Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility Project Proposal

Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy
NSF Pilot Project Proposal

Project Description

This pilot study of 15 U.S. colleges and universities will bring American higher education into a major comparative research program initiated by the Council of Europe (CoE) on Education for Democratic Citizenship. With the Council’s support of a pilot study in Europe, the results of this research in the U.S. will be used to design a large scale trans-Atlantic project focused on the activities and dispositions of colleges and universities to educate students and people in their localities for democratic citizenship.

The pilot nature of this proposal is justified for two major reasons:

  1. Rapidity required by the “The Budapest Declaration” adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the CoE on May 7, 1999 and the scheduled meeting of the 1st European Group on the project, “Universities as Sites of Citizenship and Civic Responsibility“, to be held in Strasbourg on September 17, 1999
  2. Decision of the Council’s Committee on Higher Education and Research to join their research with American higher education institutions, which are believed to have experiences in education for democracy.

The participation of both Europe, defined inclusively by CoE, and the U.S. is assured for now by the establishment of an International Consortium composed of seven members of the CoE Committee on Higher Education and Research and six from the U.S. representing the main associations of institutions of higher education.1

What Are the Objectives?

The primary objective of the pilot research is to configure a map of what U.S. colleges and universities are doing that may impact democratic values, beliefs, and competencies. A second is to test questions to be used in interviewing informants in a random sample of higher education institutions across 50 European member countries and the U.S. (about 125 in each continent). A third is to identify a group of researchers in Europe and the U.S. that would collaborate in the major research stage, beginning in the spring of 2000, of data gathering, analysis, and reporting.

What Would Be Done?

The following steps, between September 1999 and April-May 2000, are envisioned:

  1. Agree on a draft of protocols for the pilot study
  2. Reformulate the protocol items into questions that could be asked across several countries, languages, and cultures, especially categoric “closed” response ones
  3. Select 15 institutions and recruit the researchers for each of them
  4. Convene a conference/workshop of those researchers to decide on the execution of the questionnaire and procedures for identifying data available in records
  5. Collect and record the data
  6. Coordinate the analysis of the results with European research

What has to be accomplished by late spring and early summer is the design, sampling, and instrumentation for the main research and at the same time secure support for the second year.

What is the Relevance to Research and Theory in Political Science?

First, there are two recognized and related sectors of political science research relevant to this research: political socialization and elite studies. The impetus of the support for this European initiative on education for democracy in the context of citizenship places it in political socialization. Of particular interest is how higher education can support democracy in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Research on groups that will become or join political elites in political parties and governments in those countries, however, may be of longer term interest.

Political socialization research that blossomed in the middle of the 1960s in the U.S. focused on schools and children rather than early adult experiences and adult life (Greenstein, 1965; Easton and Dennis, 1969). There were a few comparative case studies of the impact of schools and schooling on political participation and one major cross-national study (Dawson and Prewitt, 1969; Torney, et al., 1975). For many reasons to be determined, research on political socialization remained on the periphery of political science and only a few people stayed the course into the 1990s and only a few focused on political learning of adults (Sigel, 1989).

Second, at the level of national political systems the relationship between universities and the democratic institutions and policies of the political system of their countries remains a lurking hypothesis in macro political theory. It is perhaps too attenuated to make much coherent theoretical sense. It is probably true that there is congruence between the main social and educational institutions of a society and the democratic tendencies of its political system (Meleon, 1996). Most recent political science research on democracy, however, remains at the macro level, trying to untangle the relationships among economic development, history, political structures and democracy and its institutionalzation (Geddes, 1999). The relevance of political culture to democracy is area of growing attention, but much of that research and thinking is at the level of general population samples. This research could be the basis for some concepts of political system learning and reinforcement among a significant stratum of a population from which political activists come, although causation between universities and democratic governance certainly is not clear. At least, however, it should possible to categorize the “system” of higher education in a country as supportive or not supportive of democracy, a variable that might become useful in macro political analysis as are the staples from the Freedom House. Third, the relationships between what a college and university does in civic education and democracy, particularly political participation, in its local niche may be more readily specified theoretically and detected in research. This connection is perhaps what the stated objectives of “community service” programs and activities in colleges and universities seem to be all about.2

There is, however, little credible evidence that the community, university, or students become more democratic in their beliefs and habits as a result of community or public service requirements or research opportunities. There is evidence that students in secondary school who were active in student organizations remain so as adults in political and other civic organizations (Conway et al., 1996). Whether that line of research could be explored at the local, university campus-community level, as indicated by student voting in the locality, will be explored in this pilot study.

The modality of the plan of this research is to treat universities as general socializing agents, moving away from political socialization research that focused on the individual. One exception to this may be a sub-sample of colleges and universities that could engage a social science research methodology class to do a random sample (about 250) of their students to assess democratic dispositions of trust, tolerance, political efficacy and other general measures of democratic dispositions. Another, may be to join a institutionalized national surveys of students in selected countries with a few general measures of student activities and beliefs related to democracy. This would require relating this research to the thousands of class room and college studies of students and how they change. More likely, there would be some discussion of the possibilities of constructing a macro ranking of colleges and universities in the U.S. on their civic or democratic education opportunities.

What is Different Conceptually?

First, assessments will be tried about the relative weight colleges and universities of various types and in different political environments give to market or democratic/civic education. The bias of the curriculum in the U.S. colleges and universities probably shifted in favor of the workings of and the skills necessary to sustain a market economy sometime in the 1970s, when liberal arts enrollments declined relative to business and other courses of study. This pilot project will try to determine the feasibility of roughly assessing from available data the relative curricular emphases on culture, science, democracy (including law), and market knowledge and skills. Universities and colleges will be the “unit of analysis”.

Second, the research will look at colleges and universities in an local environment, not just as institutions. The pilot research will seek information about how that environment is perceived by different groups within and surrounding the university as well as what data are available about intersecting activities of members of the university and community: residential patterns, work, consumption, and participation in university and local life.

Third, this study will make macro European comparisons, probably by regions, with the United Statesrather than the familiar country by country analyses. Perhaps no other institution in Europe is moving toward Europeanization more rapidly than universities with encouragements of free flow of students, faculty, and researchers. What this study will do is look at institutions, localities, countries, European regions, and Europe as a whole and at U.S. states and regions.

What Information Will be Targeted?

The categories of data that will be sought are:

  1. University governance (student participation, student rights, transparency of decision-making)
  2. University teaching and research (courses on or related to democracy, opportunities and encouragement to participate in community affairs, centers, institutes, programs on democracy)
  3. University-community relations (programs in the community, university facilities open to the community, contacts between the university and local government, civic and other organizations)

Five categories of the population of a university will be interviewed:

  1. Regular students
  2. Non-traditional students
  3. Senior faculty
  4. Faculty/educators on democracy
  5. Administrators

Five groups in the local community will be interviewed:

  1. Local government officials
  2. Local private and public school leaders
  3. Local media
  4. Civic group leaders
  5. Heads of business associations

At least three in each of the categories will be chosen. Questions will be asked about who is the best informed about the topics of this research. The colleges and universities to be selected in both Europe and the U.S. are accredited four year colleges awarding a bachelors degree and at least one masters level degree.

What has Been Done?

At this point contacts have been made to assure the cooperation of the colleges and universities in the United States. The research proposal reflects the concerns of groups of people in higher education about civic education in evaluations of lack of student commitment to civic responsibilities, including voting in elections as expressed in the 1998 Wingspread Declaration of and the Declaration of the Aspen Institute Presidents’ Leadership Colloquium, June, 1999.

The CoE through its Committee on Higher Education and Research is committing approximately $60,000 for the pilot research in Europe beginning in September, 1999. A draft of Research Protocols on “University as Sites of Citizenship and the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education,” dated July 15, 1999, has been circulated for comment by the Joint Research Project of European and American Universities of the International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy. A meeting of members of the Consortium has been scheduled for September 17, 1999 in Strasbourg to discuss these.

How Will the Research Be Organized?

The research will be officially under the auspices of the International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy, agreed to in June, 1999. There are seven members from the Higher Education and Research Committee of the Council of Europe (CC-HER) and six from the U.S. (This number will be augmented.) The Council is a governmental organization and the U.S. members are non-governmental (the Presidents or Chairs of the American Association of Higher Education, American Council on Education, Association of American Colleges and Universities; the Executive Director of Campus Compact; an Associate Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania and the Principal investigator). An executive committee will be made up of three members from each group.

The research will be administered through the Department of Political Science of the University of Pennsylvania for the U.S. and the Pultusk School of Humanities, Pultusk, Poland for Europe.

  1. The members of this CoE Committee are one academic and one governmental representative from each member country. The U.S. has not requested observer status on the Committee.
  2. Involvement of undergraduates in American colleges and universities in doing recognized service and research has probably expanded during the past few years.