Higher Education Exchange 2022: Anti-Elitism and the Civic Purposes of Higher Education

Full Description

Over the course of its 28 years of publication, the Higher Education Exchange has consistently chronicled the growing divide between experts, who are focused on technical knowledge, and the citizenry, who want to be served by people to whom they can relate. Once relatively unrecognized, this problem has risen in the consciousness of higher education.

This issue of HEX looks back at a few of the most prescient and relevant writings from the journal’s early years. Each of these previously published articles is presented with a short new introduction by a scholar who has studied similar topics. The issue also includes a new interview, on the topic of the civic mission of higher education at a critical time, with three leading scholars in the Kettering Foundation’s network, and an afterword by Kettering’s president emeritus, David Mathews.

Item Details

Page Count: 
Published Date: 
Product Language: 
Higher Education
Anti-Elitism and the Civic Purposes of Higher Education (Foreword)  by Derek W.M. Barker, Alex Lovit  ( PDF )

The disconnect described three decades ago in the pages of HEX has reached a new stage—political polarization has grown steadily while citizen confidence in public institutions has continued to decline. While higher education may not be directly to blame for these changes, Barker and Lovit note, it is at the center of them, and there is a growing sense of resentment and anger toward highly educated professionals for their disproportionate share of economic, cultural, and political power.

Academic Professionalism and the New Publicmindedness (with an introduction by Joni Doherty)  by Maria Farland, Joni Doherty  ( PDF )

Writing in 1996, Farland saw a growing trend of higher education turning outward and seeking to reconnect with the public. Academic traditions of narrow disciplinary specialization were already facing both internal and external pressures, with increasing numbers of faculty and other academic professionals looking to define themselves as civic professionals serving public purposes.

The Civic Mission Question in Land-Grant Education (with an introduction by Timothy J. Shaffer)  by Scott Peters, Timothy J. Shaffer  ( PDF )

Peters’ article, originally published in 2001, illustrates a new civic mindset in the community-facing functions of the university. Rather than merely disseminating expert knowledge to a passive community, he described how university extension researchers could play a variety of public or political roles, framing issues and assisting the community in coming to judgment before experts can design solutions.

Public Scholarship and Faculty Role Conflict (with an introduction by Sara A. Mehltretter Drury)  by Katy J. Harriger, Jill J. McMillan, Sara A. Mehltretter Drury  ( PDF )

In 2005, Harriger and McMillan demonstrated the role of citizen professionalism in the civic education of college students, detailing their four-year experiment at Wake Forest University, which engaged a cohort of students in deliberations about complex moral and political issues. As faculty, they were acting not only as experts in their fields but also as citizen professionals, framing and moderating deliberations to provide their students with an experience in democratic politics.

Five Emerging Practices in the Scholarship of Engagement (with an introduction by Mathew Johnson)  by Derek W.M. Barker, Mathew Johnson  ( PDF )

By 2006, the so-called civic engagement movement had gained prominence in higher education, and this article provided a framework and taxonomy for understanding the multiple meanings of “democracy” it represented. Barker recognized divergent practices and hoped, perhaps overly optimistically, that over time they would evolve into a coherent movement.

The Public/Academic Disconnect (with an introduction by Harry C. Boyte)  by David W. Brown, Harry C. Boyte  ( PDF )

In 1995, Brown diagnosed a problem: Academics were turning inward, focusing purely on their disciplines and removing themselves from democratic politics, resulting in the loss of purpose, relevance, and public standing of their institutions. He was hopeful, however, that universities might see opportunity in the moment and refocus on training professionals in civic skills to complement their technical knowledge.

Ivory Tower or Town Square? Anti-Elitism and the Civic Purposes of Higher Education (an Interview) with Derek W. M. Barker, Kara Lindaman, B. Da’Vida Plummer, and Joseph Scanlon  by Derek W.M. Barker, Kara Lindaman, B. Da’Vida Plummer, Joseph Scanlon  ( PDF )

Three scholars reflect on the civic purposes of higher education, suggesting that, despite the emergence of a civic engagement movement in academia, the disconnect between citizens and professionals persists and has intensified. They propose that institutions of higher education make a more visible and concerted effort to address political polarization on their campuses and in their communities, which would include engaging with those who are most skeptical and critical of higher education and the professionals whom it trains and credentials.

More than Academics Talking to Academics about Academe (Afterword)  by David Mathews  ( PDF )

Mathews argues that any effort to confront the climate of distrust around higher education will need to involve more than internal change within institutions. He proposes that colleges and universities, along with similarly distrusted professions, engage in ongoing dialogue with skeptical audiences and critics to build mutual understanding and, eventually, support.

Related Research