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I’ve been at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, subjecting a substantial group of faculty to not one, but two, keynote talks during their professional development conference just before their semester starts.
In the first talk, I drew a link between the decline of everyday civic life and the poor state of American politics. As I noted, this is a nonpartisan framing and one that somewhat bypasses highly contested issues, such as race and class. In other contexts, I endorse more partisan and divisive diagnoses. In fact, the last time I was in Wisconsin, it was to talk to an #Indivisible group, and that meeting found its way into a Washington Post story about “turn[ing] Wisconsin back to blue.” But I also believe in the framing I gave today, and it has two major advantages for a public university. It is relatively neutral about the kinds of issues about which students and other citizens disagree, and it assigns a significant role to the university itself, as a community anchor that can support the everyday civic work of deliberation, collaboration, and forming civic relationships.
Here is the Prezi for that talk:
The second talk was about the intellectual work we need in classrooms and research programs. Just as citizens must ask “What should we do?”, so scholars should study and teach that question. But it tends to slip between the tessellation of our academic disciplines, which focus more on how and why things happen, what opinions we should form, what governments should do, or what constitutes justice. What we should actually do is constantly sidestepped.
Remedying that problem is the impetus behind Civic Studies, a small but international movement with a space in the Tufts curriculum as a major. UW Green Bay already offers a remarkable array of interdisciplinary degree programs. But those might take some inspiration and insights from the content of Civic Studies.
Here is the Prezi for that one: