Professors, administrators, practitioners, and students from across country convened in Denver this past weekend (June 6-8, 2013) for the 2013 American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment National Meeting. The conference theme—21st Century Citizens: Building Bridges, Solving Problems—turned attendees’ attention to the educational experience as a method for not just preparing students for the workforce, but more importantly equipping students with the 21st century skills necessary for becoming active contributors in their communities.
Peter Levine, Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs and director of CIRCLE, Tisch College/CIRCLE, Tufts University, presented on the civic mission of higher education during the meeting. A description of the speech as it appears in the program is copied below. You can listen to a podcast of the speech here.
A Defense of Higher Education and its Civic Mission
The liberal arts and the civic mission of higher education are under attack in this time of economic crisis and political polarization. In several states, policies are pending to raise tuition for majors that do not lead directly to jobs. We should not be offended by this kind of critique. We charge a lot of money for tuition, and citizens are entitled to ask what we produce for it. But we can proudly and forthrightly make the case for the civic mission of the higher education. The purpose of the liberal arts is to prepare people for responsible citizenship, and the best forms of civic engagement are intellectually challenging; they are the liberal arts in action. Research shows that civic education at the college level makes people into better workers. And engaged universities address many serious public problems, including unemployment, that matter to citizens and policymakers.