Partner Profile: University of Victoria

Posted:December 1, 2014

University Context

The University of Victoria is a mid-sized (approximately 20,000 student) research-intensive university. The university’s most recent Strategic Plan (2012), “A Vision for the Future: Building on Excellence” envisions a path forward that builds the University’s excellence in civic engagement and community-engaged research. The University’s mission states their commitment to:

  • Promoting a high-quality teaching and learning environment;
  • Integrating teaching, learning, research and civic engagement across disciplines;
  • Employing core strengths to benefit external communities – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – and promoting civic engagement and global citizenship; and,
  • Promoting the development of a just and sustainable society through programs of education and research and the stewardship of our own financial and physical resources.

Community-engagement is seen as a key strategy to meet the University’s mission. Flagship initiatives such as the Office of Community-Based Research (OCBR), the Coop Program, the creation of a Community Relations Director and more recently, Ideafest are indicators of excellence in community engagement at UVIC. Illustrations of community engaged teaching, research and service are found across all levels of the university. Several research centres (Aging; Youth and Society; Aboriginal Health; Global Studies; Cooperative and Community Based Economy; Early Childhood; Addictions) have major community-based research initiatives.

In addition to work ongoing at these institutes, community engagement occurs in a number of university departments, including the Department of Geography, where Dr. Jutta Gutberlet established a Community-Based Research Laboratory. The Faculty of Education has also developed the Centre for Outreach Education, which creates partnerships and linkages to fulfill the unmet needs of children and youth in the community. A number of other units and initiatives on campus help to foster community engagement, including CanAssist, a service-based organization working toward improving quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The university’s Speakers Bureau provides speakers for community organizations and agencies free of charge. University 101 and 102, introductory courses in the humanities and social sciences, are available to individuals who may not normally be able to access university education. The university also furthers its commitment to community engagement via its Community Relations department, which works in an outreach capacity to deepen linkages between the university and the community. In terms of community-based education, the University of Victoria provides a number of experiential education opportunities to its students, including through the Island Medical Program, which engages community members as patient educators, physician mentors, and volunteer patients. The University of Victoria is also strongly linked to the Aboriginal community, and continues to engage in collaborative research with Indigenous partners. While community engagement has been identified in the strategic vision of the institution, the momentum for and building of community engagement actions and strategies has happened from the ground up. The UVIC reputation is that of being practitioners of community engagement.

Challenges and Opportunities

There have been several key reports that have shaped the evolution of community engagement at UVIC in the past five years, including the 2011 report of the Victoria Civic Engagement Steering Council which contained results from a survey of 50 representatives of local business and government, non-profits and the arts and culture sector, interviews with key community stakeholders and an inventory of key engagement initiatives. In early 2013, the academic leadership retreat focused on community-university engagement, affirming the university’s commitment to community-university engagement. Following this, two new senior committees were created: an executive committee on community engagement that included all four vice-presidents and a coordinating committee on community engagement with representatives from across UVIC.

The OCBR was closed in 2013 as a new infrastructure was introduced to enhance the capacity of UVIC to be community engaged. This included:

  • Research Partnerships and Knowledge Mobilization (RPKM), a unit providing administrative support services
  • A new research centre, the Institute for Studies and Innovation in Community-University Engagement (ISICUE) which nurtures innovative community-university projects and also studies processes and effectiveness of community engagement
  • The position of Special Advisor to the Provost on Community Engagement;
  • The Innovation Centre for Entrepreneurs (ICE) as a university-wide incubation for social innovation; and,
  • The position of Director of Indigenous Academics and Community Engagement

Focus on Reward and Development

Community engagement is explicitly valued in the University of Victoria’s promotion and tenure document, as outlined in a document prepared by the Office of Community Based Research entitled Recognizing Excellence in Community–Engaged Scholarship: Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure Decisions. Specifically steps taken by the University of Victoria since 2010:

  • Holding a 6-part Community Engagement Institute series in the winter and spring of 2013, and held a round of community-engagement workshops with a focus on innovative approaches to community-based research in December 2013 (through ISICUE)
  • Ideafest, a week long event, was created to showcase research
  • Offering a workshop for chairs, directors and deans on community engaged scholarship and tenure/promotion assessments
  • Developing a community-engaged course with Professor Tara Ney, the School of Public Administration and ISICUE, wherein students will work with community and campus collaborators to learn about “Dialogue, Deliberation and Civic Engagement”
  • Establishing the distinguished Engaged Scholar Awards to recognize excellence in community engaged scholarship
  • Establishing a Community Engaged Learning Fund to support engaged curriculum development;
  • Holding CUVIC 2014, a Global Engagement Conference, in May 2014

For more information please email [email protected]

The challenge of tenure and promotion procedures should not be permitted to unduly limit the growth of the movement for community-university engagement in Canada. A dialogue for action on this issue should be launched and sustained until this obstacle is permanently removed.*