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part one

Part 1. A Manifesto from the Middle Ground of Campus-Community Partnerships

Do you . . .

. . . administer a center, a program, or initiative with a mission for cross-sectoral engagement?

. . . undertake "faculty development" from a "staff" position?

. . . facilitate campus-community partnerships and collaborations from a non-faculty or "para-academic" position?

. . . accept or resist the perception of your work as "academic support or service"?

. . . lay claim to (and worry over) labels like "scholar-practitioner," "pracademic," "alternative academic," or "educator-administrator" to represent yourself?

. . . find yourself representing the university while you feel more commonality with the community organizations with which you partner?

This manifesto emerges from a series of workshops, seminars, and roundtables held at the 2012 and 2013 Imagining America conferences, organized around the work of university staff committed to public engagement and operating in the middle ground of campus-community partnerships.1 It calls out to "hybrid-hyphenateds"—those working in or aspiring to para-academic, intermediary, coordinating, and administering positions at the interface of campus-community partnership development and in the interspaces of the university. These positions may or may not demand terminal degrees. Like faculty, intermediary staff may teach, advise, and engage in curricular and cocurricular development. But most saliently, these positions are distinguished by the emphasis they place on intensive administrative labor in and among multiple organizations and organizational cultures, inside and outside the university. This labor involves the identification, mobilization, orchestration, and coordination of a vast array of human capital—the knowledge resources and commitments of people working in diverse disciplines, fields, sectors, and positions throughout our various communities. And while this work is sometimes invisible [] and subordinate within the prevailing academic hierarchies, the perspectives and capacities it gives rise to are essential to deepening higher education's capacity for democratic engagement and generative collaboration.2

We network, we organize, we cultivate, we manage, we create, we lead, and we sweat the details that create webs of connection and channels of access. We work along a huge and varied continuum within the university. Our units located within and often bridging academic and student affairs, range from service-learning centers, campus-community partnership offices, and humanities centers to diversity offices, pipeline and access initiatives, and university extension programs. Marked by our status as professional staff in an academic culture that privileges tenure, [] our positions vary significantly in terms of power and privilege, and our roles are often variously racialized and gendered. Moreover, institutional size, mission, and many other factors condition the relative contingency or permanence of our positions, as well as their dependency and autonomy, influence and marginalization.

Part of the challenge we face and the story we want to tell is that we are not yet a unified WE. There is no single job title that represents our diverse collectivity. We labor within different institutional models and cultures and are rooted in different community identifications and networks. This does not trouble us: our work disposes us to productive alliances across differences. We share common experiences in campus-community partnerships and common commitments to bridge work. We recognize common good in making that work more generally visible and valued, where so much of it is obscured by academic hierarchies []. We name the work of middle spaces in solidarity with those who labor there, and translate its value for those who do not.

The administrative roles we name here as intermediary, hybrid, and engaged are critical to movements for equitable partnerships, inclusive and accountable institutions, and transformative student learning and scholarship.3 As neither (wholly) administrator, faculty, nor community partner, those of us in these positions traffic heavily in contradictions, tensions, and skilled negotiation among multiple agendas, cultures, and conventions. We also confound established hierarchies—and we often do so intentionally. For it is an outmoded vision of higher education [] that views hybridity as a neither/nor proposition, instead of recognizing that potent possibilities for effecting change are catalyzed by the both/and nature of the middle ground.

As engaged administrators committed to the public purposes of higher education, we mediate between the values of the academy (which validate intellectual labor) and the values of community organizing (which uphold relationship building and social change). Among our central commitments are collaboration, inclusion, civic responsibility, and open access to transformational community-based learning opportunities in higher education. We claim the essential and integral role of these intermediary middle positions in creating "third spaces"—the meeting grounds for potential and sustained collaborations among campus and community partners; among faculty, students, and staff; among centers and agencies inside and outside the university. The values by which we work toward these goals are simultaneously pragmatic, relational, political, and intellectual—because our bridge-building necessarily moves across various sectors in order to further the work of social justice and social change.

Our manifesto responds to frequent misapprehensions of our work within the university and in other professional realms. It seeks possibilities for proactive coalition building that leverage the strength of our work and our roles. It is also a call to action. We present here the insights, dilemmas, and strategies of those working in these positions in order to 1. elaborate our critical agency in transformative change work, 2. specify our perspectival knowledges and skill sets, and 3. inaugurate more inclusive narratives about collaborative work and knowledge production.

Below, we identify several of what we call "core capacities of the middle ground" and amplify those capacities with tangible examples that reveal this work through action. This is a partial and emergent list: we intentionally offer expansive definitions to invite identification and elaboration. To contribute to this project, follow the instructions in the call to action below.


Core Capacities of the Middle Ground in Action



The work of the middle ground is more than "interdisciplinary." [] While we often have our own home fields and disciplines, our freedom from departmental obligation, our stance as administrators who see across the university, and our identification as liaisons outside the institution strengthen our connective capacity. We convene people, ideas, and organizations [] as the need and opportunity for connection arises and in the service of enlarging opportunities for deep learning and institutional and/or social change.


Intermediary staff of a center for civic engagement observed the absence of higher education and some community partners in a region-wide dialogue about the city's watershed. Using the retirement of a beloved park manager as the occasion, the staff convened faculty and community organizations with a shared interest in and mission to protect, preserve, and promote the river. Participants shared their areas of expertise and identified key areas of need along with possible collaborative next steps. One outcome: a university geography professor partnered with a coalition of organizations to involve students in creating interactive digital content about the watershed.



Even as we seek to make the work of the middle ground more visible, we recognize that strategic invisibility and creative flexibility are often key to our agency and efficacy. As administrative intermediaries, we care deeply about enlarging the civic capacities of students, institutions, and local communities—and we are comfortable with the knowledge that fostering full participation requires us to step back from the limelight and acknowledge the wealth of expertise around us, both inside and outside institutions of higher education. The middle ground is a space for quiet change makers, underground revolutionaries, strategic visionaries. We don't cultivate this space in order to get widespread credit for our labor; in the middle ground, ideas are generated collectively [] and their impact matters more than whose idea it was. Our intellectual, emotional, and practical investment in catalyzing inclusivity cuts against the grain of higher education's hierarchies—but our labor is rooted in a shared belief in the possibilities and promise of both institutional and social change.


Energized by a framework for linking diversity and engagement, the directors of a diversity office and a center for civic engagement used their collective social capital to convene a half-day workshop about full participation, intentionally inviting faculty, staff, and community leaders who were invested in various change projects related to inclusion, access, diversity, and social justice. The workshop brought together more than thirty people, some of whom had never met. By fostering dialogue around shared interests and a shared conceptual framework, it catalyzed new alliances.



Within the traditional tenure and promotion reward system, investments in "admin work" are equivalent to writing on water []. The administrative labor of putting ideas into action may have ripple effects on the institution and our larger communities, but the labor itself disappears virtually immediately—without a mark on the laborer's professional vita. As every assistant professor who has been warned away from this kind of service knows well, the absence of the mark devalues and makes suspect the investment in the work itself. In contrast, citizens of the middle ground are by necessity process-driven and project-oriented. We are invested in the full arc of an idea [], and know that stewarding it from concept, through design, to realization may well mean navigating "bureaucratic logistics." We work persistently and iteratively on implementation, attending to the minutiae of a project even when those minutiae are not recognizably scholarly—because these details are often critical to change work. We know the division between creative work (proposing ideas) and managerial work (implementing those ideas) is often a false one—for problems, ideas, and knowledge emerge from the very effort to put ideas into action and to implement them, in the middle ground, among partners and stakeholders.


Called to advance a university-wide effort to connect with the city, the directors of a center for community engagement faced the challenge of linking a suburban campus with urban community organizations. In response, the center administrators wrote a grant, purchased a van, and began to address this issue directly by providing transportation services. After years of running the shuttles out of the center and advocating for the continued need for more connection, the university responded by forming a transportation working group with center representation, and put resources towards a central Transportation Office, significantly expanding transportation options for students, faculty, and staff.


Translating, Adapting

One primary role and privilege of the middle ground is to speak, work, and agitate across extremely diverse communities. Many of us are highly adept at what sociolinguists and street theorists refer to as "code-switching," and communicate with multiple audiences or translate between stakeholders whose vocabularies, inflections, and expectations are often quite different from one another. We resist identification as "university PR representatives" [] because our communication work is generative. More than disseminating "the university's brand or message" we aim to translate the university's goals and mission in ways that invite broader participation. In formal and informal ways, we often strive to be advocates, advisors, and ambassadors on behalf of communities that have been systematically marginalized within and outside of the institution. We value substantive communication and negotiation across diverse communities, not as the precondition of "real scholarship," but as the basis of mutual understanding and transformative knowledge. In this way, we are on the forefront of expanding and promoting scholarship that is creative, innovative, and reciprocal.


An educational nonprofit and long-time partner of community engagement courses at the local university approached the service-learning center with a question: How could they proactively address challenges that might stem from the organization's decision to require fingerprint background checks, not only for staff and long-term volunteers, but also for short-term service-learning students? In particular, the organization hoped this safety measure would not pose an undue financial burden for students or discourage undocumented undergraduates from participating in programs designed to build a college-going culture in the largely immigrant communities served by the nonprofit. The university's service-learning coordinator could not answer these questions alone. She began convening meetings with upper-level administrators in order to request funding to cover student costs, and connected the nonprofit's administrators with the campus resource center for undocumented students and with another community partner, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to the undocumented community. Conversations are ongoing and may result in tangible products ranging from informational handouts for faculty, students, and partners to reports or other scholarship authored collectively by stakeholders.


Collaborating, Cocreating

Collaboration is a tired word. But at its root, collaboration is cocreation. In context, it requires all that has been named here and more. It requires the will to organize: the motivation and the skill to coordinate inquiry and activity, to mediate and negotiate, to engage personal and organizational differences, and to sustain tensions around them. It requires the will to understand, to question, to make things work, and to change. It requires the flexible, creative ability to take on and let go of a myriad of functional roles. [] For these reasons, the work of the middle ground is not simply to implement specific knowledge in particular situations. It is to develop and transform situations and stakeholders through the purposeful identification of collective assets, orchestration of activities, reflection on goals and outcomes. This work yields new insights, new relationships, and new and actionable knowledge.


Six autonomous identity-based diversity centers shared concerns about being marginalized and misperceived on their campus, so they engaged in a process to build collective capital. Through a planning and visioning process, the directors gathered administrative support and chose a collective name, the Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change. The Centers released a statement affirming their shared commitments, grounded in principles of inclusion, access, and equity, and highlighting their expertise in providing relevant support to specific populations along with opportunities for intercultural engagement. By repositioning themselves in this way, the directors invited new partnerships and innovative approaches to intersectional identities in the classroom and in programs on and off campus. For the directors themselves, the collective is alternately a sounding board, a set of engaged partners, and a buoyant life raft. The directors and staff have begun organizing around shared issues including health disparities, immigration, veterans, and sustainability.


A Call to Action

Our labor in the middle spaces of campus-community partnerships is grounded in a twofold conviction: first, that institutions of higher education have a responsibility to serve and support the greater ecosystems in which they are situated; and second, that institutions of higher education have untapped resources in human, cultural, and even financial capital that can be marshaled to make good on that public responsibility.

Those of us fortunate enough to collaborate with other bridge builders, within and across institutions, have witnessed the catalytic impact of collaboration and the amplification of our middle-ground change projects. We have also benefited from mutual understanding and support. What more might we do together? What can we learn from one another? How can we support new "hybrid-hyphenateds" within and across institutions? How can we sustain hybrid-hyphenateds across their career trajectories?

To give this movement voice, we call on "hybrid-hyphenateds" to tell the stories of their positions and pathways, in all their various struggles, dilemmas, and achievements. Formal instructions for contributing can be found here.
To give this movement visibility, we call on Imagining America to help map and network stakeholders, beginning with interactive digital spaces like this one.
To enlarge our collective capacity, we call on allies to push against the ingrained hierarchies of our institutions and to engage with middle-ground "hybrid-hyphenateds" as partners and change makers:
Administrators in the highest levels of the institutions, we ask you to pause and consider your role in supporting the work of the middle ground. We call on you to gain a deeper understanding of our work in order to articulate further its value in and outside the institution.
Faculty who care about social and/or institutional change, we invite you to examine the hierarchies that marginalize those in middle-ground positions and ask you to engage with us as full partners in furthering institutional and social change.
Community partners, we ask you to continue to invest in your relationships with intermediaries in higher education and to use the strength of those relationships to tell us the truth about campus-community partnerships. What is working? What is not? How can our institutions reach their full potential as your partner? How can we do better together?



1 Imagining America conference sessions that contributed to this work include: "Expanding Engagement: University Staff as Agents of Social Change" (2012), "This Bridge Called My Job: Translating, Re-Valuing, and Leveraging Intermediary Administrative Work" (2012 and 2013), and "This Bridge Called My Job: Intermediary Staff as Agents of Change" (2013). For more information and lists of conference participants see the Imagining America conference archive. The authors would like to thank all participants for their contributions to the conversations that have helped shape this manifesto.

2 Our manifesto allies with and is informed by three important movements and mobilizations.

First, our title invokes This Bridge Called My Back (Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981), a landmark in women of color feminism that used polyvocal essays, poetry, stories, and testimony to advance positionality and intersectionality as central to knowledge production and alliance building across activist-based coalitions and academic (inter)disciplines. Our manifesto builds on this tradition methodologically and in its recognition that prevailing academic hierarchies often marginalize intermediary staff along axes inflected by gender, race, and class.

Second, our manifesto is embedded in the movement to renew higher education's civic purpose, instantiated by such organizations and initiatives as Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, Campus Compact, The Democracy Commitment, the American Democracy Project, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities' Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement taskforce. See the reports A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future (NTFCLDE 2012) and "Full Participation: Building the Architecture for Diversity and Community Engagement in Higher Education" (Sturm et al. 2011) as seminal texts.

Lastly, we draw on the example of the "Alternative Academy," as documented on the #alt-academy website, which has created a collective voice and discourse around hybrid academic positions.

3 Our use of the term "intermediary" to name these hybrid roles has been guided by Sturm (2010).

part two

Part 2. Myths and Manifestations: Dilemmas and Insights of the Middle Ground

Anyone who has occupied an intermediary staff position has been exposed to remarks that betray a set of unquestioned assumptions and values about the academy, scholarship, and administrative labor. Perhaps you have heard these yourself, or uttered them. We invoke these myths in order to make manifest the positional knowledge of the middle ground.




"So, you couldn't land a tenure-track job?"

Myth: Middling administrative positions are fallback career options [] for unsuccessful scholars who couldn't cut it as teachers or researchers. Consequently, administrative staff serves (and deserves) only to facilitate other people's scholarship and other people's teaching.

Manifestation: The work of engaged administrators is scholarship in action, a central part of putting civic engagement into practice in higher education. For those of us with terminal degrees, these are often "destination" jobs—our first choice and preference, however difficult that might have been to explain to our advisors and mentors who dreamed other dreams for us. Many of us could not do the community-engaged work we felt called to do if we were on the tenure track [].4 Those of us who do not have terminal degrees have often made that choice intentionally, as well. We have chosen to invest our talents and time in roles that capitalize and build on our capacities, rather than in graduate training that is traditionally most concerned with the reproduction of the professoriate. In both cases, we chose our work for its core commitments and/or its opportunities to learn and experiment; for its day-to-day variety and/or creativity; and for its connection to multiple communities of practice and thought, inside and outside the university.




"You work at the university? So what do you teach?" (Followed inevitably by, "Oh, you're an admin!" and sometimes, "I'm so sorry!")

Myth: The skills one needs to succeed in the middle spaces of campus-community partnerships are primarily skills in bureaucratic management and red tape navigation [] (i.e., there is no creativity here, no learning or facilitation of others' learning).

Manifestation: Jobs in the middle spaces of university-community partnerships not only require a working knowledge of associated professional practice when partnerships involve those fields, but also require creativity in many other forms. Working to bridge university and community stakeholders requires improvisatory problem solving at every stage. [] Those in bridge positions employ knowledge and skills typical of artists and humanists—such as the ability to speak in multiple languages and rhetorical forms to varied audiences, familiarity with the histories of different community formations, and understanding of the structural oppressions and transformations shaping community struggles. We also creatively adapt other knowledge and skill sets, including, but not limited to, dialogue facilitation, qualitative and quantitative assessment, ethnography, community development, and resource management.




"But that's not really scholarship."

Myth: Those who work in joint administrative and scholarly positions lack the autonomy and mettle to produce real scholarship []. Work produced in collaboration with community partners and presented in publicly accessible ways has been "dumbed down" for the masses. Collective contributions to knowledge produced in collaboration cannot blinke attributed and therefore counted in the ways needed to validate the contributors as scholars.

Manifestation: We continue to produce and facilitate new knowledge [], even if the form and focus of our work often transforms the products of our labor and changes the venues in which we choose to publish and disseminate. Our labor may result in texts collaboratively authored with community partners and distributed through public venues for which the most appropriate peer reviewers are experts from outside the academy. Or our labor may result in even more fluid projects, such as ongoing curriculum overhaul or a series of events to convene campus and community stakeholders. Successful design and execution of such work demands research and other forms of intellectual investment distinct from, but not subordinate to, the work required of more traditional forms of academic scholarship.




"When I say that the university suffers from administrative bloat, I don't mean you—you're one of the good ones. I think of you as one of us."

Myth: University-based teaching and research are pure. [] Administrative work and instructional work can be clearly opposed. Administrative labor is sometimes degraded, and yet students, faculty, and community partners necessarily rely upon it. The only way of resolving these tensions is to make individuals the exceptions.

Manifestation: What gets dismissed as "bureaucratic" in such a comment is the ground for politically efficacious learning, engagement, and change. Those who are bracketed as exceptional outliers are members of a diverse collective of intermediary staff and engaged administrators committed to institutional and social change—a collective far more vast than many realize, because that collective is scattered within a particular university and across the larger landscape of higher education.




"You work in the Ivory Tower and can't possibly understand the issues we are trying to tackle at our nonprofit. You're just out to make the university look good."

Myth: Those who work at a university represent only the institution's interests [] and have little investment in the wider community or the causes of nonprofit organizations.

Manifestation: Laborers in the middle ground working at the nexus of campus-community partnerships value our partners as creative collaborators, coeducators, and experts in their fields. Many of us have moved between the nonprofit and higher education sectors in our own careers. [] We grow through the knowledge and experience of our partners; our thinking and practice are shifted as a result. We actively seek and invest in reciprocal relationships and are sometimes ourselves at odds with our own institution's larger agenda. We, too, are actively trying to map the power structures of our own institutions, so that both our partners and we can navigate them better. We invite and welcome authentic critique, and look to learn from and with community stakeholders [].




What if we were to transpose these frequently overheard remarks and questions? What if, instead of "So, what do you teach?" we were to ask one another, "How do you catalyze teaching and learning?" What if instead of "When will you be going back out on the (tenure track) job market?" or "You are going back to get your Ph.D., right?" and assuming that our work is only in service of narrow institutional agendas, we were to ask, "What are your core commitments? Where do you see yourself enacting them? How are you contributing to making change at your institution? In your community? How can we go about doing this together?" What other questions should we be asking to identify and unmask restrictive assumptions?



4 For an overview of the barriers to community-engaged scholarship and career paths posed by current tenure and promotion policies, see Ellison and Eatman, "Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University" (2008). While some institutions and some departments value professional and public service relatively highly, and while others recognize how publicly-engaged scholarship frequently integrates research, teaching, and service, the system of external peer review tends to delimit the kinds of publics, audiences, and stakeholders that can participate in evaluating a body of work, and its contributions not simply to a field of study, but to the intersecting interests of various communities and organizations, the subject of this exploration.

part three

Part 3. Grounds: Revealing the Terrain Through Stories and Voices

A crescendo of first-person narratives rises from the middle ground. As accounts accumulate, this diverse collection of experiences invites new access, greater understanding, and deeper investment. Our stories provide the necessary and dynamic details that foreground shared realities, challenges, and possibilities. Our stories allow us to begin mapping and shaping the terrain of the middle ground. Please contact the authors to add your own story to this chorus—or to contribute capacities, examples, or myths/manifestations to other sections of this project. 5




Jon Catherwood-Ginn
Partnerships & Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech

I meet regularly with staff in development, marketing, public relations, research, and even production services to explore how engagement as an approach can serve all of our areas. As a staff, we're slowly developing a common language for what we mean by "engagement," but the leap from understanding engagement on a theoretical basis to developing innovative programs that truly serve the community through art often looks pretty vast. How do I continually recognize and challenge the institution-born default perspectives in me on what authentic engagement looks like? How do I bust out of the limiting yet ubiquitous "master-class-as-engagement" paradigm to develop arts programs with university folks and community members that meet all parties' needs and interests?

I've successfully disrupted this tendency—in myself and colleagues—to recreate common yet insufficient engagement practices by inviting others into such "third spaces" with me [], following these steps: Build trust in conversation or action with one stakeholder at a time. Then, together, widen the circle of collaboration by inviting others with distinct viewpoints who may be equally invested in the outcomes of a developing idea. Pose crucial questions to orchestrate and facilitate necessary conflict; this can pave the way for mutual understanding and sustain trust amid the host of often unspoken inequities that are as present in the room as the air we breathe. Socialize regularly, laugh, and ask questions that have nothing to do with the project at hand. Lean in to the discomfort, with faith in the power of listening and compassion. Get your hands dirty with joint projects. Shut your laptop and leap at opportunities to meet face-to-face as they arise. Be patient.




Megan Carney
Director, Gender and Sexuality Center
University of Illinois at Chicago

Most of my career has been spent working in the nonprofit sector [] at the intersection of theatre, social justice, and education. When I went back to school to pursue a graduate degree in theatre, I became interested in the ways that higher education influences and responds to culture at large and how I might be a part of that work. When I started my job search after graduate school, I looked more closely at possibilities within higher education and it was only then that I discovered the world of intermediaries.

For the past three years, I have served as the director of the Gender and Sexuality Center, an academic and cultural center reporting to the Office of Diversity in a large urban research university. For the past two years I have also had a role as adjunct faculty in the School of Theatre & Music where I coteach a class in ensemble practices. In order to negotiate the wide range of tasks involved in my job at the Center, I consistently apply the skills and strategies I learned and continue to use in my community-based arts practice. Specifically, a great deal of my administrative functions revolve around creating and sustaining relationships, building community, designing and assessing programs, conducting and gathering research, and working across differences.

The Gender and Sexuality Center develops programs and partnerships that reveal and explore diverse LGBTQ identities to create a more inclusive social climate. We are small and multifaceted, which enables us to remain responsive and innovative. Whether through organizing conferences or cultural events, planning exhibits or workshops, brokering new academic partnerships, or assisting with implementation of policy, our greatest successes arise when we are at the core of a project harnessing energy from multiple stakeholders and units to achieve something we could never manage on our own.

I still get confused or concerned questions from some theatre collaborators and some academics wondering how I got here from there, but I don't experience it as a disconnection. Although I am constantly translating and adapting between worlds, and I do experience the occasional culture shock of working inside higher education, I approach my work by joining the conversation that is already taking place and utilizing existing mechanisms for change that can be retooled to accomplish new goals. In this way, the middle ground of academia is a fertile space still unfolding with possibility.




Sylvia Gale
Associate Director, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement
University of Richmond

Last Friday, I presented to a group of 65 mostly corporate execs in a "community leadership program" here in Richmond. I went through the program a couple of years ago, so I understood the audience and how attached they are, generally, to models of leadership that emphasize fast decision making, hierarchy, expertise. My workshop was titled "Foundations of Effective Civic-Minded Discourse," and I did call upon my rhetoric schooling, but really my goal was to shake up their notions of credibility and expertise, in the context of collaboration for community change. It was one of those magical teaching experiences, when what I had to give fit exactly in the space just slightly ahead of what they were expecting. They were reaching, I was reaching—we met one another with what felt like some profoundly different ways of thinking about leadership and collaboration.

What strikes me, as I think about this now, is that my perspective on collaboration comes entirely from my location in the middle ground. It is because my role is, in part, to create and sustain space for on-going collaborations [] across university/community boundaries that I can so readily overturn the notions of expertise that exist in these multiple realms. I try not to ever (knowingly) assume that the university partner/faculty member in the equation is the "expert." Likewise, I resist tokenizing community leaders as "experts." This is the gift of the middle position—detached from/apart from norms (what counts as knowledge, what establishes credibility) in both realms, I can, on a good day, help to create the conditions for a true meeting ground that depends on the specifics of the relationship/place/need/context.

Something similar is true about knowledge. As a non-tenure-track "member of the faculty" without a home department, I am free to pursue the forms of knowledge production that are most relevant [] to my work, our center, and the ongoing inquiries I care about. This week, for example, I was generating materials for a conference seminar on assessment that I am coleading. There is no need for me to justify the importance of this to "my field," rhetoric and composition. Instead, I can throw myself into other kinds of synthesis and application. This work was already useful in a meeting today with the faculty director of the first-year seminar program, in which I teach. I was aware that the conversation I had about assessment with her was very different from the conversations she has with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and with departmental faculty. For me, assessment is a culture-changing lever, though not one you can pull quickly or alone.

From my middle ground, I am pursuing and generating knowledge related to assessment—it looks like weird mind maps and case studies and an accumulating roster of practices and methodologies. That I can't publish this, yet, that I may never, doesn't bother me—as long as it has continued relevance across my—and others'—work. This is another gift of the middle ground: the freedom to think flexibly and dynamically about knowledge production, for ourselves (if, of course, we can fit the time in to devote to it, an ongoing battle) and for others. At times I am discouraged by the lingering force of the structures that press my institution towards the status quo, especially when it comes to these notions of knowledge, collaboration, partnership, expertise. But I know that I don't, personally, want to have any "less middle" role.




Amy Howard
Director, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement
University of Richmond

In my work at the institution, I am almost always "two places at once." As a staff member with faculty status at a private liberal arts college, I have the privilege of engaging daily with faculty and staff across the institution on a wide range of issues from community-based learning and proposed curriculum changes to the student experience, staff recruitment, and grant writing. I relate to, work closely with, and learn from faculty and staff. The fluid dance between these groups allows me freedom, and hopefully, the opportunity to plant more seeds for institutional change. It also leaves me feeling alienated at times: trying to be two places at onces occasionally leaves me feeling like I am nowhere [] path for professional support and growth is uncharted. And then there is being on campus and in the community, the two places where I do my work, and where I try to build bridges. Community partners, like faculty and staff members, are my collaborators, educators, and comrades.

For example, last weekend, the Terms of Racial Justice Initiative, a collaborative of race scholars, joined scholar-administrator-educator George Sanchez for a day-long symposium we called "Race, Space, and Place: The Role of the Academic in Richmond." While I drew on my academic training in American studies and my scholarship on public housing in conceptualizing the day with colleagues, it was community ties that proved pivotal to our group's learning. I leveraged long-standing relationships [] with nonprofit leaders and emerging connections with resident organizers to put together a neighborhood tour and a panel discussion on a systematically neglected community's assets, challenges, and strategies for change. The ease and trust in our conversation was made possible by the hours we had spent together serving on a housing task force, as part of a larger effort to expand opportunity and decrease poverty in the city. Working side by side in weekly meetings in the neighborhood, we shared knowledge, expertise, and ideas for improving the future of public and affordable housing in the city. Thanks to this groundwork, and the authentic relationships it allowed me to build, what might have felt like a cursory glance at a neighborhood became instead a generative learning opportunity as we centered the knowledge and expertise of partners and residents. This work of translation, relationship building, connecting people, catalyzing projects, and working for social change is difficult, creative, and exciting. It also requires the flexibility and stamina to see, understand, and sometimes literally to be in multiple places.




Ryan McBride
Administrative Assistant Professor
Department of English and Center for Public Service
School of Liberal Arts
Tulane University

I had never heard of anyone with my title until they gave it to me []. And until very recently, the directory on the wall of the building where I work says, next to my name, "Administrative Assistant & Professor." I thought it was funny and in some ways more accurate, and never asked them to change it to my actual title: "Administrative Assistant Professor." I was a postdoc in English here until two years ago, when my temporary appointment was about to end. My students and I had collaborated with local teachers to launch and coach middle school debate teams. With those teams as the foundation, we were able to build a thriving new citywide debate league. The program we built brings a regular supply of good press and community relations to the university, and it is one of the president's go-to examples when he discusses public service.

Nevertheless, almost everybody in the tenured faculty told me that when my postdoc ran out, the university would let the program die. A friend of mine, attempting similar work in a different department, had recently been let go after her postdoc ended. But I was lucky—if that is what you want to call it. My students and community partners collected 1,100 signatures supporting the program and the need for someone like me to coordinate it, and presented them to the administration, which, happily, responded by creating my position. I'm grateful to be working on a program that does so much good for my students and for the youth of New Orleans, but I'm still trying to figure out how to think about what I'm doing. It can be hard to carve out a middle ground in a university. Yet there is a freedom and flexibility to the middle ground that I appreciate. I also feel that the path forward is far less clear than in more traditional positions—more rides on what I am able to make of the opportunity—which is both exciting and daunting.




Elizabeth Goodhue
Assistant Director, Center for Community Learning
University of California, Los Angeles

Shortly after I completed my PhD in literature, I accepted a position as assistant director at the academic civic engagement center for the research university where I earned my degree. This choice has allowed me to continue working at a dynamic institution on projects that foster the types of active learning that engage students and simultaneously allow my university to make good on its commitment to serve the diverse urban center that I have come to love. But choosing to stay here has also placed me very much in a "middle position" at an institution with many entrenched hierarchies.

Neither faculty nor staff, I am classified as an academic administrator with a "teaching title," yet with primary responsibilities for developing and maintaining campus-community partnerships. I can and do teach at least once a year and I pursue research, but I often find it challenging to fit these activities into my 9-to-5 job of program administration and development. Yet part of what I like most about my job is how varied it is. On a typical day [], I might meet with a faculty member to collaborate on a new internship course, coordinate student and professional staff in the office, speak at a department chairs meeting, and visit a community partner. Or I might lead a TA training and then manage transportation for service-learning students, teach a seminar on public humanities practice, and strategize with campus colleagues about completing a report on engagement for the provost's office. Or my day might look like something else entirely. In all of these activities, I think creatively, apply research, and coordinate people and projects—all skills I honed in my training as a humanist—and I am simultaneously developing new knowledge and skill sets. I love this about my work, even though it can be exhausting to hold so many different roles in so many contexts.

When I talk to graduate students considering academic careers off the tenure track, I generally rave about the flexibility of my job and urge them to think broadly about how they can best shape higher education into the institution they want it to be. In these moments, I become a kind of champion for alt-ac—and I absolutely mean what I say. But that doesn't mean I don't also have questions about these middle spaces and their uncharted paths. Many of us who work in these hybrid positions are discouraged by how much academia seems mired in red tape that discourages or even outright punishes the pursuit of knowledge as process and collaboration []. We struggle to make our voices heard—and we struggle to find a language to express what we do and what we want, for ourselves and for our communities, both inside and outside the academy. We need better ways to connect with the community of engaged scholars who are living these alternative paths so that we can learn from and support each other more fully.




Miriam Bartha
Director, Graduate Programs
School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
University of Washington, Bothell

Until very recently, I occupied a professional staff position—what is generally called an "academic support" position—in an interdisciplinary humanities research center with a public engagement mission. My own academic formation was in twentieth-century American literary, performance, and cultural studies. That, at least, would count as a very recognizable research profile among academic colleagues supported by the center. However, my work at the center focused intensely on developing interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations among academic scholars and varied community organizations and partners, as well as professional development opportunities for graduate students and faculty wishing to undertake such engagements. If I were to construct my research profile now, [] I would name "program development and assessment" and "collaboration practice" as central objects. For humanists, that description would be considerably less recognizable as an area of academic expertise, even though it would be quite legible to my colleagues in the professional schools, or my colleagues at various cultural and educational nonprofits. Negotiating such splits and misrecognitions, I came to understand my current field of practice through multiple frames, and to talk about it that way: as participatory action-research, public humanities, or applied cultural studies; but also as program administration, grants stewardship, or, occasionally, "social work for intellectuals."

I would be lying if I said that I haven't worried over the professional and institutional distinctions that demarcate research "contributions" from research "support," and "scholarship" from other forms of professional practice and knowledge-making. The way that various contributions are valued and credited has implications, of course, for my own professional standing, but also for that of students and community partners. It took a long time before I stopped doubting whether I was a really a public scholar [] and began to understand myself as a reflective practitioner. I realized I was most interested in how others put their insights into practice, and what I could learn from them. I redefined "public scholarship" not as the goal of collaboration, but as an organizing language meant to engage scholars to participate more fully in socially transformative projects. I try to hold that bigger picture in focus. I am for collaborations that create new alliances and new understandings, in service to social change and social justice. That is the long march. That is the prize. That project requires my humility and my conviction, together with all that I have to offer.

To contribute your own story to this work, please contact the authors via email at thisbridgecalledmyjob@gmail.com. We will review your work, and may select it for inclusion in this essay in the future.



5 First-person stories included in Part 3 have been contributed by the primary authors of this piece, plus select seminar participants from the 2013 Imagining America conference. Contributors who are not among the primary authors of this submission have given written permission to share their stories with credit.


Work Cited

Ellison, Julie, and Timothy K. Eatman. 2008. Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America. Accessed March 10, 2014. http://imaginingamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/TTI_FINAL.pdf

"Expanding Engagement: University Staff as Agents of Social Change." 2012. Roundtable convened at Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life conference, New York, NY.

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds. 1981. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Watertown, MA: Persephone Press.

The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (NTFCLDE). 2012. A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Sturm, Susan. 2010. "Activating Systemic Change toward Full Participation: The Pivotal Role of Boundary Spanning Institutional Intermediaries." Saint Louis Law Journal 54: 1117–1137.

Sturm, Susan, Tim Eatman, John Saltmarsh, and Adam Bush. 2011. "Full Participation: Building the Architecture for Diversity and Community Engagement in Higher Education." Imagining America Catalyst Paper. Accessed January 27, 2014. http://imaginingamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/2011.09.01.catalyst.paper_.pdf

"This Bridge Called My Job: Intermediary Staff as Agents of Change." 2013. Roundtable convened at Imagining America conference, Syracuse, NY.

"This Bridge Called My Job: Translating, Re-Valuing, and Leveraging Intermediary Administrative Work." 2012. Workshop convened at Imagining America conference, New York, NY.

"This Bridge Called My Job: Translating, Re-Valuing, and Leveraging Intermediary Administrative Work." 2013. Seminar convened at Imagining America conference, Syracuse, NY.

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