Colleges Stress Moral Leadership

By Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher | The Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Colleges Stress Moral Leadership

Khadaroo, Stacy Teicher, The Christian Science Monitor

Higher education's mission has always stretched beyond academics. But how do colleges make concrete the stuff of vision statements?

Motivated in part by concerns about student cheating and broader ethical lapses in society, colleges and universities are increasingly exploring ways to prepare students to be moral exemplars and socially responsible leaders. As the world becomes more interconnected, they're also stepping up efforts to turn out graduates who are engaged global citizens. For example:

* At William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., students can now turn the required core liberal arts curriculum into a major by completing three "applied learning experiences" such as service learning, study abroad, and leadership on or off campus.

* Duke University in Durham, N.C., is in the pilot phase of a $30 million endowed program known as DukeEngage. The college will fund students' service projects for a semester or a summer and connect them with faculty and career counselors to integrate what they're learning into their overall education.

* The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, D.C., has created a consortium of schools to share experiences as they work to foster five key components of "educating students for personal and social responsibility": striving for excellence; personal and academic integrity; contributing to a larger community; taking seriously the perspectives of others; and ethical and moral reasoning.

Civic, ethical, and moral development "should be no longer optional" for college students, says Caryn McTighe Musil, the AAC&U project director. "We argue you cannot function in the world without this heightened sensibility."

Among last year's college freshmen, 67 percent said "the importance of helping others" was a high priority, the highest percentage in 20 years. That was valued just below raising a family and being well-off financially, according to last year's annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute in Los Angeles. Twenty-seven percent said there was a very good chance they'd participate in community service, up from 17 percent in 1990. And 35 percent rated "becoming a community leader" as very important or essential.

Projects like the AAC&U's are also building in attempts to measure whether various efforts on campus are actually leading to the intended outcomes.

More than 100 schools applied for 23 slots in the AAC&U consortium. Each receives a $25,000 matching grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Some of their plans include expanding academic honor codes to become social-values codes as well; hosting dialogues to explore community issues or philosophical questions; and having students host civics- or ethics-based workshops and contests.

Tying values-oriented goals to hands-on experiences has a powerful appeal for Amanda Dorsey at Duke. After taking classes in public policy and social entrepreneurship, she cofounded an organization called Student U., in which college students tutor local middle-schoolers.

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