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Engaging with Difficult Issues: Reflections on the ACSP 2016 Presidential Sessions

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lois Takahashi, ACSP President; Professor, University of California Los Angeles

Carissa Slotterback, ACSP Secretary; Associate Professor, University of Minnesota

There is little doubt that our academic lives are now more than ever fraught with tension, distress, and anger. Though many of us have engaged over our entire careers with inequality, inequity, and unfairness, many of us have not been exposed to the rancor, disrespectful, and frankly debilitating conversations that seem to permeate daily public discourse.

There is no better group to tackle these issues than ACSP’s membership. We all care about improving lives, places, and policies, though we may disagree on the focus and the methods for getting there.

It is in this vein that we convened two Presidential Sessions at the ACSP annual conference in Portland, Oregon, one on “difficult conversations” and the other on “civic engagement.” These two phrases are in quotes to signify their importance as labels that should receive high priority attention, but also because the definition of both is widely variable and can motivate strong disagreements.

The Presidential Session on “difficult conversations” was motivated in part by the tension embodied in a recent exchange on the now ended PLANET, an email distribution listserv for faculty and researchers that had a loose and informal affiliation with ACSP. PLANET was started by Bill Page as a way for friends to exchange information and talk about issues through email. The group expanded rapidly over the past decade and in many ways did not keep up with the expansion of planning programs across the globe and the movement of doctoral students trained in ACSP member schools to jobs in a much broader set of institutions in and outside the US. ACSP responded by convening a task force on communication, with members intentionally representing faculty from large and small institutions, students, lecturers, ACSP interest groups, and the ACSP Governing Board. Responding to concerns such as disrespectful dialogue and lack of access, the task force explored ways to create multiple conduits of communication for ACSP members and non-members. The task force also developed “netiquette” guidelines and recommended that ACSP establish a special Committee on Communications. The Committee is working on communication tools and policies to proactively support engaging, inclusive conversations among our members and others interested in what we do.

But what the tense exchange on PLANET and subsequent conversations made clear was that there are many difficult issues for which wide exchange was and may continue to be challenging and for some seemingly impossible or career threatening. For that reason, in addition to the communications strategy that ACSP has implemented, we convened the “difficult conversations” Presidential Session, with Lisa Bates, Associate Professor, Portland State; Jennifer Cowley, Vice Provost, Ohio State; and Petra Doan, Professor, FSU as panelists. The conversation among the panelists and the audience was enlightening, and sometimes painful, however, there were several takeaways for Lois Takahashi, who acted as the moderator for this session:

  • conversations within departments and schools do not adequately accommodate the lived experience of many newcomers to the academy
  • we do not always agree on what is “difficult”
  • active and authentic listening is a powerful act when engaging in “difficult conversations”.

“Difficult conversations” are not limited to the professional interactions among administrators, faculty, students, and staff. In the second Presidential Session, we tackled the issue of “civic engagement” and the conversations and relationships we engage in when we work outside the relatively comfortable boundaries of academia. Panelists represented a wide range of experiences and strategies: Wim Wiewel, President of Portland State and former ACSP President; Carissa Slotterback, ACSP Secretary and Associate Professor, University of Minnesota; Martin Kaufman, Professor, Department of Earth and Resource Science, University of Michigan-Flint. Each of the panelists discussed important examples of engagement that provided models and lessons for how to engage productively in engagement of various types.

Using Flint, MI, as a jumping off point for the discussion, Marty Kaufman highlighted the engagement of he and his research team in investigating contaminated drinking water and its impacts on Flint’s residents. Informed by his work mapping the City’s water pipes using GIS, he talked about the challenges of logistics – there are few maps or institutional memory about the infrastructure – but also about working on a politically incendiary issue. Carissa Slotterback discussed her role in the Office of the Vice President for Research and with the Resilient Communities Project at the University of Minnesota working to connect and enhance partnerships within the university and with community partners. She stressed the role of relationships, trust, and long-term commitment. She encouraged planning researchers to build “communities of research and practice” that enhance our legitimacy and the relevance of our work. Wim Wiewel provided a bounty of examples in his role as President of Portland State, including supporting his faculty even in the face of severe pushback from government and private sector groups. He stressed the importance of rigorous and relevant research as one hallmark of engaged research, and that the role of the President in part was to ensure that if the research was rigorous, even if the results are unpopular, that the university publicly supported its faculty. Engagement was more than forming partnerships, it was also about the university’s role in providing research results that sometimes opposed popular albeit unsubstantiated policies and practices.

In all, these Presidential Sessions provided examples, lessons, and strategies in engaging in difficult but important conversations and efforts. ACSP plans to continue these conversations online on our UNIVerse online forum and in Denver and beyond at our ACSP annual conferences. We hope that you will share your experiences on these topics, as well as your ideas for future Presidential Sessions.

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Changes to APA Student Membership and AICP Candidate Pilot Program Approved

Posted By Administration, Friday, December 16, 2016

Monica Groh,
American Planning Association

Following on outreach and engagement of academic planning stakeholders and many others,
APA would like to take this opportunity to inform you—in advance of a wider and more detailed communication to be released in winter/spring 2017—about two exciting initiatives that aim to better engage with and invest in your students, the next generation of planners.

  1. Changes to APA’s membership structure for students and new planners; and
  2. The AICP Candidate Pilot Program.

We are sharing this information now with APA leadership and our academic planning partners. We will provide helpful communication tools and conduct a more detailed public launch within the next few months.

Changes to Student Membership Start in July 2017
APA is making entry into the association easier and more affordable for students and new planners.

Starting in July 2017:
APA student membership will be free for any individual who is:

  • Enrolled as a full- or part-time degree seeking student
  • In any college or university program

“Free” includes national, chapter, and AICP membership, as well as membership in up to five APA Divisions, for the duration of the individual’s studies. Student members will be eligible for two years of reduced dues after ending their studies.

The APA/AICP Student and New Planner Task Force developed these policies, with input from APA leaders—including the APA Board, AICP Commission, and chapter, division, and student leaders—and academic partners. They responded to member feedback about broadening participation in the association and making membership more accessible and affordable to a diverse population with both planning and non-planning backgrounds.

The current membership structure and prices will be in effect through June 2017. We will communicate with individuals who currently are in the Early Career Membership Program (i.e., who joined as a student member within the last five years), and all other current members, to ensure a smooth transition into the new framework.

We will share more information in Spring 2017. Contact APA staff at or call 312-431-9100 if you have questions.

AICP Candidate Pilot Program Approved
The AICP Candidate Pilot Program offers members the opportunity to start on the path to certification by taking the AICP exam prior to earning the required years of professional planning experience.

The AICP Commission considered the valuable feedback collected from more than 1,000 members who responded to a survey in August 2016, along with leaders’ recommendations expressed at the September meetings in Washington. The Commission approved a revised program that maintains the current AICP requirements (education, experience, exam) but changes their sequence (education, exam, experience).

Click here for more information.

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Student Perspectives at ACSP 2016

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 21, 2016

C. Aujean Lee, UCLA,
ACSP Student Representative

At the November 2016 ACSP conference, the student representatives worked to create new ways to support students. We were excited to try out some new programming, and look forward to creating more ways to improve student engagement with ACSP.

Before the conference, we created the student bulletin, which showcased student accomplishments! We also included ways that students can get involved in this conference and the ACSP committees.

At the conference, we organized the inaugural graduate student clinic booth! Students were matched with faculty volunteers for 30-minute sessions to go over job application materials. We had approximately 40 sessions primarily during Thursday and Friday. We thank all of our faculty volunteers for their help, and look forward to offering it next year! Thanks also to ACSP staff, who worked hard to coordinate space for the booth.

Michael Lens, an Assistant Professor of UCLA who participated as faculty mentor remarked, “I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet the two students I talked to, and it was nice to feel like I had concrete advice that they could run with to hopefully make them more attractive to potential employers. We ask for a lot of information from academic job applicants -- research and teaching statements, diversity statements -- so students need a lot of help.“

Jongwoong Kim, a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati, used the clinic. He described how "it is usually not easy to have dedicated, face-to-face time with an experienced professor/mentor outside of your institution. Using part of the national conference schedule as a venue for this kind of event was invaluable for me."

We also held two workshops with approximately 50 attendees. First, on Friday morning, Aujean Lee organized a session called “Applying for jobs.” We had five faculty panelists: Carissa Slotterback at the University of Minnesota, Erick Guerra at University of Pennsylvania, Mi Shih at Rutgers University, Vinit Mukhija at UCLA, and William Rohe of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Students asked questions about the job application process based on the type of institution, how to prepare for interviews, and what strategies are useful for framing job application materials.

James Wood organized the second session, called “Getting your Work Published: Advice on Funding, Co-Authors, and Journal Selection.” Panelists included Michael Duncan of Florida State University, Huston Gibson at Kansas State University, April Jackson of Florida State University, and Lisa Schweitzer from the University of Southern California. Students took part in an open forum about publishing research, journal selection, the revision process, managing co-authors, and meeting publication expectations for hiring and tenure.

On Saturday evening we held the student reception at Rock Bottom Brewery. About 150 students attended throughout the evening, including one student from the Association of European Schools of Planning attend the reception. We are glad fellow students enjoyed each other’s company and the opportunity to network!

What did you think about the new events this year (graduate student clinic booth, workshops)? What other student-related activities or programs would you be interested in?

Additionally, thanks to James Wood for serving as the ACSP student representative from 2015-2017. We are looking for a second student representative to replace him after his term ends (Spring 2017 – Spring 2019). In order to be eligible, students must be enrolled in an ACSP member-planning program for during the 2-year term. A committee composed of the ACSP President and the current student representatives selects the candidate(s) and the President appoints the new student representative.

The selection and confirmation will be made in late January or early February with the first board meeting scheduled for March 9th in Washington DC/Reston, Virginia. Student representatives are expected to attend two ACSP Governing Board meetings each year, spring and fall. The fall Governing Board meeting will be held the day before the ACSP Annual Conference (2017 Denver; 2018 Buffalo).

ACSP reimburses each Student Rep up to $2,500 for itemized travel expenses to both Governing Board meetings in their two-year term. Applicants must secure the consent of your department chair in the form of a letter of support on university letterhead.

If you are interested in applying for the student rep position, email Aujean Lee at

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