Guidelines and Research Protocols for Collaborating Researchers in Pilot Study

Universities as Sites of Democratic Education
NSF Grant # SES99-12517

Introduction and Overview of the Researcher’s Task

These are guidelines and instructions for the Pilot research project to determine the actual activities and capacities of universities in education for democracy. These protocols are intended to map the variety of what is being done in universities to promote citizenship, and hence, democracy; and therefore, to assess the civic responsibility of institutions of higher education in contributing to these outcomes.

As a cross-national, comparative research project about localities and the universities within them, a great range of phenomena will be analyzed, some embedded in national laws and cultures; others in specific institutions and local traditions. This first step is designed to help to develop further research.

What follows is designed to facilitate the collection of information about universities and their localities in relation to the aims of this project noted above. The Collaborating Researcher’s responsibilities are quite broad, including the gathering of official documents, conducting interviews, soliciting official statements and policies from relevant officials, and collecting survey data. At the conclusion of these efforts each researcher will be asked to write a narrative of about 10-15 pages that should highlight the main features of democracy at the university and its locality. The focus of this monograph should be on what is not present in the institution or revealed in the accumulated documentary evidence or survey data, such as the absence of a serious student government or university-wide faculty senate and reasons for such absence. On the other hand, there may be some programs that are especially successful and firmly institutionalized, such as student-organized voter registration campaigns or the practice of regular campus forums that allow students and faculty to meet and question candidates for public office.

The format and substance of this narrative is up to the researcher, keeping in mind that this pilot project is designed to map the variety of democratic experiences, or their opposite, within universities and the place where they are located.

The information necessary to meet the demands of these protocols will be documentary, (in the form of records, publications, or official policy statements), and in the minds of the selected informants (their experience and knowledge). The protocols are in three parts.

The first involves interviews with individuals from targeted groups in the university and community. The interviews are designed as source of information for third part (summary) and a “pre-test” for the development of a more focused comparative, cross-national questionnaire

The second involves group interviews with 20 students and 20 faculty.

The third is a summary, evaluative narrative of what the university is doing in education on democracy not only within the university but also within its locality.

Summary of the Researcher’s Tasks

In joining the project on Universities as sites of citizenship, Collaborating Researchers agree to undertake the following tasks:

  1. Request official policy statement from University leadership (President, Rector, or Chancellor);
  2. Gather and transmit to the Working Party documents, official publications and other written records and transcripts pertaining to the research topics listed in the protocols below;
  3. Administration of a faculty and student surveys, approximately to 20 students and to 20 faculties;
  4. Conduct 8-12 interviews as described in the protocols, needed to produce a summary monograph of approximately 15 pages as described below;
  5. Provide written and oral feedback to the Working Party on the substantive issues regarding concepts and definitions and the execution of the surveys and interviews.

The Research Protocols


The specific tasks to be accomplished are linked to several concepts, many of which may be unfamiliar to those doing this research or being asked for information. As concepts arise and their referents are defined in contexts, it is especially important for researchers to understand them and whether, to what extent, and how they are manifest across countries, within specific local communities, and among universities with different histories and goals.


The starting point of the research is higher education institution and the primary local political unit in which it is located. These include areas within cities, towns, communes or counties, but will be defined in the research. The particular higher education institution will be identified for each researcher prior to making contact with the relevant actors in each. What the researcher should seek out is the social ecological entity or niche in which the university is located, and how each group interviewed differs in their perception of the social ecology of the university. A university may be in a large city but relate only to a part of it, sometimes defined by social and political boundaries as a poor neighborhood or south city or west city. Universities in small towns may relate to a particular town or several in their vicinity or region. Even though faculty and students may live and work in a locality, they may identify their community as a large region or, indeed, an entire country, perhaps reflecting that is designated as a national university or is the only university in the country.

There are two main dimensions of a site of a university:

  1. the area from where it draws resources, students, services, residences and from where people and organizations that use the university come; and
  2. the definition that members of the university and people who are part of its “near” ecology provide of it as well as information about where people live, work, and consume in relation to the university.

It is expected that there will not only be differences in the “real” social ecological setting, and how those in the university and groups in the community define the entity to which they have a special, mutual responsibility, but also that these definitions will be contested both within the university and the locality. Different groups will have definitions of what constitutes the university and the community.


Democracy, like human nature and human rights, is a high profile political concept, whose definition and theoretical significance are being contended. This research project must avoid cross-national and culture analysis of this concept and stick with some straight-forward empirical indicators of it. These indications, of course, must be sensitive to the contexts of particular universities and localities as well as to national and sub-national political cultures.

Some of the initial categories of indicators of democracy such as accountability to those whom collective decisions apply and impact will be: inclusive consultation; necessary concurrence; explicit specification of rights and responsibilities; periodic selection and retention of decision-makers; openness of decision processes; ease of communications; and public auditing. These indicators should go beyond recognized current democratic practices of decision-makers: selecting those to be consulted; letting decisions stand unless there are objections; allowing certain rights only upon appeal; having representative committees appoint or recommend to appoint or re-appoint; holding public hearings; inviting comments and opinions; and issuing reports. Accountability at present is defined as procedures of consultation and assent, but must go beyond that. The ultimate test of the exercise of authority is that governing institutions do what is expected of them and what they affirm is their value added. Who is to decide that, of course, are the people over whom authority or in whose interests prerogatives of non-governmental institutions are exercised. Thus, universities must educate its students and increase knowledge for the community, the country, or human civilization; local government must provide for the survival and well-being of its citizens; and foundations must pursue human betterment among defined constituencies. What this research will focus on are the institutionalized processes for assuring accountability before, during, and after collective decisions are made. Those processes should be defined in “laws”, “by-laws”, and “statutes”. Disputes about them should be adjudicated by “fair” judges.


Institutions of higher education have varying stated purposes as well as constituents. Universities not only have different traditions and declared purposes, teaching and research being assumed for nearly a thousand years, but also conflicting ones. Some have economic goals of promoting the “arts and sciences of agriculture and industry” or special kinds of students, primary and secondary school teachers or clergy. One of the tasks of this Pilot project will be to determine how responsibilities of the universities are defined and how various groups within it and the locality define those responsibilities. This will set the context for assessing how the general responsibility of universities for democracy is defined.

Civic responsibilities are the moral obligations of citizens to maintain and enhance the well-being of political communities. Democracy is one kind of political community, different from others in that all citizens have civic responsibilities. To make that possible, it is necessary for all citizens to know what those obligations are and how to discharge them. Having obligations also means having rights, the most important of which is to judge the justice of collectivities and the actions taken under their prerogatives, in other words, to be the final agent of accountability.

What this Pilot project intends is an evaluation of how well universities in different contexts discharge their responsibilities for educating citizens. Substantively this will be achieved by exploring through research and application not only how to teach, instruct, exemplify democratic responsibilities, rights, and the ways to meet and obtain them, but also how to promote democratic development; i.e., how to make democracies work better. It is expected that measures of the quality of life of the locality will indicate how well the university is involved in linking it not only to broader economies but also opportunities globally.

What this pilot project also intends is to examine a second dimension to the functioning of modern universities in the contemporary world. The first, which today is the prime rationale for universities: to provide a sophisticated work force able to go beyond the requirements of maintaining traditional communities with teachers, clergy, doctors and lawyers and in the provision of the research and education necessary to improve the efficiency and discover of inventions and innovations for industry and service organizations. The second, which faded in the ideological conflicts of this century, is education and research for effective citizenship in political systems guided by democratic principles. (Note: This is different from what universities do in the way of training and research institutions for the state or government, which can be found in universities around the world, often in legal training but most notably in schools of public administration.)


Universities generally have three component groups: students; faculty; and administrators. These also have recognized divisions. Students are recognized by the degree programs in which they are enrolled, especially by first and second degrees but also by courses of study. Today they also are grouped into regular students and “non-traditional”, students who are not in degree programs, studying in specialized courses of student, or taking courses on an irregular basis. Faculty are either standing, regular members with and without permanent appointments, categorized also by rank and school or “adjunct”, often part-time. Administrators are generally divided into academic and non-academic, with the former holding decanal titles and the later having various kinds of organizational positions, some of which are specific to universities, registrar being among the most common.

In selecting individuals from these categories, remember that the purpose of the interviews is information about the institution and its relationship to its localities. The selection should be made on the basis of the best informed rather than representativeness, which would be required if this study were about students and other groups within universities. Thus, the questions provided in the addenda are directed to what students do in the community rather than what the individual being interviewed does.

The information sought from the informants are of two kinds:

  1. how the university is governed, and how decisions are made; and
  2. the relationships of the university with their locality.


The definition of students is a complex issue. Generally, there are regular students, part-time students, and today a host of non-traditional students. There are also special programs for training people active in their professions and the work force. Universities are taking on non-degree educational programs, something which is accelerating with distance learning on the internet, something that has a strong precedent as correspondence courses”, expanded today in programs for “life-long” learning.

As this research is directed to universities as sites for democracy, attention will be given to students from the locality currently residing in the locality who study at the university, whether or not they are enrolled in degree programs. We assume that 2-3 students will be selected for personal interview and 20 for group interview.


To get the “best” informants, it might be useful to talk informally with a few students and ask which of them they know are the most active or best informed about what is going on at the university.

It might be worthwhile to find out if there are students who have been elected to one or more student bodies. It will be necessary to select students who have been at the institution for several years.

Recommended students to target include editor of the student newspaper, head of student government, and a student on one or more major university committees, such as a curriculum committee. Some attempt should be made to get at least one post-baccalaureate student and one from a major school, if the university has more than one school.


Some universities have long standing programs for students in special degree programs on an irregular basis. These may be organized into a special administrative unit, a general studies college, or may be disperse across several faculties. They can be expected to be drawn primarily from the locality or region. They may or may not be organized or have an alumni society.

To identify these students, it will be necessary in most cases to ask administrators what programs of this kind the university has and how to contact students. It is acceptable to select one or more who have graduated from the program and still retains an interest in the university. Individuals participating in specialized short courses for a set time period should not be included in this group.


The faculty selected should be from two groups: those who know a lot about the university in general and its governance in particular and those who are directly involved in teaching and programs about democracy and citizenship. We assume that 2-3 faculty will be selected for personal interview and 20 for group interview.


The faculty selected should be active, senior faculty, including one or two of the official faculty representatives on the faculty senate or some equivalent body. Since different faculties or schools are likely to be involved with the community in different ways, faculty selection should reflect the major ones. Medical schools may have health programs involving local community; education schools may have close links with the local schools; business schools may use local businesses for apprenticeship experiences, etc. The names of the “official” representatives should be readily accessible.


Most universities can be expected to have courses and programs which are directly related to democratic citizen education. It may be that the faculty teaching in them do not recognize that (democratic education) as what they are actually doing. Some universities may have institutes for democratic institutions, values, governance; others will have courses, perhaps programs, within institutes of public policy, public administration, or government.

In addition to finding such programs, the researcher must also ask affiliated faculty what is being done to educate on democracy around the university. There may be faculty teaching courses on human rights, civil rights, comparative democracy, democracy in transition, the history of liberal democracy, or some courses labeled democratic theory. Universities will almost always have courses about the government of their countries. Those teaching those courses should not be targeted to the exclusion of other relevant, though perhaps less obvious courses that relate to democracy and democratic practices. The key is: the more diverse, the better the results. While we are not looking for a scientifically-based random sample, a good guideline would be what the researcher thinks is representative of the institution. Some programs or courses may be focused on the locality itself, dealing with specific problems, such as housing, urban development, transportation, or simply a seminar or course on the city as a place. Information on these courses and programs should be sought. Related to this are efforts to establish service/learning courses, where students not only study a topic but try to put some of their knowledge to work in a specific setting, a neighborhood, a welfare agency, a local charity, perhaps, as interns in a local government agency. These programs and courses should be given priority in seeking information.


The “chief” academic officer should be interviewed: (provost, vice-president for academic affairs, vice-rector).

What is important is to find an administrator who is responsible for local affairs or relations. In some universities such a person will have a designating title for this function, but all universities will have someone doing something for or to the local community, if only coordinating security with local police.

Most universities will also have a department or unit dealing with public relations. Although these individuals will have a strong positive “spin” on the university, they are also likely to know what is going on in the institution as well as the important immediate constituents of the university.


What is the nature of the legal control of the university or college “corporation”? Is there a board of trustees or board of regents that exercises constitutional and/or legal control over the institution and what is its relationship to the operational administration (college and university president or chancellor)?

Assess the degree of “activism” of the board of trustees or regents: to what extent do they practice “hands-on” management or provide input in the day-to-day operations of the institution?

To what extent do the trustees or regents affect the organizational climate and administrative style of the institution in terms of its democratic disposition and practices?


The Dean of Admissions should serve as an informant.

To what extent is an applicant’s history of civic activity or participation in civic organizations a factor in the admissions decision?


The Researcher should collect as many publications as possible produced by the university, student groups, and faculty. There are also “official” publications describing courses of student, regulations, requirements, etc. Today, most universities have web pages. Please get the address.

Local Community

It is expected that 4-6 personal interviews should be sufficient to assess contacts with local community and the university.


The starting point of these interviews is the mayor’s office. In some places it may be relatively easy to interview the mayor; if not, select the deputy mayor or the senior administrator officer in the mayor’s office.


Of particular interest are joint locality-university activities, the extent to which the locality presents itself as having the opportunities of a university, and, especially, the university’s involvement in various civic projects and programs.


The most obvious target is the local head of the public school system.

If there are special relations between the university and local schools, the head of such school should be interviewed.

Finally, universities may be directly involved in teacher training either for teachers to be or those already holding positions, the person in charge of such programs could be interviewed, even if employed by the university.


Unlike national media, local media have not been extensively studied except as case studies in larger cities. The link provided by the media between the university and its locality is critical to how the local and university are related.

If there is a major newspaper or television station, the editor or producer in charge of the local news (metropolitan page) or reporters with specific assignment to cover the university should be interviewed.

Finally, an increasing practice of universities is to own, lease, or take part in regular electronic media communications. Some have a local radio station; others operate cable television or have programming on public access channels. Describe these and, if possible, get publications of the programming content.


Most localities have organized civic groups which are associated in some way. For purposes of this phase of the research, a representative of major civic group should be selected.

As informant, this representative should be asked about the university’s contribution to civic life in the community.


Business enterprises have one or more local associations, including world wide “Chambers of Commerce” or one or more “clubs”. One representative of such groups or head of important business company should be interviewed and asked about the university contribution to business life in the community.

The University’s Official Statement

Each researcher will request an official policy statement from the President, Rector, or Chancellor of the university regarding the university’s official posture regarding the university’s role in civic education, civic responsibility and democracy, and their position and reaction to the Budapest (Europe) and Wingspread (U.S.) Declarations. The Working Party will provide text and an supporting letter of introduction. The researcher should endeavor to have a follow-up interview on the basis of this statement, but it is not required.

Questionnaire Topic Outline

One of the special challenges for the Collaborating Researcher will be their ability to use their judgement and expertise to balance the methodological demands for comparability in such a large scale comparative study, with the idiosyncratic character of the locality and specific institution. In this regard the topics and illustrative questions listed below serve as the foundation for the researchers task. To the extent possible, the researcher should endeavor to gather information that responds to these questions to meet the comparative requirements of the project. However, how this is done is at the discretion of each researcher. Some questions may be answered by documents and official publications; others may of necessity come only through interviews. These questions are a baseline. The researcher may find that for the purposes of the summary narrative monograph to develop their own questions in a particular topic area. Finally, the researcher should be sure to push beyond nominal distinctions and substantive practice. It may be the case that certain practices and activities are carried on or made available at the institution—i.e., that they are legally established or exist “on paper,” but in practice are not evident. The researcher should attempt, wherever possible, to close the gap between the nominal and actual in assessing the institution’s policies and practices.