The American Democracy Project (ADP) is a multi-campus initiative that seeks to create an intellectual and experiential understanding of civic engagement for undergraduates enrolled at institutions that are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The goal of the project is to produce graduates who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful actions as citizens in a democracy.
As an initial step in SUNY Brockport's participation in the American Democracy Project, a comprehensive online survey of undergraduate faculty and professional staff was conducted in the fall of 2003. The purpose of the campus audit is to identify places and programs on campus where civic engagement activities are already underway, and places where activities might be started. The campus audit will allow participants to celebrate civic engagement that is already occurring, link sometimes unconnected efforts to one another, and identify opportunities to begin work in areas where civic engagement activities could occur as part of ADP planning.
The survey shows that an overwhelming majority of both faculty and staff believe that a college education can and should strive to change student values, goals and attitudes regarding civic engagement. One of the most salient findings is that faculty and staff already oversee or facilitate a considerable amount of student civic engagement activities. Practically all faculty members, and 51% of all responding professional staff members, are currently working in some way to foster the civic engagement of SUNY Brockport's undergraduate students.
Overall, there is currently a considerable amount of instructional activity in the skills, values, and knowledge areas required to foster civic engagement among the student body. Public speaking and team building appear to be skills incorporated in most classes with leadership skills noted by slightly less than half of the respondents. One of the most common teaching practices designed to foster civic engagement is the practice of democratic teaching practices in the classroom (such as encouraging critical thinking, taking and supporting independent positions, not simply agreeing with the faculty member's point of view, and providing opportunities to challenge others in respectful ways). Of the respondents, 65% reported utilizing these “very frequently” or “frequently”. Lastly, civic engagement-related values —including the importance of participation, ethical judgment, civic and social responsibility, and diversity and inclusion—already have widespread usage in the campus classroom. In terms of course content, over half of responding faculty and over one third of responding staff reported they “frequently” or “very frequently” included contemporary issues in American life and community needs and wants within courses.
The survey also asked the extent to which faculty and staff attempt to measure student-learning outcomes resulting from participation in service-learning activities. Faculty tend to measure outcomes related to academic performance and team building skills where staff measure outcomes related to leadership skills and acquisition of jobs and internships. Overall, this remains a relatively underdeveloped area with wide variation in measurement approaches.
The survey shows that the College's professional staff form a significant part of the campus' civic engagement efforts geared toward students. 40% of professional staff surveyed regularly teach undergraduate courses on campus, and 51% are currently engaged in student civic engagement activity.
The survey revealed numerous examples of extensive, quality student civic engagement activities facilitated by the faculty and staff—including a significant number of experiential and service-learning activities. Examples range from the use of case studies in the classroom to full-semester internship program projects in the community and from field experiences in K-12 to work in government or social agencies. Other activities involving civic engagement were also noted in residence halls, in student programming, informal discussions, in promotion of voter registration, and in various examples of collaborative research and classroom presentations. Additionally, many examples were given of personal civic involvement on the part of faculty and staff in social service agencies, the political arena, the not-for-profit sector, churches, and local government.
Faculty and staff shared their ideas on “best practices” in student civic engagement, and noted the changes and resources they would most like to see as part of Brockport's involvement in the American Democracy Project. Suggested examples of specific best practices worthy of further implementation included projects such as Leadership Rochester's Collegiate Civic Engagement Program and the America Reads Program. Also of note are the Brockport Career Exploration Course and programming initiatives made possible through Better Community Grants. Additionally, the SUNY Brockport Small Business Development Center's activities interact directly with civic organizations and agencies. Finally, numerous programs encourage or require internships or field placements that place students in real world settings (i.e., Business and Accounting Department, Delta College, Honor's Program, and student teaching). Faculty and staff indicated hope that the American Democracy Project would provide opportunities for workshops addressing various aspects of civic engagement, opportunities and budget support for service learning, cross-disciplinary activities, community projects, organized debates on controversial civic issues, and exploration of a common reading project for the campus.
While a majority of respondents, both faculty and staff, expressed great hope for participation in the American Democracy Project activities, several strands of pessimism came to the fore. First, many respondents expressed concern about the widespread apathy of the student body as a whole. Second, many felt that today's student is already overworked given the prevalence of part-time and full-time employment responsibilities leading to lack of motivation to ‘be involved'. Third, some faculty pointed out that civic engagement activities—such as “service learning”—take a great deal of faculty/staff time and resources to organize and oversee. Lastly, respondents noted that the institutional trend to streamline resources and increase class size counteracts the goal of facilitating civic engagement among the student body.
Overall the campus seems supportive of the concepts and values underlying the American Democracy Project. There appears to be fertile ground for SUNY Brockport to begin discussion of becoming an ‘engaged campus' since many existing beliefs and practices demonstrate congruence with the underlying principles of the American Democracy Project initiative.