Critically-Reflective Civically-Engaged Academics Shaping the Future of an Academy Striving for Social Justice

Brian Ó Donnchadha

The Ivory Tower has the potential to respond to whatever is needed by the outside world. But how are these directions determined and by whom? More specifically for the purposes of this essay: How can those members of the academy with civic commitments and priorities who call on higher education to contribute to social justice have their voices heard over the siren song of neoliberal enterprise and technology commercialisation?


How can the powerful energy of SLCE be harnessed to move higher education more toward achieving social justice and understanding that goal as central to what we mean by excellence in education? I suggest that one way to achieve this aim is for the community of civically-engaged academics to guide the process by critically examining their own engaged practice. By joining together to examine the impact of SLCE on micro and macro levels, they can achieve greater legitimacy, with a stronger voice that can have more influence on the academy, especially on how we understand the purposes of higher education…. Civically-engaged academics are well positioned to influence the direction of higher education and to move their institutions beyond rhetoric toward significant contributions to achieving social justice.

The reflection process needs to have a flexible structure and be designed to support delving into the practice and philosophy of SLCE as well as its role in the larger civic enterprise of the academy…. One structured approach to such a forum is a Community of Reflective Practice (CoRP): a model that facilitates academics to critically reflect with their peers in a supportive environment on their academic, civic, and professional development (Ó Donnchadha, 2011). CoRP is a general framework, adaptable through dialogue to suit … the … context of a particular group of academics. It [is] … a forum for civically-engaged academics who meet on a regular basis (physically or online) to reflect on their practice in an environment that supports development on multiple levels, from the personal to the professional and from the technical to the political.

I assert that an institution’s commitment to SLCE correlates with the degree to which reflection is nurtured and developed by and for the engaged academics at that institution….


Ó Donnchadha, B. (2011). Creating a systematic approach for the reflective practice of service-learning academics through the development of communities of reflective practice. Unpublished dissertation, National University of Ireland, Galway. http://hdl.handle.net/10379/2724

BRIAN Ó DONNCHADHA completed his Ph.D. in Education in 2011 following a year in the U.S. as a Fulbright Visiting Researcher. He currently coordinates the Modular Programme in Science and Technology Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a board member of the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement and a Faculty Advisor for Enactus Ireland. He also serves as a section co-editor for the International Journal for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement.

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