Are colleges failing at civic engagement?

2076650572_539103b404_oIn a recent Huffington Post article, Drew Stelljes, assistant vice president of the College of William and Mary, asserted that civic engagement programs in American colleges and universities are failing in their missions to create more active, engaged citizens. Referring to “quantifiable… meals served,children tutored and houses built,” Stellies says that most current civic engagement programs are not,

intentionally teaching civic values and skills… The benefits (of civic values and skills) are not immediate. Instead they are evidenced when graduates respond to controversy with civility, with the objective to work toward common good over their lifespan in communities across the U.S. and around the world.

Civic engagement practitioners working in higher education may argue against Stellies’ article, and perhaps rightly so. However, his article is a good reminder to reflect on ourselves and our programs: Are we shaping engaged citizens? Stellies’ word choice is different from what we often hear at Duke – he doesn’t write of raising graduates to “change the world,” “disrupt” or “make a difference,” but to participate in society and contribute to a “common good” – not quickly, but over the course of a lifetime. The work of citizenship is not flashy, but it is crucial to a well-functioning society.

As a university, we must participate in these national conversations and reflect on what we are doing well and what we can improve. The DOCE is proud to convene and participate in these critical conversations.

Photo of “Storytime at Edgemont Community Center, 1950s” via Duke University Archives on Flickr.