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The Democracy Commitment: A National Platform for Civic Engagement

October 2011, Volume 24, Number 10

by Rufus Glasper

Believing that “a healthy democracy depends on engaged citizens, proud of their rights, thoughtful about their responsibilities, and informed about their choices,” an increasing number of community colleges are making “The Democracy Commitment” to publicly state their pledge to ensure an education in democracy for their students.

Launched in spring 2011, The Democracy Commitment is a national initiative that provides a platform for the development and expansion of programs and projects designed to engage community college students in civic learning and democratic practice. The goal of the partnership is to make sure that every graduate of an American community college—whether earning a degree, certificate, or university transfer—has had an education in democracy.

Signatories to The Democracy Commitment support a revival of civic learning and democratic engagement of Americans and an exploration of the role of community colleges in this effort. The Democracy Commitment website outlines actions signatories are asked to take:

  • Make a public commitment to the central role of civic education;
  • Provide intentional support for both curricular and extracurricular programs that build civic skills among students, especially focusing on projects that support students in doing public work;
  • Offer faculty and staff development in civic engagement;
  • Partner with local civic, nonprofit, and governmental agencies whose primary work is the social and economic development of local communities;
  • Participate in a national clearinghouse of program designs, curricula, and project development strategies for community colleges;
  • Participate in an annual meeting that brings together faculty, staff, administrators, and partners; and
  • Develop joint regional and national programs with partner universities, and with national higher education associations.

Year One activities of the initiative will focus on participant colleges conducting a “civic inventory” on their campuses, which will enable the cataloging of best practices in civic engagement activities and both curricular and extracurricular programs.  These civic practices will provide the focus for the annual meeting of participant colleges, to be held in June 2012 in San Antonio.

The initiative includes the college leadership of Maricopa Community Colleges, Miami Dade College, Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Los Rios Community College District, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Broome Community College, Delta College, Georgia Perimeter College, La Guardia Community College, Lane Community College, Lone Star Community College, Macomb Community College, Monroe Community College, Moraine Valley Community College, Mount Wachusett Community College, Santa Monica College, Valencia College, and many others across the country. The Board of the League for Innovation has endorsed The Democracy Commitment, as have the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The Kettering Foundation is also partnering with the initiative, and sponsored a summer workshop that brought together a dozen representatives from signatory colleges to share civic practices and deliberate about the challenges of developing civic skills in community college students.

The Democracy Commitment is modeled after the American Democracy Project (ADP), a national coalition of public state colleges and universities committed to civic and democratic work, sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in partnership with The New York Times. With more than 230 participating colleges and universities, ADP holds an annual meeting, sponsors seven national civic engagement projects, and provides a national platform for AASCU faculty and administrators to project and promote work in the service of democracy.  The Democracy Commitment held its initial meeting this past June in Orlando, in partnership with ADP, and the conference offered robust examples of community college and state college civic programs, as well as opportunities for collaboration among two-year and four-year colleges.

Presidents and chancellors of signatory colleges are invited to the formal launch of The Democracy Commitment, which will be held Friday, November 4, at the offices of The New York Times. The day begins with a pre-event lunch discussion at 1:00 p.m. followed by the formal event at 4:00 p.m., hosted by The New York Times Knowledge Network. The Times, a partner in The Democracy Commitment, wishes to give the initiative broad public exposure.

The Democracy Commitment is entirely nonpartisan and independent. The initiative is being funded through an initial round of donations from signatory colleges and a generous $40,000 gift from the Rapoport Family Foundation.

The Democracy Commitment declaration, its First-Year Workplan, and other materials are available for download at The Democracy Commitment website, http://deanza.edu/communityengagement/democracycommitment/.

For additional information about signing The Democracy Commitment, please contact Bernie Ronan in the Maricopa district (480-731-8092), or Brian Murphy, President of De Anza College (408-864-8705). To sign up or RSVP for the New York event, contact Tina Woo at De Anza College at 408-864-8705.

Rufus Glasper is Chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona and currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 10/13/2011 at 10:26 AM | Categories: Leadership Abstracts -