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President's Column

Thompson Hall

Reaching Out from the Ivy

By Chancellor Stephen J. Reno
University System of New Hampshire

Something there is that doesn't love a wall," wrote Robert Frost. That line from his beloved poem "Mending Wall" was in my mind a few weeks ago as I listened to UNH President Joan Leitzel speaking at the annual Alumni Legislative Breakfast in Concord. She was talking about the innumerable ways in which the university reaches out to improve the quality of life in communities all over New Hampshire, and it occurred to me that the most familiar metaphors for academic institutions--the ivory tower and the ivy-covered walls--don't fit our state university at all.

On the screen behind Dr. Leitzel was a map of the state, a map covered with dots, each representing a place where the university is working with local organizations to improve the quality of life, strengthen the economy and preserve the environment. Many of those places are familiar to me, a relative newcomer to New Hampshire, because I have visited them to see firsthand how much the university is doing to serve the people of New Hampshire.

Community service programs conducted by the university are as varied as you would expect, given the range of interests, talents and expertise collected at UNH. Here are just a few examples:

  • Northeast Passage is helping people with disabilities reach new heights and gain renewed confidence. Since 1990, this UNH organization has created recreational opportunities for more than 10,000 people with disabilities.
  • A partnership between UNH and the state corrections department has helped 80 prison inmates become better parents to some 300 children. Research shows that programs that provide family support reduce the inmates' recidivism rate and the likelihood that their children will follow in their footsteps.
  • The university's technical assistance to the business community involves 665 projects in 88 communities. The New Hampshire Industrial Research Center, for example, assists companies with basic and applied research and development, market research and training, and provides low-cost help to inventors. Since 1992, it has brought more than $200 million in benefits and growth to important industries in the state.
  • The university is helping to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education in the state through 664 projects in 152 communities. The New Hampshire Space Grant Consortium, for example, links researchers at the university with science teachers in schools across the state.
  • Through its many outreach programs, the university's Cooperative Extension Service provides services to one out of every four New Hampshire families annually, an impressive figure by anyone's estimation. The 4-H Program alone involves 140,000 youngsters.
  • At one time, it is true, colleges and universities were literally and figuratively behind walls. The separation was seen as necessary to create and preserve an enclave for teaching and reflection. But that model no longer either fits the reality or matches the need. UNH is a truly engaged university, one that creatively and successfully combines the service aspect of its mission with its teaching and research. This combination benefits both the students, whose educational experience is enhanced by opportunities to work on real-world problems, and the communities that gain from the assistance of a fine research institution.

Right now, many members of the extended university community are contacting members of the state legislature to persuade them to improve the level of state support for the university and the University System of New Hampshire. As we make our case for greater support, we should be quick to cite UNH's outreach activities, for they demonstrate how the state's modest investment returns enormous value to the greater community.

As a professor of religious studies, I might observe that there are two words whose original meanings have been forgotten over time, despite their continued use in everyday discourse. These are pride and humility. The former is defined as an inordinate or inappropriate sense of one's self and worth. The other--often seen as the opposite of pride and hence thought of as self-effacement--is actually defined as a clear-eyed acknowledgment of one's goodness or accomplishment.

That morning in Concord, Dr. Leitzel's true humility was both evident and justified. In fact, the team at the University of New Hampshire is doing its job well. There is something at UNH that "doesn't love a wall," and New Hampshire is a better place because of it. ~

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