For Immediate Release
October 20, 2003
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Brockport, NY—SUNY Brockport recently joined more than 145 other member campuses of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in The American Democracy Project: Civic Engagement, Higher Education and the 21st Century. The project, a cooperative venture of AASCU, The New York Times and AASCU member-institutions, is designed to reverse the national decline in civic participation and engagement in American life.
“Research shows that the decline in the degree of civic participation and engagement in American life is creating problems for both our society and our democracy,” warns SUNY College at Brockport Provost Timothy J. Flanagan, PhD. “SUNY Brockport feels strongly that institutions of higher education can stem this tide. That is why we are so committed to joining in The American Democracy Project.”
Flanagan ought to know – his scholarly studies have focused on all aspects of crime. And these studies inevitably put a spotlight on citizens who are not civically engaged – who feel disconnected and do not possess democratic skills as basic as running meetings, speaking in public, writing letters and taking positions on the issues of the day.
“I agree with leaders in education that believe that the decline in civic engagement could eventually bring about the demise of American democracy,” Flanagan continues. “History tells us that Benjamin Franklin – more than 200 years ago – remarked on the fragility of democracy. Upon exiting the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin was approached by a group of citizens. They asked what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’”
As AASCU explains it, the basic concept of the project is a four-part approach to civic engagement, which includes initial project design and planning, a national conversation among participating campuses, implementation of a variety of civic engagement projects on each of the campuses, and a process of dissemination of the best practices that will include media events and publications.
The project grows out of a concern about decreasing rates of participation in the civic life of America in voting, in advocacy, in local grassroots associations, and in other forms of civic engagement that are necessary for the vitality of our democracy. The goals of the project are: 1.) to increase the number of undergraduate students who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful civic actions by asking participating institutions to review and restructure academic programs and processes, extracurricular programs and activities, and the institutional culture; and 2.) to focus the attention of policy makers and opinion leaders on the civic value of the college experience. This project uses the definition of civic engagement proposed by Thomas Ehrlich and his colleagues in Civic Responsibility and Higher Education:
“ Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.” (Preface, page vi) “ A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.” (Introduction, page xxvi).
The project also seeks to 1.) create a national conversation among many campuses about the theory and practice of civic engagement; 2.) develop institutional commitment by involving senior administrators, faculty, staff and students; by addressing core institutional mission and purpose; and by focusing on civic engagement as a learning outcome for undergraduates; 3.) initiate new projects, courses and teaching strategies, extracurricular programs, and other programs to increase civic engagement, supported by the national project office; 4.) measure the civic engagement outcomes of undergraduates on participating campuses, and assess the impact of this project in contributing to greater civic engagement outcomes; and; 5.) disseminate the models that result to a wide audience of higher education institutions, individuals, and policy makers.
“I sense that this program will have enormous and far-reaching impacts – beginning with our students, the College community, the Greater Rochester community and the country as a whole. It’s already beginning; though we are in the very early stages of research prior to implementation, my patriotism has been renewed and strengthened,” said Sharon L. Vasquez, dean, School of Arts and Performance, who is heading up the program at SUNY Brockport.
According to Vasquez, “SUNY Brockport is known for its focus on student success. We are now taking success a step further – from academic success to life success: becoming an active contributor to American democratic way of life. Fortunately, the College is already incorporating many civic-oriented actions and requirements in its curriculum and campus life. Our first step is to identify and then celebrate our civic engagement. Next, we will build upon it.”
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