Radical Roots

How One Professor Changed a University's Legacy

November 2023
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    13th November 2023
  • ISBN 9781975506209
  • Language English
  • Pages 175 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
  •    Request Exam Copy
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November 2023
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    20th November 2023
  • ISBN 9781975506216
  • Language English
  • Pages 175 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"

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November 2023
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    20th November 2023
  • ISBN 9781975506223
  • Language English
  • Pages 175 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
  •    Request E-Exam Copy

Radical Roots: How One Professor Changed a University's Legacy tells the story of Joel Torstenson, a sociology professor at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the 1960s, Torstenson challenged his university to embrace its urban setting and to design its curricular, co-curricular, and community engagement programs to advance its mission of “Education for service.” The compelling story of Torstenson’s legacy at Augsburg over the past 60 years offers lessons for colleges and universities across the country committed to democratic engagement in their work at the intersections of mission and place.

Augsburg University's saga as an urban settlement has not always been embraced by the university. Though location and place are central to the university’s identity, it is not sufficient to explain the integrative power of the university’s character. For that purpose, it is critical that place be understood through the lens of Augsburg’s academic mission and work. This integrated view of place and mission required a new way of imagining the university’s core work of educating students.

The purpose of this book is two-fold. The first is to document and celebrate the legacy of Professor Joel Torstenson, and to understand the impact of this legacy’s inception, evolution, and current manifestations and impact at Augsburg and in the wider world. Professor Torstenson cared deeply about the public purpose of higher education, and Torstenson’s model for what this public purpose might look like prompted massive transformation in Augsburg University’s trajectory. The resulting experiments in education and commitment to the city flowered into a legacy that has spurred Augsburg University to create an innovative model for 21st Century education. This model has impacted everything from student learning and community life, to teaching and curricular structure, to the public mission of the institution and its presence in the city and world. Torstenson’s creative—and even radical—work in the 1960s and '70s has been carried through the decades by continued innovation in teaching and learning based in experiential education, and a commitment to place and community building. This legacy has simultaneously advanced the public purpose and mission of the University.

Secondly, this book shares what are some of the lessons learned from fifty years of innovation following Torstenson’s vision, with the hope that these lessons might serve the broader community of colleges, universities, faculty, staff, and students engaged in similar pursuits. Augsburg’s innovative experiential education, place-based community engagement, and public and anchor institution work has been and will continue to be a model for other institutions. We believe that Torstenson’s legacy, and the lessons learned through the years of its evolution, has lessons to teach and models to follow for our sibling institutions across the United States.

The volume includes discussion prompts and questions after each section. There is also a companion website ( that includes additional resources related to the volume's themes.

Perfect for course such as: Higher Education and Democracy in the United States; Principles of Experiential Education; Place Matters: Higher Education and Community Engagement; Universities as Anchor Institutions in their Communities; Introduction to Citizen Professionalism: Leading in the 21st Century; Public Work, Social Responsibility, and Vocation in a World of Extremes; Accompaniment: Developing Democratic Skills and Fostering Healing with Communities; Curricular Innovations in Higher Education; and Principles of Higher Education Pedagogy

"Radical Roots makes an important contribution to the field of university-community engagement by chronicling and critically reflecting on the history and evolution of one institution’s commitment to engage in deep mutually beneficial relationships with its local community as an anchor institution. The powerful legacy of Augsburg University – ahead of its time for embracing its role in, of, and with its urban community, and for embedding this commitment into its academic mission – is one that needs to be shared. Augsburg stands as a national exemplar for advancing the democratic mission of higher education by directly engaging its students, faculty, staff, and community partners in the practice of democracy. A must-read for all who are interested in strengthening university-community partnerships."

Rita Axelroth Hodges, M.S.Ed., Associate Director, Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania

"Radical Roots is an important and inspiring book. While telling the unique and compelling story of Augsburg University and the extraordinary impact of a faculty member, Joel Torstenson, on the institution, it has powerful lessons for higher education in general. Most centrally, Radical Roots illustrates the path to becoming a democratic civic university, which is dedicated to its local community and the values of democracy, social justice, and equity. In so doing, it makes clear why Augsburg is a national leader as an anchor institution, galvanizing academic, volunteer, and institutional resources for the mutual benefit of the university, the city, and the community. By vividly describing how Augsburg brought civic and community engagement into the very heart of the university, Radical Roots has made an invaluable contribution to our understanding of how higher education can fulfill its democratic promise."

Ira Harkavy, Ph.D., Associate Vice President and Founding Director of the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania

"In the midst of fiscal stress and political confrontations when higher education’s commitment to the liberal arts and civic practice is fragile and yet so necessary, Radical Roots will provide the leaders and faculty members of colleges and universities with a profile of inspiration, intelligence, and resiliency. The Augsburg University story is a necessary antidote to institutional skepticism and a bright pathway to successful democratic education."

Richard Guarasci, President Emeritus, Wagner College & author, "Neighborhood Democracy"

"This thoughtful volume makes three things clear. One professor can make a difference. Universities can stand for what matters most. And higher education still transforms lives."

Michael Lansing, Professor of History, Augsburg University

"For those of us who believe deeply in the value of place-based collaborative work in rooting democracy, even and perhaps especially in the midst of national and global divisions and divisiveness, we can take heart from the saga described in this compelling volume, one played out over many decades at one of today’s most effective anchor institutions in our higher education orbit. Critically, we witness here the evolving embedding of one professor’s principles of democratic engagement as learning and public service intertwined into the very lifeblood of a university, opening the possibility for others across the years to fashion what it means to live at the “intersections of place and mission, location and vocation,” for generations to come. The time span is instructive in teaching us all the patience needed, and the rewards to be garnered, if we can stick with the “radical roots” of those who saw so clearly how universities can truly be the public goods that our public so desires and yet so often questions today. The welcome thread of optimism runs clearly through this tale, grounded in real programs and practices only growing over time."

Nancy Cantor, Ph.D., Chancellor, Rutgers University-Newark

"This book tells much of my story as a student in the Urban Studies program at Augsburg with both Joel (Torstenson) and then Garry (Hesser), tapping into my desire to experience a new model of learning…Such novel engagement in key learning methods propelled me toward a rewarding career, first as a community organizer (and)...later as a rural business banker and community developer…interdisciplinary perspectives as championed by Joel, was a cornerstone for my personal growth and success as a graduate of the Augsburg Urban Studies program."

Rick Bonlender, Augsburg Class of 1978

"When I take stock of the institutions and experiences that have shaped my sense of what matters most, attending Augsburg towers above. This book, which is littered with people and programs at Augsburg that directly shaped my own sense of self and vocation—from Gary Hesser to Campus Kitchen to the Sabo Center—helps explain why I’m far from alone in feeling that way. Radical Roots not only documents the history of Augsburg’s neighbor-centered approach to education, it also places it in vital broader conversations about the state of our democracy. There are rich lessons in this book for anyone trying to think through what it means to be a committed and responsible neighbor, and how to support others in becoming the same."

Chris Stedman, Augsburg Class of 2008, former humanist chaplain at Harvard University and director of the Yale Humanist Community, author of "IRL" and "Faitheist" and writer and host of Unread

"In addition to capturing the story of Torstenson, an influential academic leader who was before his time, this book also depicts a broader evolution in higher education and the changing ways we understand and carry out its public purpose. I was struck by the familiarity of the questions compelling students and colleagues to action in the late 60’s and early 70’s: To what extent is it wise, good, or even possible to retreat from the world to think and learn? Where does knowledge reside? Whose knowledge do we need to address the most pressing issues of our time? With vivid examples based in the specific place, mission, and faith tradition of Augsburg University, concepts such as the anchor institution, place-based learning, and civic agency come to life. It’s an excellent case study, as well as a specific history. Also, as a HECUA alum and member of its board of directors during its final years, this story matters to me. In the wake of the COVID/COVID-19 pandemic, when we lost so many people and organizations, I appreciate that Paul Pribbenow and colleagues took the time to document the crisis colony project, which became HECUA and the subsequent experiential learning programs that critically shaped my education and so many others’. I hope this text informs the work of others, and the legacy lives on."

Sinda Nichols, Director, Center for Community and Civic Engagement, Carleton College

"At a time when many colleges and universities are alarmed by the trend in higher education to move from transformational to transactional teaching and learning and struggle to discern their relevance for and future in society, this publication provides timely inspiration, guidance, and hope…The authors present Augsburg University as a model that can inspire other institutions of higher learning to reflect how specific mission and academic programs align with the values, needs, and priorities of the spaces within which they operate, educate students to be engaged in local and national democratic processes, and nurture the common good, which goes beyond the often superficial conversations in higher education about experiential learning, service-learning, and place-based initiatives."

Alexander Rödlach, Professor of Medical Anthropology, Creighton University

"This book is an inspiring story of the enduring impact of a single faculty member on his institution, field, and community. It also deftly weaves connections across many important trends and concepts in higher education, including urban studies, experiential learning, the responsibilities of anchor institutions, democratic education, and citizen professionalism. Finally, it is a testament to Augsburg University’s long standing commitment to building community relationships and preparing students for civic life."

Alex Lovit, Senior Program Officer and Historian, Charles F. Kettering Foundation

"Radical Roots is a beautiful tribute to Professor Torstenson and his enduring impact on Augsburg University. With histories that are inextricably linked, the book provides readers with captivating insight into the transformation of Augsburg as a leading national model for the engaged university and how Professor Torstenson contributed to its path in getting there. Community-engaged scholars, students, partners, and all those committed to civic and community engagement will enjoy diving into Professor Torstenson’s journey to develop new community-engaged academic programs, high-impact experiential learning, and dynamic partnerships. Today, Augsburg University is on the leading edge of higher education institutions holistically committed to the public mission, and Radical Roots inspires us all to take action!"

Bobbie Laur, President, Campus Compact

"Radical Roots tells the story of Augsburg University and the power of one person to create a movement of transformation by linking education, community-building, and service to neighbors. Read it for the history and come away inspired by what is possible."

Valerie Holton, Executive Director, Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities


Who We Are and Where We Stand

More Information and Resources

Map of Augsburg and Cedar Riverside



Planting Roots: The Genesis of the Torstenson Legacy

Takk for Alt, Professor Torstenson: How the Work of Professor Joel S. Torstenson Shaped Augsburg University’s Relationship with Minneapolis

Reprint of The Church Related College in the City by Joel S. Torstenson Questions for Further Reflection

From Crisis Colony to Place-Based Justice: Pedagogical Innovation in Modern Times

Section Introduction

Passing the Torstenson Baton: How a Hand-Picked Successor Put Augsburg’s Curricular Innovations in the National Experiential Education Spotlight

Innovations, Inspiration, and Insight: Stories from Experiential Education at Augsburg Questions for Further Reflection

Public Work and Democratic Purpose

Section Introduction

Constant Transformation of the Urban Consciousness: Civic Agency in Higher Education

The Way Forward: The Intersection of Three Pandemics and the Call for Leadership Questions for Further Reflection


About the Authors

Green Bouzard

Green Bouzard is a freelance musician and editor. She formerly worked at Augsburg University in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship.

Kathleen M. Clark

Kathleen M. Clark, DNP is an Associate Professor of Nursing and the Executive Director of the Augsburg Health Commons. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and both a Masters of Art in Transcultural Nursing and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Transcultural Leadership from Augsburg University. She began her career at Augsburg in 2009 and has focused her scholarship and teaching efforts on caring for marginalized populations, developing experiential learning experiences to center the learning moments on people with lived experiences voices, and creating changes to address health inequities. She has led and expanded the university’s efforts at the Augsburg Health Commons, which are nurse-led drop-in centers located in local communities that care for marginalized populations such as people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and immigration. Katie currently also serves on the Mission and Identity Division at Augsburg.

Timothy D. Pippert

Timothy D. Pippert, Ph.D. currently serves as the Joel Torstenson Endowed Professor of Sociology and the Executive Director of Augsburg Family Scholars. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Nebraska and joined the faculty at Augsburg in 1999. He teaches a variety of courses from Introduction to Sociology to the Senior Seminar and Keystone and has published research on fictive kin relationships among men without homes, the accuracy of college and university photographic representations of diversity in recruitment materials, and the impact of the Bakken oil boom on the residents of northwestern North Dakota. In 2022, he worked with students in the Sociology Senior Seminar and Keystone to envision, design, and fundraise for Augsburg Family Scholars. The program, designed to support students with backgrounds in the foster care system, was launched in September 2022.

Paul C. Pribbenow

Paul C. Pribbenow, Ph.D., is the 10th president of Augsburg University. Since joining Augsburg in 2006, Pribbenow has enhanced the university’s role as an active community partner in its urban setting. By identifying and embracing initiatives that mutually benefit Augsburg and its neighbors, the university has achieved national recognition for its excellence in service learning and experiential education, including the 2010 Presidential Award for Community Service, the highest honor possible for service work. Pribbenow serves on the national boards of the Coalition for Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU), Campus Compact, and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). He is also active in the Anchor Institutions Task Force, and chairs both the Cedar-Riverside Partnership and the Central Corridor Anchor Partnership in the Twin Cities. Pribbenow holds a bachelor of arts degree from Luther College (Iowa), and a master’s degree and doctorate in social ethics from the University of Chicago.

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