The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage book determines relations between tertiary institutions and the communities in which they are located

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Book Review by Segomotso Sebokedi

The hosting of the Student Cities Summit on 26-29 March 2017 at the Krystal Beach Hotel will bring into sharp focus best practices in forging relations between colleges, universities and municipalities in South Africa.

The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage book is dedicated to helping campus and community leaders better understand how the twin components of the “town” and the “gown” come together to determine the relative health and well-being of relationships between institutions of higher education and the communities in which they are located.

Following a review of the emerging body of scholarly literature on town-gown relationships, the metaphor of marriage is introduced as a way of providing additional invaluable insights into the ways that campuses and communities interact with one another.

A typology that borrows from the marital literature – using the terms harmonious, traditional, conflicted, and devitalized to describe the experiences of relationship partners – is presented as a new set of lenses for observing and making sense of town-gown associations. As well, case examples are used to flesh out the characteristics that help to shape these different relationship types, with special attention paid to the critical role that leaders play in directing campuses and communities toward more optimal ways of interacting with one another.

The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage book additionally provides assistance to readers in taking the guesswork out of assessing the quality of town-gown relationships. The development and testing of the Optimal College Town Assessment (OCTA) is described, including a discussion of the quantitative and qualitative data generated by the pilot studies that have been conducted with university campuses and the communities that surround them. The items of the OCTA are included in the book to encourage readers to become more data-driven in their approach. All of the best data gathering efforts are for naught, however, if the information’s reliability and validity is questioned.

Therefore, a Town-Gown Mobilization Cycle is presented as part of a thorough explanation of the steps that campus and community leaders must take both before and after the data gathering phase of one’s work in order to ensure that the integrity of the resulting database is beyond reproach. The confidential thoughts and reflections of four former university presidents and four city administrators are reported in The Optimal Town-Gown Marriage book as well. These campus and community leaders reported on the various ways that successful town-gown partnerships were forged as the result of their efforts to create and sustain a focus on mutually beneficial goals and objectives.

Corroborating information is brought to bear on this discussion through the results of an interview conducted with E. Gordon Gee, arguably the most well-known university president in the US nation. Having served as president at five different major institutions of higher learning – including two stints at The Ohio State University and West Virginia University –  Dr. Gee has built up a wealth of insights in facilitating campus-community interactions that are unparalleled by any of his contemporaries. Finally, all of this information is pulled together in the book’s presentation of The Ten Commandments of Town-Gown Relationships, a series of statements about what campus and community leaders must do together in order to build more optimal relationships with one another.

For online registration for the Student Cities Summit click here.