Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Working to Educate Global Citizens and Create Neighborly Communities Locally and Globally: Penn's Partnerships in West Philadelphia as a Democratic Experiment in Progress

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Working to Educate Global Citizens and Create Neighborly Communities Locally and Globally: Penn's Partnerships in West Philadelphia as a Democratic Experiment in Progress

Article excerpt

"To be a great university, we must first be a great local university."

Shirley Strum Kenny (Former President, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1999)

Introduction

In the rapidly accelerating global era in which we now live, human beings must solve a vast array of unprecedentedly complex problems. Perhaps the most complex and significant problems facing society today are persistent and widening social, economic, and political inequality; globally destructive, man-made climate change; rising racism and xenophobia; and increasingly frequent savage terrorist acts. Given their proclaimed dedication to critical intelligence, and their unique constellation of formidable resources to develop it, institutions of higher education, we submit, have a unique responsibility to help solve these problems-indeed all the problems intensified by globalization. It seems self-evident, to us at least, that given the current state of the world, colleges and universities are not contributing as they could and should. We further submit that working to solve universal problems, such as poverty, inadequate schooling, inequality, and intolerance as these problems are manifested locally is a powerful (perhaps the best) means to advance higher education's (particularly the university's) mission of advancing knowledge for the improvement of human welfare. Stated even more strongly, democratic engagement with its local schools and communities may not only be the best means but also the best indicator of a higher education institution's contribution to the public good locally, nationally, and globally.

Given the position outlined above, we will try to do three things to give credence to our argument:

1) Discuss the central role of higher education institutions in contributing to the public good, as well as the obstacles that have prevented them from effectively fulfilling that role.

2) Explain and illustrate (using the case we know best-the University of Pennsylvania) that by working to solve global problems manifested locally higher education institutions can increase their contributions to the public good.

3) Describe and propose a strategy (again using examples from our own work) for how local engagement can be part of a process of global engagement and change.

The Role of Higher Education Institutions in Contributing to the Public Good

Universities are uniquely local and global institutions, as well as the most influential institutions in modern societies across the globe. In 1990, Harvard's President Derek Bok identified "the modern university as the central institution in post-industrial society" (Bok, 1990, p. 3). Universities possess enormous resources (most significantly human resources), play a leading role in developing and transmitting new discoveries, educate societal leaders, and most importantly, in large measure, shape the schooling system. As stable anchor institutions, community colleges, colleges, and universities (public as well as private) all play crucial, multifaceted roles in their communities and surrounding regions, including in education, research, service, housing and real estate development, employment, job training, purchasing, business and technology incubation, and cultural development (Harkavy, Hartley, Hodges, Sorrentino, & Weeks, 2014).

For colleges and universities to fulfill their great potential as anchor institutions and more effectively contribute to positive change in their local communities, cities, and metropolitan areas, however, they will have to critically examine and change their organizational cultures and structures and embed civic engagement across all components of the institution (Hartley, Harkavy, & Benson, 2005). Comprehensive involvement of all the resources of higher education institutions are required to genuinely develop democratic schools, universities, and communities.

According to the great American pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, "democracy approaches most nearly the ideal of all social organization; that in which the individual and society are organic to each other" (Dewey, 1969, pp. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.