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The socially responsible university: a way of being

JIMENEZ, Mónica (2007)


In 2001, the project "Universidad Construye País" (University Builds Country) was launched in Chile. Its aim was to carry out coordinated, joint social responsibility activities in the country’s universities. One of the people behind this project is the rector of the Catholic University of Temuco, Mónica Jiménez de la Jara. In this article, she analyses the development of the project and its conceptual roots, and discusses the most important aspects of theories and practices of university social responsibility. The initiative is included in GUNI’s Universities and Social Commitment Observatory.


The Universidad Construye País project was set up in 2001. Its network now includes fourteen Chilean universities[1]. Since 2001, many changes have occurred in Chile, Latin America, the world, even in my own life. Today, I manage a university whose main characteristic is that it promotes social mobility in an indigenous context. Thus, I am in the enviable position of being able to directly apply a range of socially responsible practices.
 
Regional context: Latin America and the Caribbean
 
The situation in Latin America has prompted universities to consider social commitment or, in other words, social responsibility to be an essential principle driving their actions. According to CEPAL figures, 224 million people live in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 98 million are indigenous peoples. Living in poverty does not only mean a lack of resources to pay for basic necessities; it also involves social exclusion, which prevents full participation in society (Ottone, 2006)[2].
 
Poverty affects development opportunities in families, and is transferred from generation to generation. The low educational achievement of broad segments of the population is one of the main mechanisms of the intergenerational transfer of poverty. Young people from poor social strata often have low educational levels and lack access to quality education. Therefore, their main channel of mobility and social inclusion is blocked (Ottone, 2006). Can universities remain indifferent to this situation?  
 
 
The social responsibility of universities: our initial definition of the concept
 
One of the first activities of the Universidad Construye País project—once it had raised the awareness of rectors, academics and students from various universities and formed teams in each participating university—was to define the concept of social responsibility and indicators for measuring it. Work on this task began in 2002 as a joint effort (Universidad Construye País, 2006).
 
At that time, we defined the social responsibility of universities as the capacity to disseminate and put into practice a series of principles and values, by means of four key processes: management, teaching, research and extension activities.
 
We then had to define our declared values and principles:
 

 - On a personal level: dignity for the individual, liberty and integrity.

 

 - On a social level: public good and social equity, sustainable development and environmental issues, sociability and solidarity for successful coexistence, acceptance and appreciation of diversity, civic responsibility, democracy and participation.

 

 - On a university level: commitment to truth, excellence, interdependence and transdisciplinarity.

 
We also defined what universities are responsible for and to whom and how they should respond.
 
In terms of what universities were responsible for, we agreed that they had to put our declared principles and values into practice. In other words, they were expected to base their academic and organisational responsibilities on ethical concepts. These concepts should influence management, teaching, research and extension decisions. Ethics and the declared values and principles must be at the heart of universities.
 
Whom should universities answer to? Firstly, universities should answer to their own communities, including academics, other employees and students—both individually and as a community. Then, they should answer to their country, to the Chile of the present and the future. Universities must have a view of the future and anticipate the country’s needs for new services. In addition, in a globalised society, universities must answer to the needs of Latin America and the world.
 
How can they be responsible? Through the key processes of management, teaching, research and university extension, which should include moments of reflection to provide the depth and social contingency required of a university’s response. Universities should be responsible in their daily functions. Thus, social responsibility of universities is not an extracurricular activity; it is part of universities’ essence, their ethos, their way of being.
 
 
Other definitions of social responsibility
 
Other definitions of social responsibility can now be found in Latin America. They do not contradict the Universidad Construye País definition. However, they provide different views and emphases, which are worth considering in this discussion of the concept.
 
François Vallaeys, a French philosopher at the Catholic University of Lima, defines social responsibility of universities as a policy of ethical quality in the activities of the university community (students, lecturers, administrative staff), through responsible management of the educational, cognitive, labour and environmental impact of the university, in a participative dialogue with society to promote sustainable human development (Vallaeys, 2007). 
              
Perhaps the main difference between the approaches of other Latin American authors and the initial Universidad Construye País definition is that our institution agreed on a series of values and principles that it did not classify in terms of the development of ethics [3] or human rights theory[4]. In Latin America today, emphasis is placed on principles that are adhered to by groups of universities. For example, universities that are members of the AUSJAL[5] network prioritise second-generation human rights, which are economic and social, and emphasise Latin America’s need for social justice. Others, such as François Vallaeys, [6] emphasise global topics, such as the greenhouse effect, energy saving, etc.
 
The Universidad Construye País project involves a network of very different universities, in which secular and Christian humanism meet. Therefore, members are left to put their own emphasis on social responsibility. The main aim of the Universidad Construye País approach is to put values and ethics at the very centre of universities. Each university in the network was requested to specify its priorities and to be consistent with them in its work. Behind this approach is the conviction that values are learnt from emotion and motivation, then experience and experimentation, followed by reflection and discussion. Therefore, universities should define and commit to the values that they are willing to apply and that are essential to their development process.
 
 
University processes and their impact outside universities
 
Another difference between the definitions of social responsibility relates to processes and impacts. Universidad Construye País emphasised university processes, rather than the impact of universities. Thus, the initial focus of the project was on the values and principles that the universities aimed to embody and develop in their main functions. In contrast, the focus of Vallaeys’s proposal is on the impact that universities have in four (now five) key dimensions, which are also related to specific functions.
 
In specifying values and principles, we can examine the bases of social responsibility in greater depth, in terms of the intended actions of our universities and their contributions to society. In contrast, an emphasis on the impact of universities highlights the fact that intentions are only intentions until they generate events that can effectively change reality. Focusing on values and principles helps us to fix goals and select strategies that are consistent with these goals. Likewise, it enables us to submit these definitions to empirical verification, i.e. we can check whether a selected strategy enables us to advance effectively in the required direction.
 
These two approaches appear to be complementary, due to the major contribution of other authors. However, social responsibility of universities is effected through key university processes. Therefore, it is not an extracurricular activity or an activity for students alone. As stated above, it involves the very essence of a university, its way of being and its ethos.
 
We still need to work on the impacts produced by implementing or ignoring actions in the university management. Zaffaroni (2007) [7] distinguishes four areas of impact, which were increased to five in the last AUSJAL meeting in Caracas. Universities have:  
 
# Organisational impact. This is equivalent to corporate social responsibility. All organisations inevitably have an impact resulting from the ways in which they are managed. A management ethic to which values are central should be applied. This ethic should be expressed in the work culture, in the relation between clients and suppliers, in the relation between employees—both academics and administrative staff—and in the relation with students. In this area, a series of social responsibility policies need to be developed for each one of the aforementioned aspects.
  
# Environmental impact. Universities have effects on the environment, in the form of waste and pollutants, indiscriminate use of water and energy, annoying noise and waste that is not separated at source. In turn, universities can raise students’ awareness of the environmental problems facing society and contribute actively to overcoming them.   
  
# Educational impact. This arises when students are educated in values and in an understanding of the society that they are part of; when students are educated as democratic citizens; when the university community can participate actively in projects that serve the community; when members of the educational community participate in reflecting on experiences; when they commit themselves voluntarily to service projects; when there is interdisciplinary work on projects that serve the community; when there are continuous improvements in syllabuses on the basis of experience; etc.  
 
# Cognitive impact. When research areas open up to sustainable human development issues; when research projects address themes related to ethnicity, gender, poverty and disability; when research projects integrate different disciplinary perspectives; when learning is shared with other community actors; when the knowledge generated meets standards of quality and relevance established by the university; when the knowledge generated is disseminated to the academic community, relevant actors in the field and the general public; etc.   
  
# Social impact. When the university opens its doors to receive students from the most disadvantaged sectors of the population; when the university takes responsibility for its students and keeps them in the education system with good results; when programmes are developed to give all students the same level of basic competence; when studies are undertaken on dropping out and on appropriate qualifications; when there are a series of student benefits that help to achieve the aforementioned; when the social projects undertaken by the university comply with the proposed objectives; when the university has agreements with social agents to develop joint projects; when the activities that are carried out have considerable scope; when there is a university budget allocated to forming links with relevant social agents in the community; etc.
 
These views, contributions and different emphases will help the Universidad Construye País network to reflect on the impacts of socially responsible management and agree on systems and indicators to measure it systematically. This debate is enriching. I hope that it will help us to achieve our objectives and to bring about new ways of being university, in which effective practices of social responsibility are boosted.


FOOTNOTES

[1] The universities that currently make up the network are the University of La Serena, the University of Valparaíso, the Catholic University of Valparaíso, the University of Federico Santa María, the University of Talca, the Catholic University of Maule, the University of Concepción, the University of Bío-Bío, the University of La Frontera, the Catholic University of Temuco, the Austral University of Chile, the Alberto Hurtado University, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the Metropolitan Technological University, the University of Chile and the University of Santiago de Chile.
[2] Ernesto Ottone, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, “Hace falta un debate público sobre acciones afirmativas”, in the book published by the Equitas Foundation: Caminos para la Inclusión Social en la Educación Superior, 2007.
[3] Ethics of goodness, ethics of justice, global ethics.
[4] First-generation civil and political human rights, which are focused on liberty; second-generation human rights, which are economic and social and focused on justice; and third-generation human rights, which are the right to sustainable development, peace and international solidarity and are focused on the values of interdependence and international solidarity.
[5] AUSJAL: Association of Universities Entrusted to the Company of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL network), whose secretariat is at the Andres Bello University, Caracas, Venezuela.
[6] François Vallaeys is a French philosopher resident in Lima. He is an academic at the Catholic University of Peru, Lima. He stresses third-generation human rights. His concerns are global: he considers that environmental topics and peace are priorities, and that the generations of human rights are inclusive, i.e. there can be no concern for global issues if there is no concern for issues of liberty and social justice. Presentation given at the AUSJAL meeting, Caracas, June 2007.
[7] Cecilia Zaffaroni, Catholic University of Uruguay, defines four areas of impact: educational, organisational, cognitive and social. AUSJAL meeting in Caracas, June 2007. 


Mónica Jiménez de la Jara, Rector
Catholic University of Temuco

Mónica Jiménez de la Jara is currently rector of the Catholic University of Temuco, Chile. She has a qualification in social work from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and a master’s degree in social work from the Catholic University of America, Washington DC. She is the leader of the Universidad Construye País project that brings together 14 Chilean universities, founder of the Participa and Aprender corporations and is currently the chairwoman of the AraucaníAprende and La Frontera foundations.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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