Colleges are failing in civic education, in part because they don't know what to teach, or how.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) periodically sends “Dear Colleague” letters to higher ed leaders, suggesting ways in which their institutions might avoid running afoul of made-up civil rights requirements. Said leaders (presidents, provosts, etc) periodically send “Dear Faculty Colleague” letters, not to intimidate but to—actually, I don’t know what. I’ve cobbled together a letter from missives you can find on the internet (so it’s ferreal; only PCU is made up):
Dear Faculty Colleagues:
I hope you all had a wonderful and productive summer. As the new academic year gets underway, I would like to celebrate our accomplishments as an academic community and share some of the ways we are moving forward in the coming year.
Let me start by recognizing and thanking you for making PCU one of the most innovative and inclusive universities in the nation. Last week, PCU welcomed the largest and most diverse incoming classes in university history.
PCU’s push to expand access and increase academic excellence makes us unique among our peers. Moreover, we have always sought creative ways to meet our goals, often breaking old molds and creating new paradigms. We have leveraged our high-caliber research to benefit undergraduates and be recognized nationally. We have pushed our scholarship to make real-world impacts on a wide range of issues, such as curing cancer, tackling human trafficking and terrorism, securing our public infrastructure, understanding climate change, advancing conservation and enriching our world. I am honored to share in your successes and to celebrate your dedication to cultivating future generations of learners and leaders.
We have accomplished much, but we have more to do. PCU’s Strategic Plan offers an inspiring and ambitious path forward. As PCU aspires to be the best university for the world, we must, first and foremost, leverage our academic core to fulfill our promise to students, creating learning experiences that are enriching and transformative. We must also fulfill our mission as a premier public research university in our region and in the global community, continuing to innovate and conduct high-impact research and scholarship.
With PCU’s tremendous growth in size and diversity, students have challenged us to develop and sustain an inclusive learning environment where all members of the university community are welcomed, valued and supported. To this end, we are actively working to improve our hiring procedures and practices to ensure that the faculty and staff composition better reflects the diversity of our student body. We are deepening campus dialogue to embrace multiple perspectives that support discussion and respect for different ways of thinking. And we are working to ensure our increasingly multilingual, multicultural student body has the resources and support to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
The goal of our Strategic Plan focuses on Innovative Learning – delivering a transformative signature learning experience that is experiential, global and technology-rich. Over the past decade, we have created an incredibly rich repertoire of innovative learning programs for our students. Our challenge now is to scale these programs, offering these opportunities to the majority our students. Our well-organized and supported institutional effort amplifies and complements existing programs and creates institutionalized learning experiences that become part of our DNA. We will focus on developing or expanding four transformative learning experiences: Research and Discovery, Global Engagement, Entrepreneurship, and Social Impact and Innovation. These forms of learning share a certain degree of overlap and synergy that we may explore and leverage.
Many of today’s students are passionate in their desires to make the world a better place, to address pressing social issues and to help people and communities in need. Our goal is to provide students with opportunities to make a positive impact through social innovation. We will explore potential synergies with other areas of transformative learning that, for example, offer opportunities for students to apply entrepreneurial ideas to make positive impact in our global society. PCU’s transformative learning experiences will operate under a common framework with clear pedagogical intentions. We will leverage both curricular and co-curricular components to deliver a truly transformative experience for our students.
And so on ad infinitum or at least ad nauseam (these are excerpts; the typical “Dear Faculty Colleague” missive clocks in at 3,000-plus words). Three questions: (1) Has the author said anything at all? (2) Is there any university provost or president in the United States, from Harvard to Little Hope Community College, who would not insert any of those paragraphs, verbatim and sight unseen, in his/her/its/their own missive to the “community”? (3) How do we know whether the authors have done their jobs, or anything else for that matter?
To facilitate an objective response to that last question, my colleague and former Dean Dan Polsby has created a metric: Higher Ed Bingo. The card appears below. The usual rules apply: the prize goes to the first provost/president to check all boxes.
It’s not quite as easy as it seems. As another colleague of mine (Jeremy Rabkin) noted when Dean Polsby introduced the game, the point of a cliché is to obviate thought; if you have to choose among clichés, that defeats the purpose. Well, Professor Rabkin: no actual choice is involved because the clichés are random (it’s Bingo!). Also, the need to check all boxes may help explain the interminable length of the communications.
You can play this at home: copy the card, and see if the PCU Provost emerges a winner. It’ll be a unique, transformative, synergistic, innovative, and inclusive learning experience. Depending on the response, we may leverage this post and make the game more interactive, technology-rich, and impactful in the future.
Have a great semester!