SPIA Student Blog: The Politics of Civic Engagement on University Campuses

2018-04-02T20:05:38+00:00 March 21st, 2018|

After reading the story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Colleges Ignite Civic Engagement”(https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Colleges-Ignite-Civic/242164?cid=cp175) about how colleges have made the pushed for more civic engagement activities around campuses.  The article discusses how students from various universities around the U.S have spurred the college movement towards civic engagement.  We have seen a movement towards college students getting involved in social issues. But, not everyone is onboard for a politically engaged college campus.  Why not?

I can list a number of reasons for why universities may be a little skeptical about getting involved with social issues. For this blog post, I will discuss two reasons.

1. Faculty may fear reprisal for voicing their personal views.  This has been evident recently across campuses as faculty members were fired because of statements they have said in the media, in the classrooms, or in their writings. For instance, a professor from Tuft University was fired for voicing his opinion about a social issues. Another professor fired from University of Tampa was fired for making political comments about Hurricane Harvey.

2.  The university is afraid of losing money from their private donors.  If universities go against the wishes of university donors, donors can withdraw money. For instance, University of Michigan had its money withdrawn because of some conflict over naming the building after an African-American person, which would have been the first on the UM campus.  I suspect that if wishes of the donor are not adhered to, then the donors can withdraw monies. I believe that this is one of the reasons why universities stay away from politics.

This is just to name a few of the reason for why universities are hesitant about their involvement in politics.  But, I believe that universities do have an obligation to teach students about civic engagement. Universities must have the mindset that the students they teach today may be the students that run the universities tomorrow.  Universities should strive to educate the students about civic engagement, as this may be the only civics class where students learn about the issues that may or may not affect them.

The article points out that evidence shows that those that are involved in politics are the most desirable students to have.  So, why wouldn’t universities want to have these students on campus talking about issues that may or may not affect the people attending these universities?

I believe that universities can make a difference in our society today by starting with civic engagement opportunities for students on the university campus. They are in a better position to do so because they have access to a large audience that may be ready to engage. But, the students may not know how to engage (Anft, 2017). This is why it is so important for universities to become more involved in their student population. Universities can make a difference for society today.

I encourage everyone to get involve on their college campuses. For me and in my classroom, I will integrate civic learning in my classroom. I will make myself available to assist my students in creating civic engagement opportunities around the university campus. I look forward to my involvement in this space.

LORITA DANIELS
Lorita is a Ph.D. student of Public Administration and Public Affairs, in SPIA’s Center for Public Administration and Policy program at Virginia Tech’s North Capital Region campus. This blog post was written by Lorita as part of the GRAD 5104 course requirement.

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