In a world troubled by environmental crises, devolving civil discourse and growing economic divides, universities must do more to prepare students for lives of informed, active civic engagement.
That's the core message of the Campus Compact 30th Anniversary Action Statement, a pact recently signed by Bucknell President John Bravman, who joined more than 450 university presidents and chancellors to renew and expand a joint commitment to promoting courses and programming that emphasize the importance of civic engagement to a functioning democracy.
The new document builds upon a compact developed in the 1980s to encourage universities to prioritize public service as part of their educational missions. Nearly 1,100 institutions, including Bucknell, have since joined the Campus Compact.
"In the decades since the original compact was drafted, the challenges confronting our society and our planet have escalated," Bravman said. "By signing the action statement, Bucknell joins a coalition of universities that pledge to do even more to develop students who are not only prepared to succeed professionally and personally, but who also prioritize lifelong, active citizenship."
Bravman said a new task force will develop a campus-wide civic action plan within the next year. In addition, Professor Coralynn Davis, women's & gender studies, has been appointed the University's first faculty director for academic civic engagement. Davis said her goals include helping academic departments integrate civic engagement more fully into their curricula and ensuring that faculty who teach service-learning courses or undertake community-based research are recognized and supported.
"Engaging in those sorts of pedagogies takes a lot of effort," said Davis, who teaches Women and the Penal System, a community-based course that brings together Bucknell students and inmates at the State Correctional Institution in nearby Muncy. "But if promoting civic engagement is seen as a department value, more faculty will be likely to do it."
Janice Butler, director of the Office of Civic Engagement, pointed to the Lewisburg Community Garden, the Grand Challenges Scholars Program and the Katrina Recovery Team as existing initiatives that promote student civic engagement. In addition, she said Bucknell offers about 20 courses with community-based or service-learning components each semester. However, Butler added that signing the action statement is a step toward making civic engagement "a more robust part of academic life."
"This is building on a tradition that we already have," she said. "Now we're trying to integrate civic engagement more fully across campus. And it's more than doing good works. It's about reflecting upon the issues and conditions that create problems, and compelling students to ask how, as educated citizens, they can solve those problems."