Connection, Collaboration and Context: CURA’s Path of Mutual Enrichment and Continued Relevance in Community-University Partnerships
In our current period of austerity, institutions of higher education have come under increasing pressure to demonstrate how their research and teaching serve the public. Academics have been asked to articulate who their research matters to and for what purpose. Programs for civic engagement and community-based research are spreading in popularity as these institutions strive to demonstrate their relevance, yet these programs vary widely and operate in a variety of relationships to the public, from volunteers to advisors to partners. Urban affairs, and especially centers established to address urban needs, are especially well situated to contribute to these discussions and offer examples of successful engagement over extended periods. This paper presents historical research on CURA, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, from its creation in 1966 to the present. It aims to: 1) offer an account of a university-community partnership’s success across dramatically different political periods, to include changing definitions of success; 2) make explicit the range of community issues the resources of higher education have been used to address and provide a comprehensive accounting of those resources; 3) analyze archival material to discover possible themes, threads, or perspectives of continuity that play a role in its continued vitality; 4) consider possible omissions, community group complaints, institutional dissatisfaction, etc. that illuminate program development; 5) consider the role of established centers like CURA as programs for community engagement proliferate.