It was one thing for Colby government, economics and international studies professors, among others, to take important roles in government and non-governmental affairs in Washington and around the world. It was another that they involved Colby students as research assistants and co-authors in their real-world work. As planners catalogued Colby's organic strengths and looked for opportunities that might expand both those advantages and their reach, early notions about ways to coordinate and capitalize on them began to come into focus.
Sandy Maisel, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government, as well as other professors, trustees and committee members, recognized that the College did a lot of related things very well but lacked a means of achieving synergy among a range of excellent programs in social sciences and interdisciplinary studies. "We didn't have any coordinating mechanism to get out the stuff we've been doing in these areas to the broader world," Maisel said.
Now Colby will have that mechanism-and much more.
The Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement emerged this semester and already is sponsoring events. Its mission is to link teaching and research at Colby with contemporary political, economic and social issues. As its programs expand, the center will move to a permanent home in the new social sciences and interdisciplinary studies building scheduled for construction in 2006.
The center is named for William H. Goldfarb '68, who made the Goldfarb Center's facilities possible within the context of the proposed academic building, which received a naming grant from Jennifer and Bob Diamond Jr. '73 this summer.
As the vision for a center grew, it encompassed many departments in the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies divisions as well as the College's increased emphasis on civic engagement-volunteer programs and service-learning in classes among them. "[President] Bro [Adams] has a desire that all of us involve more students in the life of the community-Waterville, Maine, Washington and internationally," said Maisel, who is the Goldfarb Center's founding director. "Involvement in public affairs is a high calling which we should encourage our students to undertake."
Goldfarb said the center is designed to provide ways to engage Colby's renowned faculty and their students. "Both on a faculty and student basis . . . this is something that has the potential to be very special," he said. "This is going to create some tangible evidence of the excellence that already exists."
Some programs planned by the center include mealtime seminar programs, faculty-led conferences, faculty research grants to involve students and a visiting fellows program.
Student internship opportunities will be expanded, Maisel said, by tapping alumni in public and civic careers who already have pledged their cooperation. "I've had a lot of very enthusiastic response from alums who are ten to fifteen years out, who say, 'This is a wonderful thing. . . . I'd be glad to help out in any way I can.'"
Another use of the center will be as a survey/research facility, with data gathering and analysis done by Colby students for regional and national organizations. "You need a survey of eating disorders in high schools? We'll do it for you," Maisel said by way of example. "In exchange for which, we want our students placed in your program as interns."
Maisel warned that it would be easy to allow the center to become just an economics and government program but said he will consider the program to have failed if that happens. In its inaugural season the Goldfarb Center currently involves sociology, anthropology, education, environmental studies and international studies, and organizers can foresee other departments and programs getting involved in various ways. "Involving students in public affairs is a very natural extension of what [faculty] do," Maisel said.
Plans for the new social sciences and interdisciplinary studies building are still on the drawing board, but they call for the Goldfarb Center portion alone to provide more than 60 student work stations, a 150-seat auditorium and a conference room, the latter two set up for teleconferencing.
Even as plans for a facility take shape, though, the Goldfarb Center's programs have begun. In October, panel discussions involving weekly, small daily and national newspaper journalists were held in conjunction with the annual Elijah Parish Lovejoy Convocation. Topics explored included the effect of media conglomerates on small-town newspapers and the ways in which those small-town papers serve as a feeder system for regional and national newspapers.
There are plans for the center to sponsor Colby's participation in a program called "A Thousand Debates," organized by the United Nations Foundation to raise campus and community awareness of the debate over U.S. national security strategies.