The posting below is a review by Stephen Troost of the book, The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage: Taking Campus-Community Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level, by Stephen M. Gavazzi, Ph.D. The review appeared in Planning for Higher Education, Volume 44, Number 4, July–September 2016. Society for College and University Planning www.scup.org © 2016 Society for College and University Planning. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage (review)
IN HIS 2016 BOOK The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage: Taking Campus-Community Outreach and Engagement to the Next Level, Stephen Gavazzi, Ph.D., leverages his scholarly background in marriage and family therapy to draw parallels between campus-community relationships and marriages. Combining this background with his position as dean and director of The Ohio State University at Mansfield regional campus, the author provides a unique and often lighthearted exploration of how a well-functioning campus-community relationship is established and maintained. The author states, “Because I am both a social scientist who studies marriages and families and a marriage and family therapist, I have come to believe that the scholarly literature on marriages and families can and does provide additional invaluable insights into town-gown relationships” (p. 5).
Through my own experiences that include 11 years as Michigan State University’s campus planner and another 20 years prior to that working with and leading the campus planning studio at one of the nation’s most respected planning firms, I can fully attest that town-gown relationships are highly personal, requiring ongoing investments of time and energy. I can also postulate that some of these relationships could have benefited from occasional interventions by trained relationship therapists.
Gavazzi offers readers a new set of lenses for observing and reflecting on the dynamics of town-gown relationships through use of the marriage metaphor. Borrowing from marital research by John Cuber and Peggy Harroff, Gavazzi, along with Mike Fox and Jeff Martin, advances the notion that the quality of any relationship is a function of two dimensions that include effort and comfort. (John Cuber and Peggy Harroff were noted marital researchers in the mid-1960s. Dr. Fox is a professor specializing in community-based planning issues at Mount Allison University, and Dr. Martin is the associate vice president for institutional advancement at Clemson University.) Together they yield four town-gown relationship typologies: harmonious, traditional, conflicted, and devitalized. Taken together, these four relationship types offer a way to classify and discuss the nature of campus-community relationships. Case studies for each relationship typology provide good examples from which to better understand the different relationships through the marriage metaphor.
Building upon the relationship functions of effort and comfort, the author presents a process for taking away the guesswork typically part of defining town-gown relationships through a data-driven approach entitled the Optimal College Town Assessment (OCTA). Gavazzi notes, “The OCTA grew out of the need to operationalize and quantify variation in campus and community member perceptions of town-gown characteristics” (p. 79). This measurement approach captures participants’ personal experiences (relative to effort and comfort) as well as their opinions relative to community sensitivities. The Ohio State University at Mansfield regional campus provides context for a pilot study using the OCTA process. The results are represented in eight emerging themes (action items) that if implemented could lead to improving community perceptions of university efforts to connect and build a stronger relationship.
The author supplements his own experiences with that of eight campus and community leaders (four former university presidents and four municipal administrators) including expanded input from E. Gordon Gee (former president of The Ohio State University) among others. These leaders participated in a semi-structured interview that allowed them to reflect upon a variety of town-gown issues pulled from extant literature. The observations reflect the qualities inherent in, and required for, the “intentional leadership” needed to maintain healthy and harmonious town-gown relationships.
Gavazzi provides closure through “The Ten Commandments of Town-Gown Relationships.” These commandments provide an entertaining vehicle for establishing a set of “emerging best practices” (p. 209) for university and municipal leaders to reflect upon as they work to build lasting and harmonious relationships. Throughout the book, Gavazzi finds a way to apply his background in marriage and family therapy to provide new ways of understanding town-gown relationships, quantifying key characteristics, and establishing actionable items that can be translated to, and used in, most every situation.
STEPHEN TROOST has held the position of campus planner at Michigan State University for 11 years. Prior to that he had 20 years of consulting experience with higher education institutions across the United States as a member of SmithGroup JJR.