Symbiotic university-community partnerships: The good, the bad & the ugly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this philosophical discussion, we take a distinct position on how institutions of higher education should engage with communities. The complex relationship between universities and communities has been a topic of debate for decades. Within U.S. land-grant universities, it is argued the outreach component of their tri-partite mission (teaching, research, and outreach) has been delegated almost solely to the Cooperative Extension Service. Still, we argue community engagement is the responsibility of the entire university. Using symbiosis as a foundation, we contend that university-community partnerships can be parasitic, mutualistic or commensalistic, depending upon how engagement is undertaken, and how the community itself is engaged. The authors provide suggestions on appropriate policy, education, and capacity building changes. Ultimately, if we pay attention to the possibility of a “dark side” of community engagement, we can become better aware of how communities, faculty, students and community developers effectively engage to the benefit of all.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCommunity Development
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Community Development Society.


  • Community engagement
  • mutualism
  • parasitism
  • symbiosis
  • university-community partnerships

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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