University to sign declaration of civic responsibility

by Robert Koch

Accounting students help low-income residents prepare their tax returns. Studio arts students brighten hospices. Education students work with high school teachers.
Together, they represent what university officials hope to achieve, starting with the stroke of a pen — linking campuses to communities.
Presidents of public and private colleges and universities throughout Minnesota will gather at Macalester College in St. Paul this afternoon to sign a declaration committing their respective institutions to civic responsibility in higher education.
Craig Swan, University vice provost, will sign on behalf of the University, said Judie Cilcain, his executive secretary. The signing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. in Macalester’s Weyerhaeuser Hall Board Room.
Drafted last July under the title “Presidents’ Declaration on the Civic Responsibility of Higher Education,” the declaration asks higher education institutions to re-examine public purposes and commitments to the democratic ideal by engaging students in their communities.
Hosting the event is Minnesota Campus Compact, the St. Thomas-based affiliate of the nationwidenonprofit organization, whose members helped draft the declaration.
By its own figures for the period 1994-99, member campuses of the Minnesota branch linked 20,000 students to their communities through courses, work-study programs and internships.
In a University program partnered with the College of St. Catherine, students helped Hmong and Latino families prepare for their citizenship tests and welfare-to-work programs by teaching each other their languages.
Mark Langseth, executive director of Minnesota Campus Compact, said funding for the initiatives comes from membership dues that are based on full-time enrollment. But state, federal, corporate and foundation grants also contribute, he added.
Although many colleges and universities have long been committed to community involvement and furthering good citizenship, Langseth said there is always room for improvement.
“We’re asking college and universities in Minnesota to step up their commitments to their local communities,” Langseth said. “Approximately 30 of our 47 member presidents have committed to sign the declaration.”
At today’s meeting, University philosophy professor John Wallace and three other Minnesota professors will receive the Sister Pat Kowalski Leadership Award.
Elizabeth Hollander, national executive director of Campus Compact, praised Minnesota for its efforts.
“Clearly, Minnesota is stepping up as a leader in this fast-growing national movement to engage college students and entire campuses in combining community service and academic pursuits,” Hollander said in a press release.
Scholars from numerous universities helped Hollander draft the declaration, including Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and president emeritus at Indiana University.
So far, an estimated 300 college and university presidents nationwide have signed the declaration.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected]