Task Force on Community Engagement releases final report

On Friday, Feb. 5, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri received the final report and recommendations from the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement.  

Appointed by the president in September 2008, the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement, chaired by Rhonda Lenton (right), associate vice-president academic, compiled the report following 16 months of meetings with the University’s constituent groups and community partners.

“I want to thank the members of the task force for the time and energy they have put into producing this report. I also want to thank community members who submitted their ideas, suggestions and concerns to the task force,” said Shoukri. “This report will help us build on our long tradition of reaching out to the communities we serve and help us to become a leading community engaged university.”    

The task force’s membership was composed of 20 representatives from government, not-for-profit, business, education and community services sectors and from the University’s Faculties, student and alumni groups. York University Chancellor Roy McMurtry, who has a keen interest in voluntarism and youth access initiatives, was also a member of the task force. Secretariat support for the task force was provided by the Office of University Events & Community Relations.  

Over the course of the last year, the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement met to explore three foundational questions: 

  • What is a community engaged university? 
  • What purpose does community-university engagement serve? 
  • Moving forward, how might York become and sustain its future as a leading community engaged university?

With approximately half of the task force’s membership represented by external constituents, the task force’s earliest meetings focused on understanding how York’s mission, which includes a commitment to accessible education and social justice, aligns with community engagement. While task force members were most familiar with York’s rich history of access and outreach activities in the Jane-Finch community, they also learned about the growing number of strategic community-University collaborations supporting learning and research in other local neighborhoods as well as regionally and internationally.

According to AVP Lenton, "Community engagement is fundamentally about the role of higher education in civic society. Through experiential learning opportunities, research collaborations and active citizenship, communities are strengthened, learning is enhanced and knowledge exchange is advanced."

In its report to the president, the task force proposed that York University adopt the following statement on community engagement:  

York University strives to be a recognized and leading community engaged university. York University values the diversity of knowledge and expertise within communities and among its many cross-sectoral partners. As an engaged university, York is committed to fostering and sustaining community-University collaborations for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources that address pertinent societal issues, build community capacity, enhance learning and discovery, strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility, and prepare educated, engaged citizens.

The report recommends that engagement activities undertaken by the University be guided by six principles: focus on community issues; mutual benefit; shared knowledge and expertise; study and evaluation; transparency and accountability; and transformation.

Numerous suggestions are provided within the report with the goal of embedding community engagement into the institutional fabric of the University. Included among these are recommendations to increase alignment of community engagement with academic planning and priorities, and to improve communication and coordination of engagement activities. The task force highlights in its report the potential and socially transformative role that an engaged university could have on building community capacity, enhancing students’ learning experiences and promoting civic engagement.

An increasing number of Canadian and international universities have started to incorporate community engagement in their academic plans. The membership of the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement came to the unanimous conclusion that York University is uniquely positioned among Canadian universities with respect to community engagement. Placing York in a leadership role are its mission statement, geographical location, international strategy and global outreach, in combination with the many community-University activities currently underway and its commitment to the development of strong partnerships and best practices in community-university collaboration. 

"We have long valued our connections to York University and applaud the significant collaborative efforts to bring community and learning together to our mutual benefit," said John Ryerson, director of culture for the Town of Markham and a member of the task force. "It has been a valuable and engaging opportunity to be part of the task force."

The task force’s final report and recommendations, along with additional information about the membership of the task force and its consultations, can be found on the President’s Task Force on Community Engagement Web site.