Title

Civic professionalism

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-1-2011

Abstract

We believe that higher education has a significant role to play in the reinvigoration of American democracy. We also believe that narrow specialization of academic interests and technocratic practices throughout colleges and universities cramps the work and learning within them, while dramatically limiting the contributions of higher education to the work of democracy and the collective redress of the challenges of a new century. Overspecialization and technocracy thwart our institutions' capacities to interact in fluid and respectful ways with citizens and civic institutions outside higher education in generating the knowledge needed in a flourishing democratic society. Others outside the civic engagement movement in higher education make some similar points. For instance, in her collection of essays, The Death of Adam (1998), the novelist Marilyn Robinson notes that while we depend on universities to produce knowledge and teach future generations, "it was never intended that the universities should do the thinking, or the knowing, for the rest of us. Yet this seems to be the view that prevails now inside and outside the academy" (p. 7). Robinson goes on to accuse universities of becoming simultaneously "hermetic" and lacking in "confidence and definition," describing the issue as "something about the way we teach and learn [emphasis added] that makes it seem naïve to us to talk about these things outside of a classroom, and pointless to return to them in the course of actual life" (p. 8). We believe that the civic engagement movement has something very important to say about "the way we teach and learn" in higher education, because it seeks to redress patterns of narrow specialization and technocratic practices, especially in the humanities and social sciences, where these practices have resulted in a drift away from humanistic inquiry, understanding, and democratic engagement. The civic engagement movement has the potential to return higher education to its roots of preparing people to work with others to solve problems and build thriving communities in ways that enhance democratic capacity. In the process, those in higher education may also relearn to work with others in the broader society to generate useful and usable knowledge. Other scholars also argue for changing faculty (and sometimes staff) roles in order to realize higher education's commitment to civic engagement (Bringle, Hatcher, and Clayton 2006; Rice and O'Meara 2005; Saltmarsh 2010; Ward 2005). Our argument adds a focus on the ways that theories and practices of community organizing and attention to the public meanings and qualities of work will be central to reshaping faculty roles and identities and to infusing a robust, transformative civic mission throughout higher education. © 2011 by Temple University Press. All rights reserved.

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