Charting the Future of Metropolitan Universities: CUMU Annual Conference 2016 in Review

Whatever the results of the upcoming presidential election, it is hard to deny that the United States is currently in the midst of great change. For this reason, it is essential for scholars and administrators of higher education institutions to look for ways to continue serving their communities. These tensions were highlighted with urgency and wisdom by the many speakers and presenters at the 2016 Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) Annual Conference, held Oct. 23 through 25 in Washington D.C.

Set in the Nation’s Capital, the center of American politics, the conference focused on the theme Charting the Future of Metropolitan Universities. Nearly 350 attendees from different backgrounds and fields gathered to explore solutions for the most pressing issues facing urban and metropolitan universities and their surrounding communities.

The conversations started on Sunday evening with a welcome reception at the ballroom of the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel. Guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres while listening to remarks from several speakers. Elaine Ward, Associate Professor at Merrimack College, presented Mara Tieken, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Education at Bates College, with the Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty.

Blair Ruble, Vice President for Programs Woodrow Wilson Center and the Director of the Urban Sustainability Laboratory, gave the keynote speech for the opening reception. Ruble discussed the importance of place, a theme very dear to the CUMU mission, and how universities can mobilize their cities as “places of promise” where creativity can thrive.

We need to think about the role of universities in making cities places of promise,
not just in one dimension, but in every dimension
,” he said.
His call for “
Action, not just words,” resonated throughout the conference.

The following morning, attendees were treated to breakfast and a thoughtful opening plenary. CUMU Executive Director Bobbie Laur honored CUMU Strategy Advisor and former Executive Editor of the Metropolitan Universities Journal Barbara Holland for her many years of service and her considerable effort in shaping the mission of CUMU to be one of compassion and empathy.

Featured speakers included  CUMU President and President of Wagner College Richard Guarasci, author Wes Moore, and David Dyssegaard Kallick. Moore, founder and CEO of Bridge EDU, an organization committed to providing high school students with resources that allow them to transition into college, introduced Kallick by discussing the importance of inclusion in higher education.

How do we make sure higher education opportunities are not just available, but plausible,
and how do we make sure the students know this as well?
” Moore asked.

Kallick, the director of the Immigration Research Initiative of the Fiscal Policy Institute, provoked deep conversations amongst attendees with his presentation Can Immigrants Revitalize America’s Shrinking Cities? Though immigration has been a contentious issue in the current election cycle, Kallick discussed the many roles immigrants play in American society and what role academic institutions play in integrating immigrants and improving the quality of life for cities with a large immigrant community. Kallick also demonstrated how a large immigrant community can breathe life into a declining city.

If you want growth, you have to think about immigration,” Kallick said.
You can view Kallick’s presentation slides here.

The conference featured six Concurrent Sessions. In total, the CUMU Annual Conference hosted more than 80 presentations by scholars, researchers, university administrators, and community partners on topics important to urban and metropolitan universities and their communities, including food insecurity, town-gown relations, civic engagement, building partnerships, conducting institutional change, working with refugee and undocumented populations, and strategies for building and understanding the metropolitan and urban university identity. These sessions, which were followed by moderated question-and-answer sessions, sparked discussions about the challenges facing higher education and the best practices that can help the individuals and institutions overcome these and other obstacles in the future.

One of the featured sessions was Building an Anchor Mission for Community Impact, which was a conversation held by several university presidents and chancellors including Katherine Conway-Turner (SUNY, Buffalo State), Tom George (University of Missouri-St. Louis), Nancy Cantor (Rutgers University, Newark), and John Fry (Drexel University), as well as Steve Dubb of the research nonprofit The Democracy Collaborative, about their work piloting a community impact anchor dashboard in their respective universities.

The Luncheon Plenary panel session, “The Future of Urban and Metropolitan Universities and the Need for Real Innovation,” produced a gripping discussion of the disparities between the demands of higher education institutions and the needs of students. Moderated by John Cavanaugh, President of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Region, and featuring panelists Leonard Haynes, Senior Fellow of Consortium of Metropolitan Universities, Washington, D.C.; Karen Stout, President of Achieving the Dream; Bob Caret, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland; and Stephen Jordan, President of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, the panel was a frank look at how universities can grow in the face of great cultural and financial difficulties while maintaining their mission to serve their students. Several of the speakers addressed the question posed by Caret, “How do you increase productivity and maintain quality without raising costs?

The second day of the conference concluded with a poster presentation and networking reception. The poster presentations demonstrated how students and professionals tested innovations and lead grassroots research through outreach efforts within their own urban and metropolitan communities. Some of these presentations included topics relating to diversity, transportation, service learning, and the role of print media within universities.

In the final morning of the conference, attendees were invited to a professional networking breakfast, where they could discuss the challenges they faced in their respective fields and exchange wisdom and encouragement. Following two more Concurrent Sessions, attendees were treated to a lively panel discussion at the final Luncheon Plenary, where policy experts from the firm Holland & Knight provided sharp insight into how the presidential and congressional elections stand to have lasting effects on higher education.

Though universities around the world face many uncertainties in the coming months, the profound conversations and thought-provoking presentations held at the 2016 CUMU Annual Conference have demonstrated that urban and metropolitan universities and their surrounding communities have the wisdom, courage, creativity, and passion to propel these institutions through the challenges that will arise through innovation and collaboration.

To view all of the great pictures from #CUMU2016 visit the flickr album.