. These reforms emphasized integrating theory with practice and engaging in the concerns of the local community. In 1994, Rodin created what is now called the Office of Government and Community Affairs to open communications between the university and the community. Moreover, the West Philadelphia Initiatives, a university-led approach to improve the surrounding neighborhood that began in 1996, was successful because its leadership, management, and communication responsibilities were shared across all of the university’s administrative departments. This multifaceted approach focused on five key areas: education, housing, public safety, commercial and real estate development, and economic development.

Penn’s current president, Amy Gutmann, focuses on both local and global engagement. The university’s current mission, outlined in the Penn Compact, is to advance the “central values of democracy: life, liberty, opportunity, and mutual respect” (p. 110). This philosophy is embodied in the work of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center (formerly the Center for Community Partnerships). The center collaborates with the university’s executive vice president and local partners to improve the economic conditions of West Philadelphia and the city by providing residents with employment and education opportunities. By integrating the university’s administrative side (the executive vice president’s office) with the academic side (the Netter Center), this partnership serves as an effective model for Penn’s future community development initiatives.

Lessons Learned

The authors offer 11 lessons drawn from more than two decades of their own work and research that universities can consider when developing their own community development initiatives. The lessons learned indicate that effective governance can occur only when local engagement is integrated into the university’s founding mission and when the leadership — trustees, president, and faculty — support the community development initiative. Moreover, to sustain commitment and engagement over time, universities must use all of their academic and administrative resources, and they need to create organizational units to effectively manage these endeavors. The report also notes that universities must remain focused and patient because changing the university’s culture and improving community conditions takes time.

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