Agents and Architects of Democracy:
The Democracy Mission of Higher Education

Original Broadcast: November 3, 2009


Member: Free
Nonmember: Free

Program Content

Explore the history and future of civic agency as an organizing theme for higher education. This program begins with a provocative question:

How can higher education reverse the disturbing trends we see occurring: pressures for higher education to become increasingly a private good with students as customers, institutions as industries, and competitive success measured by how many are refused admission?

An emerging focus on agency—how people develop the skills, confidence, and outlook to become shapers of their lives and communities and agents of change – can help. Civic Agency is visible across the world. It appears in development efforts in Africa; in the writings of development scholars reflecting on World Bank and UNDP experiences; and in pioneering work around the world on public health, resource management, global climate change, and education reform. Higher education has been slow to focus on this issue. Yet promising signs are emerging, particularly in the effort by scholars to define an emergent “civic field,” and the first Institute of Civic Studies this summer at Tufts. Could civic agency become a core focus of higher education in the 21st century?

How can higher education institutions integrate civic agency in ways that go beyond activities towards an identity of engagement, with institutions deeply grounded in their communities and regions and “filled with the democratic spirit,” as former Harvard president Charles Elliott once described his university?

A few experiments with institution-wide change that have been undertaken in higher education will offer examples for further work. These include the University of Minnesota, beginning with a planning process in 1997-98 by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the request of the Kellogg Foundation, which asked whether the university’s land grant (democracy) mission could be revived. They also include the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, which organized a three-year process leading to a commitment “to serve the valleys rather than the ivory towers of South Africa.” Finally, extensive civic work over the past seven years at Western Kentucky University as part of the American Democracy Project has transformed that campus and its outcomes. This webcast will explore these and other efforts underway, launching an international discussion of these questions.

Handouts will include the presenters’ PowerPoint images and other supportive articles for your reference.

Want to learn more about civic engagement? Check out these links:

Twaweza: The East African Citizen Agency Initiative

Culture and Public Action

Diversity & Democracy

Educating for Leadership - Peer Review

Institute of Civic Studies

The New Professional” by Parker Palmer

“Against the Current – Developing the Civic Agency of Students” by Harry Boyte

University of Minnesota planning process

Western Kentucky University Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility

Who Should Watch This Webcast?

  • Those involved in the community engagement strand of higher education (service learning leaders, participatory action research groups, etc).
  • The engaged teaching/student as collaborator networks, and groups like AAC&U which have made this a major emphasis
  • Those interested in questions of public scholarship -- Imagining America institutions, leaders in disciplines (sociology, history, geography MLA, political science, Social Science Research Council) who have been pushing for "public sociology," "public history, etc.
  • Those concerned about the trends toward higher education becoming a private good, not a public good.


Harry BoyteHarry C. Boyte is founder and co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship now at Augsburg College, and a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. For more than twenty years, Boyte has helped to organize and direct action research partnerships and projects aimed at developing practice-based theory for what works to engage citizens in public life. Boyte is also the founder of Public Achievement, a civic and political education initiative that aims at developing the civic agency of young people now in hundreds of communities in 23 countries. Boyte has authored eight books on democracy, citizenship, and community organizing.  In the 1960s, Boyte was a field secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization directed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Harry Boyte is married to Marie Louise Ström, a democracy educator with Idasa, the African democracy organization.


Barbara BurchBarbara G. Burch is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, at Western Kentucky University where she oversees the general goals and directions for instruction, research, public service, and related support offices for the WKU campus of more than 21,000 students. During 1997, she served as their interim president. Burch is former dean of the School of Education and Human Development, California State University, Fresno. She has served as a member and chair of NCATE Accreditation Teams, chair of The Unit Accreditation Board, and is currently a member of the Executive Council of NCATE. She has held major leadership roles at state, national and international levels including serving as the President of the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education. She is the recipient of the National Provost’s Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement, and served as chair for The State Council of Chief Academic Officers for the past four years. She is actively engaged with P-16 efforts in the state, and is heavily involved in activities to create success pathways for seamless transition from high school to college, statewide leadership to enhance student’s college roeadiness, and is also involved in issues that address student success in freshman year of college. She served as a consultant for The World Health Organization for professional health care preparation programs in South Vietnam, and has been actively involved in international education throughout her career. Burch received both her Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Indiana University, and her Bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University.

Edwin FogelmanEdwin Fogelman is professor emeritus of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. For a decade he chaired the Department of Political Science, and also served as past co-director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. In 2000, Fogelman became the chair of the university-wide Task Force on Civic Engagement, which worked for two years to develop comprehensive strategies for renewing the university’s land grant mission and its democracy identity. He chaired the first Council on Public Engagement, which was one result. Fogelman is author, among other works, of Today’s Isms, with William Ebenstein.

V RaoVijayendra Rao is a lead economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. Over the course of his career Rao has published widely on questions such as why dowries increased in India, the social and economic context of domestic violence, why extremely poor families spend large amounts of money on public celebrations such as festivals and weddings, the economics sex of work in Calcutta, and how to integrate economic and social theory to develop more effective public policy. One stream of his current work examines the determinants of citizen engagement in poor societies, with a goal towards understanding how best to mobilize citizens to improve public services and alleviate poverty. Another line of work studies the inter-relationship between social and economic mobility in India.

Rao serves on the editorial boards of four journals, on the Social Development Board of the World Bank, and advises several research institutes and NGOs. He obtained a BA (Economics, Statistics, Sociology) from Bombay University, a PhD (Economics) from the University of Pennsylvania, was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, and taught at the University of Michigan and Williams College before joining the World Bank in 1999.

This webcast is produced in collaboration with the following:

Questions? Please contact Kathy Benton at kathy.benton@scup.org

Democracy Logos

There has not been any content added to this component yet.