Engagement at the University of Minnesota Duluth
Yesterday I drove up to Duluth to meet with Casey LaCore, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement at University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) and other faculty and staff active in engagement on that campus. They have a lively web site at http://www.d.umn.edu/outreach/civic/.
Several things particularly struck me during the day:
- The Vice Chancellor of UMD, Vince Magunuson, had been an early and active proponent of establishing the civic engagement office, just as our provost, Bob Bruininks, had been on the Twin Cities campus. This reinforces the idea that successful engagement efforts require top-down as well as bottom-up leadership.
- Casey LaCore has a small but effective staff of AmeriCorps*VISTAs. This is a resource that other campuses might also try to develop.
- UMD has a very high proportion of students involved in community service and service-learning projects. Casey LaCore has obviously been very effective in building a sense of public service, which fits with the strong social capital ethos in Duluth.
At lunch I joined a group that was following up a previous discussion about how to teach citizenship, defined in a way that goes well beyond voting. Each participant had been asked "to name a skill related to citizenship that they wished our graduates would possess", and this session was devoted to discussing how these skills could be fostered in each academic department. The list of desired skills was
- Make a clear persuasive argument to something they don’t agree with
- Dissent creatively
- Be able to advocate
- Have humility
- Have compassion
- Have a sense of awareness that allows them to see from different perspectives
- Have a sense of empowerment
- Have an ability to see the bigger picture
- Have an ability to learn from those who are different
- Have research skills that allow them to understand local policy
- Have a disposition to use the skills they have developed
- Use creativity
- Have curiosity and follow through where that takes them
- Have a basic working knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights
The questions for consideration, which led to a lively discussion, were:
- Are these goals something that our departments could contribute to? How?
- What are ways that co-curricular parts of the university (Student Services or Housing, for example), could contribute to reaching these outcomes?
- Where else within the university could we pursue having students reach these goals?
- Is there a way to measure these outcomes?
I was particularly intrigued with how the last-listed desired skill, "Have a basic working knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights", might be integrated into the teaching programs of departments other than history or political science. A professor in the Theater Department described how he had incorporated such issues into the preparations for a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. In the sciences, current issues such as restrictions on the ability of international students to work on "national security-related" research projects might lead to broader discussions of free speech.
One participant pointed out that we need to remember that the Constitution is a living document. A good example for discussion with students would be the recent Supreme Court decisions about affirmative action in admissions, in response to the University of Michigan cases. Each department could have a useful dialog about how those decisions might pertain to their academic discipline.
Noting that few faculty outside the specialist departments have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we agreed that such discussions would be a good opportunity to arrange interdisciplinary teaching sessions and all-campus convocations.