I'm posting this on behalf of Robert Cavalier at Carnegie Mellon:
Hi, Windy -
I recognized your name from the memo sent out to Everyday Democracy ("Windy Lawrence runs a center for public deliberation at the University of Houston.
I know she's run into a number of people -- including senior administrators, faculty, and legislators - who ask, why should we do this? What's this got to do with our education mission?") --
Here are some items to look at --
The Office of the Dean of Student has institutionalized the practice of deliberative democracy (and my course makes use of this):
My current outreach/service involves working with the Coro Center for Civic Leadership on Community Conversations (not unlike your efforts):
So, here is a faculty member at a Research University whose Teaching, Research, and Service all revolve around deliberative democracy... And each one of these areas can contain a response to your skeptical administrators, faculty, and legislators...
Let's keep in touch...I'm also available to 'argue your case' if need be...
I would suggest connecting the creation an effective, democratic citizenry to the mission of the college or university. (What is the role of higher education in a democracy?) One could frame this as educating for a strong democracy or come at it from a diversity and inclusion perspective. The two are intimately linked. What aspect to emphasize (one could emphasize both) depends on the culture and context of the institution. There may be a strong diversity and inclusion initiative on campus or an initiative on civic engagement. From here, it is important to identify specific learning outcomes for students and show how this is related to: (1) curriculum and pedagogy; (2) a diverse and inclusive campus climate; (3) the recruitment and retention of diverse students, faculty, and staff; (4) democratic governance processes; (5) scholarship and professional development. I believe this is essential for a sustained and comprehensive approach. The organization, The Democracy Imperative does great work in this area.
Here are ten approaches to consider, Windy, and I hope that others will post their stories on how they made the case on their campuses. These are not in a particular order, and my guess is that you’ll need a combination of these. No matter how you approach this, stress #10.
(1) Point to promising changes in the landscape of American democracy: shifting citizen attitudes and capacities, renewed enthusiasm for public participation and social change, particularly among youth, increased reliance on dialogue and deliberation as foundations for social and policy change. There’s a lot happening, but it will only work if we get to scale if we move from diffuse democratic experiments to more just, comprehensive democratic systems.
(2) Problematize the state of American democracy. We all know the arguments. Citizen political and civic disengagement; divisive, partisan politics; rampant incivility; and a polarized citizenry, often divided along lines of ideology, party affiliation, geography, social identity, and life experiences. Many of us are tired of these arguments because we’ve been making them for so long, but others might be new to the conversations.
(3) Emphasize that the nation’s issues are too complex, far-reaching, and persistent to be managed by a distant, political elite. We need informed, skilled, vigilant citizens to solve the most pressing domestic and global challenges – poverty, climate change, inequality, terrorism.
(4) Repeat the case for renewing the university’s civic mission, and tie the work of the center to that mission. The President’s Declaration on the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education (http://www.compact.org/resources-for-presidents/presidents-declaration-on-the-civic-responsibility-of-higher-education/) still has currency, and Texas has a strong Campus Compact network.
(5) Point to the evolution of higher education’s civic mission, from parallel movements to advance diversity and civic engagement to a confluence of the two, the movement to advance deliberative democracy.
(6) Draw from the NBT conference materials, particularly the materials on the “timid” university and Bruce Mallory’s opening remarks (http://www.unh.edu/democracy/conference2009/resources.html).
(7) Share the findings of the Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy (SOND) meeting (August 2009) and report (http://www.everyday-democracy.org/en/Article.1040.aspx)/. Nearly 100 civic leaders came together to create a plan for building a strong democracy. One particular recommendation should help you make your case: #7, Build skills and capacity for public engagement. Colleges and universities can play a critical role in increasing citizen capacity for effective public participation, and centers for deliberation are ideal examples of a way to do so. If you turn to page 16-17 for specifics.
(8) Build support for your work from the ground up – organize some successful dialogue-to-change initiatives, and then let the participants help you make the case to the administration. Collect testimonials, track outcomes, assess the process, and share the findings with the administration.
(9) Start a dialogue on campus. Involve the University’s faculty, staff, and students in a conversation on the institution’s mission and purpose, stressing the need to make the work of the university publicly relevant. One place to start may be with the Peer Review issue on political engagement on campus, published by AACU last winter. You can use the discussion guide TDI published to go along with it. Here’s the link to both: http://www.unh.edu/democracy/publications.html.
(10) Link the work of the center to the university’s education mission: Democratic practices – understanding civics, studying issues, critical thinking and analysis, engaging in inclusive dialogue, knowing human cultures, public reasoning and deliberating, collaborative problem solving, managing conflict, leading change initiatives, communicating, ethical decision making – these are essential learning outcomes for all students, regardless of their chosen career path or area of study. Participation in deliberative forums can help students develop these skills. Forums can also model pedagogy that can be incorporated into nearly every academic and co-curricular program on campus. Deliberative democracy is not only a good way to engage the local community and fulfill a public outreach mission. It’s good educational practice.
Good luck, Windy. Let me know if I can help. Nancy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let your university leaders know that dialogue-to-change work on campuses gives students the chance to round out their academics with the civic skills necessary to become active members of society. Too many college-bound students lack the skills to take part in their communities to problem solve, so university and college leaders have the opportunity to fill this void by offering their students the chance to talk, think and work together on campus issues.
Also, in order to be effective campus leaders, they need to keep their ear to the ground on what matters most to their students. Campus dialogue-to-change efforts not only give these leaders the chance to learn what students think about any given issue, but the dialogues also connect students and leaders to find solutions together.
I'll get others to chime in with their thoughts.