2009 Ehrlich Faculty Award

BOSTON — Campus Compact has selected Thomas Dutton of Miami University of Ohio as the recipient of the 2009 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award. This national award is presented to one faculty member each year for enhancing higher education’s contributions to the public good through scholarship that advances students’ civic learning while meeting community needs.

Dutton, a professor of architecture and interior design as well as the Cincinnati Professor of Civic Engagement, is the founder and director of Miami University’s Center for Community Engagement. The center is located in Over-the-Rhine, one of Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhoods. Through the center’s flagship Residency Program, university students, faculty members, and staff collaborate with community organizations and leaders to revitalize the neighborhood through a range of initiatives.

The center’s Design/Build Studio works with a local nonprofit association to rehabilitate livable spaces for low- and moderate-income residents. Students in the Community Assistance initiative work a minimum of 15 hours a week in neighborhood organizations that serve children, the homeless, and other underserved populations. Those working in the Community Advocacy initiative boost existing efforts to improve the neighborhood through actions such as designing and painting public spaces, organizing community conversations, and gathering signatures for petitions. The Agit-Props group builds artistic installations that “agitate” and “propagate” points of view regarding the neighborhood’s history and political awareness.

“The Center for Community Engagement has played a remarkable role both in the city of Cincinnati and on our campus,” notes Miami University President David C. Hodge. “The Over-the-Rhine Residency Program in particular has changed our understanding of ‘community engagement’ from charity towards deeper forms of engagement.”

According to Dutton, the Residency Program exemplifies the center’s mission to work collaboratively with neighborhood organizations and residents—through courses, research, and service—to assist community development efforts that are already in motion. This work has had a profound impact on both the community and the students. The community has benefited not only through students’ labor but also through the opportunity to share their stories and expertise. One community partner working on a building renovation project noted that by treating him as a mentor, “Those kids have changed my life dramatically.”

For their part, notes Dutton, students “are changed by the relationships they make with community residents through the engagement and service they provide.” In some cases, students have chosen to remain in the neighborhood after graduation, occupying full-time jobs in places where they interned. One student calls working in Over-the-Rhine “the single most life-changing experience of my life.” Another says that it “transitioned me from a passive, accepting, and narrow-minded idiot into a questioning…active participant” in society.

Dutton founded the Center for Community Engagement in 2002 but has been working with students and residents in Over-the-Rhine since the 1980s. According to President Hodge, “Dutton has been a strong and effective voice for the resident underclass in support of affordable housing,” contributing his expertise in multiple venues. Dutton has published extensively, including most recently a chapter titled “Engaging the School of Social Life: A Pedagogy Against Oppression,” in the forthcoming book Activist Architecture: The Philosophy and Practice of Community Design Centers.

In addition to Dutton, Campus Compact honors six award finalists for their outstanding contributions to engaged scholarship: Buzz Alexander of the University of Michigan, Peter Brown of Mercer University (GA), Doug Brugge of Tufts University (MA), Andrew Furco of the University of Minnesota, Joy Hammel of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Carol Reese of Tulane University (LA).