Co-ops and Universities: Seeking the Elusive Partnership

Part 2: Viable Partnerships

Brett Fairbairn, with Nora Russell

Clearly, there are important reasons for co-ops and universities to be interested in each other. But while they can be aligned, they can never be, or remain, perfectly aligned. The demands of co-operatives to demonstrate a value proposition — to justify the commitment of resources to an education initiative in competition with returning greater short-term benefits to members — are impossible to satisfy fully. There will always be a tension. The questions within the academy are equally unanswerable — whether the same resources contributed to another undertaking would create more peer-reviewed publications, more prestigious grants, more reputational impact, than contributing faculty, staff, and student time to work with and on co-operatives. Both co-ops and universities face competing claims on time and resources. Continue reading

Co-ops and Universities: Seeking the Elusive Partnership

Part 1: The Case for Partnership

Brett Fairbairn, with Nora Russell

Co-operatives are community-based associations and enterprises accountable to their members and typically competing in markets for goods and services. Based on self-help, autonomy, and ages-old ways of working together, they improve the well-being of their members, foster values such as equity and inclusion, and strengthen communities.

Universities are among the oldest institutions in society, operating under deeply entrenched norms of self-governance and autonomy. They create knowledge for society, foster critical thinking and citizenship, and reproduce leadership and professions from generation to generation.

If a good partnership is one where the partners bring different strengths and characteristics to a common project, then universities and co-operatives have the makings of a great partnership. But partners have to find the right ways of working with each other, and this is more complicated than it might appear. Continue reading