This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Task force recommends creation of community affairs unit

Published: February 24, 2005

Reporter Contributor

Although UB is making significant contributions to public and community service, the effort lacks focus, internal organization, goals and a specific interest in the University Heights neighborhood, the Community Engagement Task Force has found.

The task force, established by President John B. Simpson as part of the UB 2020 institutional planning process, is recommending that the university create a community affairs unit that would be part of a new external affairs office led by a senior-level executive reporting directly to the UB president.

Simpson announced last summer that as part of a reorganization of the administrative leadership of the university, a national search would be conducted for a new position of vice president for external affairs.

The task force, charged with making recommendations for a "community engagement" mission, strategy and organization, presented its findings on Feb. 17 at a community forum in the Student Union Theater, North Campus. The group held a similar session the day before in Harriman Hall, South Campus.

Dennis Black, vice president for student affairs and spokesman for the task force, told about 100 faculty, staff and students that the new community affairs unit would develop partnerships and target tasks, resources and responsibilities within the community. It also would promote a long-term, image-building campaign, not only locally, but nationally and globally as well, and implement tools to monitor and promote UB's image in the community. The unit would be identified as the place for members of the community to go when seeking assistance from UB.

"Those universities that did a good job (with community engagement) organized their external affairs under a central executive," Black said, noting that UB planned to create such a position and unit within the next few months.

Although the task force had found public and community service initiatives all around the university, the efforts were not coordinated with a specific purpose or theme in mind, and lacked strategy and organization, Black said.

Moreover, the university was not being recognized for its depth of contributions to the community.

As part of its work, the task force interviewed elected officials and community leaders, and business owners and homeowners in the neighborhoods near the university.

Elected officials' perceptions of the university were mixed, the task force said, noting that many believed that UB could be a catalyst for change in the community, but that the university did not seem to outwardly demonstrate an interest.

The professional schools received the most positive feedback, the task force said, but many of those interviewed felt that although UB was doing a lot of things, the efforts weren't making a difference.

The University Heights neighborhood adjacent to the South Campus was mentioned unanimously as needing attention from the university and that UB was not effectively promoting itself as much as it could or should be.

Those attending the forum raised numerous questions about the report. Among the concerns expressed were how the community affairs unit would organize data and reports regarding the various public service initiatives on campus, how this would be financially supported, how students would be incorporated into the initiatives, how the community could present its needs to the university and how soon this would all be implemented.

Black told audience members that the task force would like to have a vice president for external affairs appointed before the end of this semester and that the guidelines of the draft report had been accepted by the president. He said the next step was to further edit the draft, incorporating comments made by those attending the two forums. In addition, 600 individuals and leaders of community groups will receive a copy of the report and be given the opportunity to comment.

Black said task force members hope the draft can be finalized by the first week of March and that Simpson and Provost Satish Tripathi, executive vice president for academic affairs, were "ready to move on this."

The forum was cut short by a fire drill in the union, but Black welcomed questions from anyone in the UB community at any time.

The task force's findings and recommendations can be found at