ICMA Publications / PM Magazine / April 2014

Town and Gown Relations: The Most Common Leading Practices

by Roger Kemp, ICMA-CM

I’ve always had an interest in what is commonly referred to as town-gown relations: How officials in communities and schools relate to one another, and how they work with residents and students to resolve issues before they become problems. There are also mutually advantageous opportunities to work together on joint projects and programs.

Everyone benefits—public and school officials, as well as residents and students—when proactive town-gown practices are used. A national literature search that I conducted in this field revealed numerous state-of-the-art leading practices. Case studies came from joint projects and programs being undertaken by local governments and schools throughout the United States and Canada.

Here is a list of the evolving and dynamic town-gown leading practices:

  • Adjunct faculty members and class speakers can come from the local government in which the school is located.
  • The local government can provide internships for students who might apply for entry-level jobs in future years.
  • Students can seek career mentors and advisers who come from the adjunct faculty members, as well as the speakers for the school’s program who are employed by the local government.
  • One university formed a program advisory committee consisting of primarily adjunct professors—from many of the cities located around the university—who could also provide internships, serve as mentors, and advise students on their future public service career options and opportunities.
  • Some local governments even provide free rooms and space for a local college or university to hold courses for a public administration program. While mostly employees enroll in these programs, they are frequently also open to the public.
  • Some local governments and school officials jointly form town-gown advisory committees that consist of public and school officials, along with representatives of the residents and students. These groups typically discuss local concerns and resolve them before they become community issues and problems.
  • Members of these advisory groups, by design, usually consist of representatives from existing community, neighborhood, business, and student groups and associations.
  • Other major issues of concern that town-gown officials can jointly work on include mutual transit projects, joint parking facilities, community parks in the campus area, and possible local government bikeways and walkways located in the campus neighborhood.  Town-gown advisory committees are a great way to examine and discuss the issues associated with such projects.
  • Joint town-gown advisory committees typically review and discuss community concerns before they become city-wide issues and problems and make joint recommendations to their respective public and schools officials. Their recommendations are typically advisory in nature.
  • Town-gown officials work together to seek funds from higher levels of government for both separate and joint projects and programs, especially when they are mutually advantageous.

There are multiple opportunities for communities and the colleges and universities located within them to jointly participate in these mutually advantageous town-gown programs and projects. These positive practices, which are rapidly evolving, reflect joint efforts where everyone benefits, including residents, students, and public and school officials who consider and approve recommendations.

In the past, town-gown officials have had misunderstandings based on different loyalties and priorities and the fact that they have separate governing bodies. Over the years, few mutual discussions were held between public and school officials or with residents and students. Times are changing now, however, and town-gown officials are increasingly working together for the benefit of the groups they represent.

Town-gown officials increasingly recognize the positive impacts that the academic community has on their local government and the value of the public services provided to the campus by the government. These benefits include joint employment opportunities; payments for services; mutual city-school projects, programs, and services; and a knowledge of the other revenues and taxes generated by all schools located within a local government’s boundaries.

Here is how these evolving town-gown programs and services are a benefit:

  • Residents are educated to realize the economic benefits provided by their schools and students are educated to realize the public service benefits provided by their community.
  • Public officials can benefit from the solutions jointly resolved by residents and students working together, and school officials can benefit from the solutions jointly resolved by students and residents working together.
  • The governing bodies of the local governments and schools jointly benefit by their residents and students working to resolve mutual concerns before they become community issues and problems.
  • Such community and school issues and problems frequently go away because of these joint participatory efforts.

This field is dynamic and additional leading practices will no doubt be analyzed, approved, initiated, and reported on during the coming years.











Roger Kemp, MPA, MBA, PhD, ICMA-CM, is a practitioner in residence, Department of Public Management, College of Business, University of New Haven, Connecticut (rlkbsr@snet.net). He has been a career city manager and a career adjunct professor in three states on both coasts of the United States. He is the author of Town-Gown Relations: A Handbook of Best Practices (McFarland, 2013).

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