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Institutions of higher education in the United States were created to sustain the religious convictions on which our country was founded, and to prepare citizens for the public work which was crucial to its survival. This was how Americans understood the relation of democracy to education; the creation of public good through public work. However, our universities have lost their commitment to the cultivation of meaningful public spirited work. Instead the emphasis on the integration of the private will and common need, the spiritual and the civic, the search for meaningful work in the world, work which combines skills and aptitude with that larger sense of purpose, which we call vocation, has become a narrow focus on job training and careerism.

Campuses have become loose confederations, held together by the resources for which they are trying to compete. Curricula are balkanized, controlled by the self-interests of disciplines. Research is fragmented, disconnected to anything outside of itself. In consequence, students are taught to think in parts rather than wholes; to become premature specialists rather than seasoned generalists. And this is true not only of our academic programs. We atomize our students, faculty and administration and staff not only through the structure of our curricula, but through the organization of our institutions themselves. This segmentation and disconnection, has costs, both personal and institutional, which are incalculable.

If students are failing physics, the end up in the Office of Academic Affairs; if they can't pay their bills there is Financial Affairs; if they misbehave, there is Student Affairs. But if their soul is sick or their hearts broken, if they look up and see the crack in the ceiling of the universe and do not understand where it came from, where do they go? Where do we? Faculty and staff are as segmented and disaggregated as everyone else, and we all pay for this. We pay with the blood of our lives, and the health of our institutions.

Mohandas Ghandi speaks of The Seven Blunders of the world that Lead to Violence.(Christian Science Monitor 2/1/95)

His grandson, Arun, has added another..Rights without responsibility.

There is not one of these in which our institutions do not bear some degree of culpability. Yet for all our culture likes to think otherwise, higher education cannot cure all of the diseases of democracy. Nevertheless, it well behooves us not to become another symptom of the problem.

Not only our colleges, but our country has paid a heavy price for the loss of our original sense of a larger civic or spiritual mission; our loss of the public meaning of work itself. We have failed to demolish racial boundaries, or to broach the troubled waters between the sexes. We operate out of walled communities, as gated as any suburb, defining ourselves through acts of isolation rather than connection. We produce graduates who are what we have, both implicitly and explicitly, taught them to be; civic consumers rather than citizen leaders.

As higher education has come to mirror the ravages of the marketplace, with all of its emphasis on competition, individualism self-interest and control, we have lost both the art of community and the habit of civility which is its prerequisite. More than that, the by-product of an education in which students are not able to be co-producers of their own learning, or to engage actively with diverse people to create things which have visible public significance, is a level of disengagement which has proved to be not only paralytic to the individual, but to the institutions of which they are a part, and the culture which will ultimately contain them.

The ethical by-products of this paralysis are grave in the extreme. We are cut off from what we hold in common, and thus from one another. We become responders not creators. We lose the habit of living in time, of locating ourselves and our actions within its continuum. Having lost our connection to the past from which we are sprung, we have lost the capacity to engage the present, to live and act successfully in either its public or private realm, for these are never disengaged. And in all of this, perhaps most gravely, we have lost the habit of the future. And without this we have no framework either for understanding or enacting who or what we are, for institutional ethics.

We would do well to remember our roots. As I said at the outset, institutions of higher education in the United States were created to sustain the religious convictions on which our country was founded, and to prepare citizens for the public life which was crucial to its survival, citizens who had the skills necessary to engage in the work of democracy. American higher education from the outset was rooted from the outset in the imperatives of public life. This was not true in Europe, which modelled some but not all of what we sought to create. In England, higher education was oriented toward the personal self-development of a ruling class. In Germany, universities focussed on the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself, and on the production of scholars. We were unique in our vision of educating an entire citizenry to build a common life, indeed, to create a nation...

Elizabeth I reminds us that Archbishop Cranmer's creation of the Book of Common Prayer taught the English speaking people how to speak English. Luther's translation of the Bible into German codified and gave shape to that language. And in language, England and Germany found affirmation of the national culture which they already had. In the fledgling United States we had a national language, but we did not have a national culture. Education was conceived as a means by which this common culture, which elsewhere existed a priori, could be created. And the lynch pin of this common culture was a commitment to democracy, to a process of governance which required for its success an educated citizenry.

As educational institutions, in our quest to provide frameworks for self-development, to create and amass new knowledge and to reify the old paradigms, we have moved away from this. We have forgotten who we are, we have lost faith in the commitment which created us. How did this happen? And when? I would tend to locate our dislocation in the era of what we tend generically to call the 60s, although what we refer to mostly happened in the 70s. It was here that a profound disassociation emerged between the culture of action and the culture of spirit. While many took to the streets to protest; marching, picketing, boycotting to bring about social change, others retreated to communes, gurus and drugs in the quest for enlightenment. I do not condescend. This was my generation, and I wandered down both paths as, I am sure, did many of us. But this bifurcation was serious, dangerous, and ultimately turned on itself. High ideals on both sides ultimately resulted in behavior which was only tangentially related to their visionary roots. Violence of all sorts, some of it criminal, ensued, along with drug abuse, along with a precipitous rise in sexually transmitted diseases. The list is legion and we deal with its aftermaths as schools and as a nation daily. Not only did our most pressing cultural issues; poverty, racism, sexism to name a few, go unresolved, we lost hope, on some very deep level that they might be. I would assert that this is always what happens when matters public and private, social and spiritual, are separated from one another. I would further assert that because the academy has become uncomfortable, however deep its roots in them may be, with both the public and the private realms, with both the spiritual and the social, it has thrown up its hands and gone along with whatever it is that's out there, greed and gall, self above all...

We have become identified with the powerlessness which we feel, and the hopelessness which is its bedfellow, and the blanket of pessimism under which we feel entitled by them to hide. We are understaffed and overworked; we have balanced our budgets by deferring maintenance on our buildings, and the chickens, as it were are coming home to roost, sometimes through the roof of the chemistry lab. Funds from every sector are drying up, as are some of our traditional sources of students, and each and everyone of us is overworked and underpaid. Parents push for employability and professionalization, presidents are drawn from the world of business, or ed-tech, and faculty either struggle to preserve what they have been taught is the best that has been thought and said against the onslaughts of the Philistines, or are pinned down under fire, seeking cover in the political correctness wars.

One of the ways in which universities are implicated in the general mistrust the public has come to have of social institutions has been our promulgation of an insidious form of professionalism. By this, I mean that as we have permitted, indeed encouraged, disciplines to become more and more narrow, more and more specialized, that a series of languages has been created which are increasingly arcane, understood by an ever shrinking number of people. That is to say, disciplines have lost the capacity to communicate with the public, that is to say, their public accountability, their ability to be connected to, to be part of, a community. If we were to admit to what I believe is implicit in much of what we do, which is that students are no longer our work, but what gets in the way of our work, then I believe that we would assert this even more vigorously about the public. In fact, we have come to manifest this disconnection in two ways, neither of them authentic, or faithful to, our origins, to who we were, from our founding, meant to be. The first is to hide. The role of the president is to protect the university from the public. The second is to pander, to sell ourselves in order to "save" ourselves. The role of the president is to market the university. Both of these attitudes manifest the despair and contempt which lie at the basis of our feeling about the public. Is there any wonder then that the public feels that way about us, and that we feel that way about ourselves? This is, significantly, as much a moral as a psychological problem.

In turning our backs on the public, on eschewing education as public work, we lay claim to the conviction that this is the "neutral" academic posture, the only one which intellectual integrity would be willing to lay claim to for itself.

I would assert that there is no such thing as education which is not political; all education is political, which is to say that it embodies values and strategies for action embedded in a vision of our public life.

Furthermore, I would challenge the intellectual posture which institutions of higher education currently maintain; that knowledge is objective, free standing, and without context. Although proponents of this perspective would claim that it has emerged from a scientific model, serious philosophers would say that this is an obsolete understanding of science; that it is widely accepted, for instance, that there is no scientific theory which is not standpoint dependent. Heisenberg has long since reminded us that the observer is always part of what is being observed.

The political world which we now inhabit is the product of the education which this point of view has produced. People own neither their ideas nor their actions. If character exists it is the by-product of something else. The function of education is to earn the credentials necessary to achieve the proper level of civic consumption. Political decisions, the academy implies, should be made by those with the proper expertise to do so. Those with expertise should exert power on behalf of others; should enable their civic consumption.

I am committed, and am fortunately not alone in this, to reclaiming the civic mission of higher education; to educate people in the arts of effective citizenship. That is to say, that institutions of higher education should be places where ideas are embodied...not ideas about citizenship, but ideas which themselves manifest citizenship as public work. It is the failure of this mission which has caused our educational systems, as well as our political life, to lose its centrifugal force; that central dynamic which energizes everything by keeping it in proper relationship to everything else.

There are ways in which public politics and deliberative democracy, although they should be at the center of the communal life of the university (if we keep its origins in mind) have become alien corn, something to be weeded out rather than nurtured. The central issue involved is one of control, of power. Authority, as the academy understands it, is rooted in the possession of knowledge, or as is frequently the case, information, which is, as we all know, not at all the same thing. The "expert" model is at the base of its community dynamics; "professionalism" is its stock in trade. To achieve the level of openness and receptivity which deliberative democracy entails, not to mention public politics, is to recognize the legitimacy of people and ideas who/which have not received validation in a form that professor/professionals could accept. Universities have become Hamiltonian, while what we seek is a Jeffersonian mode of operation.

In 1989, Donna Shalala, in the David Dodds Henry lecture at the University of Illinois, upheld "..the ideal of a disinterested technocratic elite...society's best and brightest in service of its most needy." What we are called to do, what is imperative, is to deliver the miracle of social science to fix society's social problems, just as doctors cure juvenile rickets in the past....Whereas this nicely encapsulates the vision which has come to characterize the vision of American universities which still think of themselves as having a social mission, this top-down social engineering approach to social problems has failed utterly. It is built on a notion of professionalism which disenfranchises as it disengages, that is patriarchal and elitist, that concentrates on the negative rather than building on what is in place that already works.

However, institutions of higher education have the capacity to transform this failed and hopeless approach to social change, and they have the capacity to do this it is not coherent with what they were founded to do and be, which was to educate people for broad public service, to develop the civic capacities of individuals, and communities, to build the common wealth. With our proven ability to create and disseminate knowledge, and the vast array of human and technological at our disposal, we have what is necessary to initiate and support the serious public which is necessary for us to rebuild our commonwealth.

The idea of public work is central to educational transformation because it cuts across boundaries of race, class, institution and community. Education in these terms is not seen as the transmission of a static body of knowledge, but as the ongoing, lived and constructed work of learning communities in which received knowledge drawn from different cultures, students' insights and the largest challenges of our times. (NK)

The genius of our culture comes from the contributions of diverse peoples, not from the few sharing their expertise with the many. It is [precisely the energy which lies at the margins of our society which we need to support and engage. The university's role as leader must be the catalyze this, rather than to model its repression. And this must be done both inside and outside of our institutions. To do it we need to develop a theory and practice of public work. Such a theory depends upon both an appreciation of richness and wisdom of interdisciplinary knowledge, and a sense of an open, evolving commonwealth of knowledge that we constantly create together.

What does this mean concretely? That there must be an end to the atomization of roles on campus, however efficient this may appear to be administratively. It means that power must be shared, and that people must get used to having power, which is much harder to get used to even than giving power up. It means coming to think of ourselves as a community. It means tying what we do on campus and in our classrooms to the larger ideas and questions of meaning that make work visible. What is produced? What does it matter? How are we accountable for it? If ideas are events that happen in the world, how has this happened, and what does it mean?

All of this may seem a far cry from voc ed, from students who believe that at age 18 they must decide on their life work, who are committed to spending four years to prepare not for the rest of their lives, but for the job they hope to get when they graduate. However, this commitment to planned obsolescence is something to which we cannot succumb, something which we must exercise every bit of energy we have to exorcise. This doesn't mean that we should not teach and that students should not learn practical skills, but rather that these should be grounded in a larger vision, a sense of the reality and significance of the individual and the individual's public work in the world, as part of a community and culture which they not only receive but create, and for which they are responsible.

If we see the practice of both action and reflection as central to the effectiveness of an individual's education, what can we do to underscore the relationship between the two? Do we make space for silence and introspection in our communities, or are they to remain almost totally product oriented, measuring success by how much has been produced or consumed? If we believe that there are links between the inner life, the life of the mind and public action, how do we make this link explicit pedagogically? In the structure of campus life? In asserting that there are such links, we affirm the reality of the spiritual center of human experience, both individual and communal, something our founders understood, and which we, for a long time, have been afraid to claim.

To create leaderful communities, that is to say, communities which experience a vigorous sense of public life, we need to create spaces which offer ways for people with diverse perspectives to work together on common tasks. This entails peoples' perception that they have a common self-interest, that is, a community self-interest, and for this interest to be met, they must find ways to work together: to frame issues, to deliberate, to choose. This entails participation, which is what freedom in a democracy is about, and ownership.

As a concomitant part of this, we need to create public environments which encourage students to take themselves and their actions seriously. This is often a by-product of a student's community involvement. Without this dimension students are often aware that all that is expected of them is that they show up where they are supposed to, and when, on campus. This hardly leads them to feel that what they do when they show up matters, or in fact, that they matter. And if people don't feel that they matter, they do not lead and do not follow and we have no community in which to function.

A liberal arts education trains us to question, and this is appropriate. But what does it tell us about how to build and support community? About how to nurture commonality? About how to discover and sustain mutual self-interest? About how to address common problems together?

If we need public space for our public life, we also need to engage in work which is genuinely public. Typically, indeed ludicrously, most of the work that goes on in our communities occurs behind closed doors, which is why we are so often in a condition of ignorance, the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. There is little accountability, little public affirmation or valuing, and little care taken to attend to the work which is our lives. People feel, and they are right, that no one knows what they do, and no one cares very much, and consequently, that it (and they) don't matter very much. This is the precondition for dysfunctionality and all of its trials, it forbids the effective functioning of either leadership or leaderfulness, it makes community impossible. To think of education as public work, that is, visible, sustained, answerable, valued and open to the whole community is exciting and radical. It could be, in fact, profoundly transformative of all we do. It could be where we begin, and where we seek to go.

Public life, public space, public work all affirm our commitment to the whole, to people as a whole, to ownership of the whole. We need to work on reconstruing our structures, on making our communities more fluid, more holistic, less hierarchical. We need to work evermore on the integration of theory and practice, which we should acknowledge have no legitimate reality apart from each other. We need to make a priority the discovery and affirmation of the wonderful resources we have in each other as we seek to learn and serve what diversity really is, and through this always to confront and reckon with ourselves, with who and where we really are. As we struggle to weave together the threads of learning in which we are engaged, in service, in books, in our communities, in the privacy of our own souls we learn that scarcity is not what is at issue, that it is a bad idea which keeps us from our proper work. There is no zero sum. Everyone needs to win. And everyone can.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of education as a preparation for the common life. The philosopher John Dewey spoke of it as life itself. The redoubtable Bartlett Giamatti, President of Yale and the National League, Renaissance scholar and Commissioner of Baseball, said that education was to teach one to be civil, coherent and whole. The social reformer Jane Addams said that education must liberate the spirit and connect us to the whole. All of them remind us that what education is about, at its center, is public work. Public life is not something which one studies, it is something which one does. As one engages public life, and learns to reflect upon it, one learns what may be the most important thing one ever learns, to interrogate one's own experience. One learns what it is that one needs to know, and how it is that one need to be, not only to be effective in the world, but to be at home in the deepest recesses of our selves. And this learning, thus framed, is the work of a lifetime.


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