The Conference Begins….
The Community University Exposition Conference, 2015 kick started at the Carleton University on the 26th of May. The welcome and inaugural speech was given Dr Edward Jackson, Conference Convener, CUExpo. The inauguration event saw the conduction of a special smudging ceremony facilitated by Elder Paul Skanks, a ceremony considered to have special spiritual significance, especially amongst the aboriginal race in Canada. Through this ceremony, the participants paid their gratitude to all elements of Mother Nature which gifted them this beautiful life and even better reasons to live. Following this ceremony, was the conference’s first keynote, which was delivered by Dr Dawn Harvard, Interim President, Native Women’s Association of Canada. Dr Harvard pulled off a very strong and passionate plenary wherein she outlined the kind of discrimination meted out to the aboriginal race in a civilized country in India. Dr Harvard drew attention to the most pressing issue facing aboriginal women: violence. “Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be killed than non-aboriginal women” said Harvard when speaking about the injustices facing aboriginal women in Canada. She went on to speak about the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada and criticized the federal government’s refusal to do a national inquiry. Her speech struck a chord and resonated with the audience, regardless of the fact of where they came from or which race they belonged to.
The keynote was followed by a number of parallel concurrent sessions on various aspects of community university engagement practices and methods. Some of them focused on Community First Partnership Tools, brokering of community campus partnerships through different means, Sustainability of Community Based Efforts, etc. Some of the key discussion points which emerged from the session on community first partnership tools was the need for comparative review, evaluation of organization structures, tools that focus on sustainability, both at the project and the stakeholder level, creation of open spaces for dialogue, developing an understanding of common cultural practices, tech-based platforms for knowledge sharing, etc.
Along with the university’s perspective on engagement, the sessions also saw presentations focusing on the students’ perspective on engagement, and why at all was it important for them to engage with the communities. Ms. Aranee Manoharan presented the case of Kingston University UK, where she worked as the student community engagement advisor. She introduced to the audience a concept of ‘student civic responsibility’’, which helps instill in the students social values, knowledge and employability skills, and ultimately develops them as confident persons, self-directed learners, active contributors and concerned citizens. Interestingly, she shared with the participants the idea of the business model to community engagement, to procure funding from the universities in a country where community engagement is not as ‘engaged’ a concept as it is in countries like Canada. She also spoke about the integration of community engagement across all three functions of universities, which is teaching, research and service.
The second keynote of the conference was delivered by Dr Michel Lizee, coordinator from the Servix Aux Collectivities at the UQAM (retired). Dr Lizee spoke about a very interesting and innovative concept of a pension plan designed and managed by community groups for better income security. He has been leading from 1991 to 2013 in co-operation with a labour organization several educational activities on pension plan administration and negotiation as well as investment. His presentations focused on monetary incentives for retaining quality workers in the NGO sector through a facilitative intervention such as the pension plan. Lizée, who is also an economist specializing in pensions, explained his pension plan concept for community groups – an award-winning system developed in Quebec in the mid-2000s. “It didn’t make any sense that people who will work their whole lives defending other people will spend the last 25 years of their life as poor people,” he said. “People realized they can’t afford not to have a pension plan.” Lizée said creating a sustainable pension plan was especially important for community sector employers to retain workers. He said hanging on to talented employees often requires benefits such as group insurance and pension plans, which most community sector employers didn’t have. In 2001 in Quebec, Lizée said, 62 per cent of community sector employees earned less than $25,000 a year, and less than one per cent of community groups had pension plans for their workers. Only nine per cent of organizations had an RRSP, typically without an employer contribution, he said. Lizée said he helped set up a single multi-employer pension plan for Quebec community groups that adapted to the needs and limitations of the community sector. These programs, he said, would be planned and managed by the groups themselves, and would mean better income security for workers when they retire.
The following concurrent sessions witnessed presentations and discussions on topics such as Research for all: Universities & Society, Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network, performing ethics in community based participatory research, integrating first voice perspectives into community university partnerships etc.
The evening of the first day of the conference saw a grand banquet and awards night being organized at the Shaw Centre, Ottawa. Hosted by Dr Edward Jackson, Conference Convenor, the welcome address was given by Dr Runte, President, Carleton University. The event started by Dr Jackson giving a tribute to Dr Martha Farrell, from PRIA, India and Dr David Watson, renowned scholar and founder of the Community University Partnerships Program, who recently left for their heavenly abode. While Dr Farrell had devoted her life for gender equality, Dr Watson had been the champion of university civic engagement. The keynote for the banquet was given by Dr Al Richmond, Executive Director, Centre for Community Partnerships and Health (CCPH). Dr Richmond categorically emphasized the role of community campus partnerships for social change, and reiterated a statement from the morning keynote given by Dr Dawn Harvard that ‘While we are not responsible for our past, we are definitely accountable for our future’. He quoted extensively from the UNESCO Chair’s global survey report on ‘Facilitative structures for Community University Research Partnerships’, and also from the event proceedings of the April symposia on mainstreaming community university research partnerships, held in New Delhi, in April’2015. Dr Joanna Ochocka from CBRC Canada also announced Simon Fraser University, on the west coast of Canada as the host for the next CUExpo’2017. A couple of awards were also given out to institutions and organizations doing exemplary work in promoting community campus partnerships.