Can Universities Serve the Public Good?

[alaya_dropcap]W[/alaya_dropcap]hat is the value of social science? Why do I do the research I do? And what value does it have for policy making, and in general for society? These are the kinds questions that we might ask ourselves as active participants in the academic field of social science. On Tuesday 22nd May, students and staff of the Social Sciences department were lucky enough to have a lecture by Prof. Adam Gamoran, the MacArthur Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help us to answer some of these questions.

Prof. Gamoran is also President of the William T. Grant Foundation, a US charitable foundation that is focused upon promoting the idea that universities can serve society through their research. This was his fourth visit to Taiwan, and his third visit to NCCU. Prof. Gamoran’s relationship with NCCU is based on shared interests in educational research, as well as our university’s commitment to social responsibility. It was this topic of social responsibility that formed the basis for Prof. Gamoran’s lecture.

The lecture began by introducing the idea that universities around the globe have come under increased attack for elitist practices, such as political bias or hoarding funds. In addition, universities’ social science departments typically produce research that is beneficial only for the academic community; relevant theory is rarely used to improve policy and practice. Prof. Gamoran’s proposed solution to combat these attacks is through the creation of socially beneficial research.

So, why should policy makers seek the assistance of social science researchers? Decision makers in government are often confronted by complex challenges and trying to find the best path to take in areas such as health, education, and the economy is not an easy task. Decision makers need information provided to them in a timely and practical manner. Finding sources of information, however, is not the problem – more the choosing between competing sources of information is. With, for example, constituents, interest groups, and lobbyist all competing for their attention, how can a decision maker make a good decision? The answer is ‘evidence,’ and this is where social science research comes in by providing the best evidence-based information for the best available answers.

The lecture was rounded off by a lively Q&A session, as well as a video that showcased the positive contribution that NCCU is making to the local community through our CSR project. The video was presented, and starred in, by Prof. Wang Shinn-Shyr, who introduced a number of projects that contribute to the lives of local Taipei residents in the Xinglung (興隆) community. We can be proud that our university is not only providing high quality research, but is also doing its part to have a positive practical impact on society.

If you are interested in learning more about the William T. Grant Foundation, and keeping up to date with its current projects, Prof. Gamoran suggested that we should all follow their twitter feed. This is updated regularly and is full of useful links related to this topic.