Democracy and Citizenship Initiative at Washington University in St. Louis
Welcome to Washington University. You begin your undergraduate careers at a time of profound institutional reflection and a discussion that-like much of what you will experience in the next four yearsÃ±will be both specific and abstract. This announcement, then, is a welcome both into a community of scholars and into an exciting conversation about the very nature and purpose of that community.
Since its founding the United States has always assumed an essential connection between the values and ambitions of a free society and the work of higher education. Throughout his presidency George Washington recognized this interdependency and urged the creation of a national university. Following his own tenure in the executive office, Thomas Jefferson devoted his remaining years to the creation of the University of Virginia as a model of higher education appropriate for a republic. For more than two centuries the special relationship between colleges and universities and democracy has been reaffirmed in a multitude of ways, and in periods of crisis and transition has been a subject of much consideration. Whether in calls for expanded efforts in science and technology during the Cold War or in the GI Bill’s dramatic expansion of educational access that followed World War II, the fates of freedom and the broadening implications of democracy have been regarded as inextricable from our conception and implementation of advanced teaching and learning.
In this opening decade of the 21st century, with new challenges in virtually every aspect of our lives, it is again time to renew the discussion of the University’s role in a free society. As a citizen of a particular city and a particular nation as well as a global community, how does it (or how do we) address and reconcile these often complicated and sometimes conflicted responsibilities and partnerships in a manner consistent with our educational mission?
Washington University’s Democracy and Citizenship Initiative will be a year-long effort (involving faculty, students, administrators, and staff) to better understand American higher education’s relationship to the values and ambitions of a free society and, more specifically, to examine the meaning of citizenship for Washington University in its relationship with the greater St. Louis community, the nation and the world. This will be a University-wide project, one involving self-reflection as we consider the particular nature of our institution and the responsibilities and opportunities we face. An important part of this exploration will be an ongoing consideration of our relationship with the city and locale that have helped sustain us for more than 150 years, as well as with the nation whose democratic ideals rely on a commitment to education. Universities face the double challenge of educating citizens and of being a citizen with responsibilities to the society of which we are so intrinsically a part. At the same time we are also an important link between these communities and the larger world-in teaching and scholarship but also through our institutional partnerships. The challenge of being part of such differing constituencies with obligations to each requires us to consider who we are as a university and how that identity influences each of these relationships.
During the 2008-09 academic year we will attempt-through committees and discussion groups, conferences and other events-to engage as much of the University community as possible and through this year-long conversation to identify the key issues that we face, while establishing an agenda for the years to come.
Washington University is not alone in recognizing this as a critical moment for American higher education; colleges and universities around the country have begun a variety of projects to consider the social and educational challenges of our time, to think anew about the nature of our academics and the missions we pursue. The meaning of the Liberal Arts, the interaction of science and society, the nature of institutional citizenship and many related subjects being discussed on campuses across America. For these considerations to be most helpful they must be specific to particular institutional circumstances and visions. The Initiative on Democracy and Citizenship imagines that the conversations to take place at Washington University in the coming academic year will be about Washington University, a reflection on our sense of purpose and our community and yet-with the very specificity such an approach requires-will contribute to a larger discussion concerning the future of higher education in a free society.
We welcome ideas and participants. Please feel free to e-mail.
Wayne Fields is a professor in the College of Arts & Sciences and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]
Popularity: 1% [?]