Book Project

Working TitleDemocratic Civic Engagement: Institutional Change for Reclaiming the Public Purpose of Higher Education


Description:   A book project associated the colloquium on Democracy, Higher Education, and the Future of Engagement held at the Kettering Foundation on February 26-27, 2008. The book will be an edited volume consisting of chapters written by participants invited to the meeting. Mathew Hartley and John Saltmarsh will serve as co-editors of the volume.


FrameworkOn February 26-27, 2008, a group of 33 academics and academic leaders came together at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio for the purpose of critically examining the state of civic engagement in higher education to determine ways to strategically promote community engagement and the formation of democratic citizenship as key institutional priorities for American colleges and universities. The group assembled, and the organizing of the meeting by the Kettering Foundation and the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE), was defined by specific orientation to the democratic purposes of higher education consistent with the belief that, as Frank Newman wrote in 1985, “the most critical demand is to restore to higher education its original purpose of preparing graduates for a life of involved and committed citizenship.”  The dialogue was catalyzed in part through the discussion of the 2007 book by Lee Benson, Ira Harkavy, and John Puckett, Dewey’s Dream: Universities and Democracies in an Age of Education Reform, as well as publications by the Kettering Foundation, including Agent of Democracy: Higher Education and the HEX Journey and Deliberation and the Work of Higher Education (2008).


The question framing the discussion was “Why has the civic engagement movement in higher education stalled and what are the strategies and priorities needed to further advance institutional transformation aimed at generating democratic, community-based knowledge and action?”Embedded in this question is an understanding of advances in civic engagement in higher education over the past two decades in which there have been significant “first order” changes but that “second order” changes ( Cuban, 1988 ) are leading to resistance and accommodation by colleges and universities, inhibiting sustainable institutionalization on campus. First-order changes “try to make what already exists more efficient and more effective, without disturbing the basic organizational features” (Cuban, p. 342). Whereas first-order changes are characterized by improvements to existing practices, second-order changes involve reconceptualization or transformation of organizational purposes, roles, rules, relationships, and responsibilities – dimensions of institutional culture and policy (Kuh and Whitt, 1988; Teirney, 1988; Eckel, Hill and Green, 1998). The framing question reflects the concern with barriers at the level of second order changes – changes that move beyond programs and structures that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of what already exists to changes involving institutional culture and underlying policy.


The essays in this volume address “second order” issues that are critical for advancing civic engagement in higher education. Each essay addresses a dimension of institutional culture and policy, frames its discussion in the democratic purpose of civic engagement in higher education, and offers practical suggestions and/or examples for strategically advancing democratic civic engagement.



Cuban, L. (1988). “A fundamental puzzle of school reform.” Phi Delta Kappan, 69(5): 341-344.


Eckel, P., Hill, B., and Green, M. (1998). On change: En route to transformation. Washington, D.C., American Council on Education.


Kuh, G. D., and Whitt, E. J. (1988). The invisible tapestry: Culture in American colleges and universities. ASHE-EPIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C., Association for the Study of Higher Education.


Tierney, W. G. (1988). “Organizational culture in higher education: Defining the essential.” Journal of Higher Education, 59(1): 2-21.


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