Higher Education Exchange 2019: Leadership and Democracy
The 2019 issue of the Higher Education Exchange, coedited by Kettering program officers Derek W. M. Barker and Alex Lovit, is inspired by the central theme of the foundation’s review of research in 2019: the mutual mistrust between the public and the government. Higher education could play an important role in addressing this mistrust by influencing how a variety of institutions and professions, including government, understand the roles, responsibilities, and practices of effective leadership. However, civic leadership can mean many things, based on differing understandings of politics and what our democracy needs. What kind of leaders are needed to not only serve the common good, but also help bridge divides and recreate a sense of the common good? This issue of HEX brings together research on different approaches to leadership and discusses each of their implications for the future of our democracy.
The issue begins by highlighting the importance of leadership education in the context of current trends in democracy, including political polarization and a resulting decline in public confidence in government. Higher education could affect these trends by redefining leadership education. However, approaches based on different understandings of leadership education could produce different or even contradictory outcomes.
Based on interviews with Ralph Nader, this article describes how his small-town upbringing formed his community-engaged approach to politics and how this perspective shaped the formation of Public Interest Research Groups on college campuses, in which student volunteers work for political research and organization.
Leadership education has historically been of central concern to Student Affairs, with its role of educating the “whole person” beyond academics. However, as Matthew Johnson argues, contemporary efforts have produced mixed results: first, by neglecting group and societal leadership skills at the expense of individual actions; and second, by neglecting to engage students in conversations about and across difference.
Leadership for collective action is at the heart of Public Achievement, a youth civic engagement initiative which typically engages college students to “coach” groups of younger students in public work projects of their choosing. Cofounder Dennis Donovan describes Public Achievement as a form of leadership education in an interview with fellow cofounder, Harry Boyte.
Mark Wilson reflects on Auburn University’s Living Democracy experiment, in which students simultaneously reside in communities and participate in their civic life. Wilson’s piece includes new reflections of graduates of this program on the leadership education they received, along with an excerpt from a previous study focusing on their interactions with local government.
This article describes a course on deliberation using National Issues Forums issue guides through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI). After beginning on the campus of the University of Dayton, versions of the course, which is offered to students over the age of 50, have been offered at a number of universities. OLLI students have found deliberation to be a refreshing and exciting way to approach issues of public concern.
Michaela Grenier, program director at Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, provides an overview of the model of Sustained Dialogue (a multi-stage process of long-term dialogue) and how it has been applied on college campuses (often to respond to issues of concern on campus). The article also provides evidence for this practice’s impact on students’ civic perspectives.
Fielding Graduate University president Katrina Rogers has participated for several years in Kettering’s “college presidents” group, many of whom also contributed to a recently published volume Rogers co-edited, entitled Democracy, Civic Engagement, and Citizenship in Higher Education: Reclaiming Our Civic Purpose. In this interview, Rogers elaborates on this work, higher education’s civic purposes, and college presidents’ position to influence civic education and political culture in their institutions.
In this concluding essay, David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation, considers higher education’s role in leadership development, divisions between educated professionals and the broader public, and how citizens and institutions (including professional institutions and higher education itself) can work together in complementary production of public goods.