Academy for Civic Professionalism

Build Bridges of Knowledge


The (Forgotten) Utility of the Humanities
October 10, 2013

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

Civic Professionalism Resources

Compiled by Paul Schadewald, Associate Director of Civic Engagement, Macalester College.

We define civic professionalism as the intersection of formal knowledge, vocational exploration/ development, and a commitment to the common good.  Faculty members may define themselves as “civic professionals” by having commitments to a broader public and the skills to work beyond the borders of disciplinary questions, by drawing their institution into a greater engagement with civic life, and/or by nurturing civic inquiry, learning, and vocational reflection among their students.

Undergraduate students may be formed as civic professionals by, for example, engaging in apprenticeships of knowledge, skills, and purpose in an intentionally developmental program.

Faculty Roles and Civic Professionalism

  • Thomas Bender, “Then and Now: The Disciplines and Civic Engagement,” Liberal Education,  87:1 (Winter 2001), 6-17.

I would highly recommend Bender’s article.  Bender is an esteemed historian who has thought deeply about the relationship between academics and civic life. This article is a highly readable and short introduction to the tensions in academic life.  Bender engages the history of academics as “civic professionals” and as “disciplinary specialists,” and finds in John Dewey one useful model for thinking about our current situation.  The article can be used to open up larger discussions about the relationship among research, teaching, and service; the relationship between value-neutral research and commitments; the relationship between high education institutions and their geographic context; and the relationship between highly trained specialists and the work of democracy. You should be able to find a full text version of the article through your campus.

Parking Palmer offers a reflective and meditative perspective on the vocation of teaching, and he suggests a framework for the formation of students that will help develop the whole self.  The magazine article is a distillation of his thoughts. We have successfully used the chapters from his book in a reading group. The readings from the book seemed to open up some of the tensions that professors feel  in their own lives and vocation as they struggle to engage big questions in the sometimes challenging environment of higher education.

KerryAnn O’Meara is an important scholar of faculty culture and development, and she shares a deep commitment to the civic purposes of higher education.  She has engaged questions of how to build the capacity of faculty members, how to change institutional structures to support faculty (especially in civic engagement), and how institutions can think about institutional commitment.  Even though these two articles aren’t exclusively focused on civic engagement, both articles make very valuable contributions.  The first article helps explore what makes for good faculty development.  Enhancing the formation of faculty members as civic professionals requires that any programs be first built on good, effective faculty programs more generally that work in concert with the values that faculty members bring to higher education.  Here she outlines some of those guiding principles for good faculty professional development. The second article ponders larger institutional questions: What would it mean for higher education to take a commitment to “place” seriously?  Within the context of higher education there is a tremendous push toward greater decontextualization of our lives—O’Meara explores what taking contextual commitments seriously might entail.

Depending on your specific interest, you might want to engage one of her other articles too. Her bio and list of other articles are here:

Undergraduate Education and Civic Professionalism

  • William M. Sullivan, “Markets vs. Professions: Value Added?,” Daedalus (Summer 2005), 19-26.
  • William M. Sullivan, “Knowledge and Judgment in Practice as the Twin Aims of Learning,” in Transforming Undergraduate Education: Theory That Compels and Practices That Succeed, ed. Donald W. Harward (2012), 141-157.

If you have to start with two articles on civic professionalism, start with William Sullivan’s two articles.  You should be able to find both in full text through your higher education portal. William Sullivan writes clearly and persuasively.  His article in Daedulus examines the current ethical predicament of the professions. Rather than scrapping the notion of “professions,” he advocates reforming professional education around apprenticeships of knowledge, skills, and purpose.  Even though he is focusing on professional training—rather than liberal arts training—his arguments hold strong resonance for framing how undergraduate teachers may consider their work with their own students.  For those who want to explore further, he has written many longer articles and books on this topic, but this is a clear, concise introduction that can serve as a great discussion starter.

His second article in Donald Harward’s edited book is very significant for anyone who wishes to explore what undergraduate liberal arts education can learn from professional education.   Again, this clearly written article can be a very useful introduction to engaged learning for people who are new to the field or for people who would appreciate a new way of framing issues.  I have found it useful that he makes the case that doing good engaged learning is not just civically good but it is effective learning that helps form the capacity of students to be effective and good actors in civic and vocational life.   This can make a strong case for centering academic work on semi-structured, interdisciplinary, holistic group work based  on a civic problem, issue, or passion.

  • H.C. Boyte, H. C., and E. Fretz, E. (January 01, 2010). “Civic Professionalism,” Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 14:2,  (Jan. 1, 2010), 67-90. (Available if you register with this journal here.)

Harry Boyte is another significant thinker on civic professionalism.  I have found Boyte’s focus on democracy and community knowledge an important contribution to the larger discussion.  People who may have some reservations about the term “professional,” may wish to engage Boyte’s engagement with professionalism and also “public work.”  Boyte has many, many other important articles and books. This is just one example , chosen because of its focus and accessibility.

At a moment when people are questioning the significance of liberal education and its larger purposes, William Cronon tires to capture some of the core goals of the liberal arts. Even though this is not specifically on civic engagement, the framework of “connecting” and the skills and knowledge that he identifies can be put into conversation with our larger discussions of how students are formed.  This short article really seems to spark good conversation.

This article highlights how vocational goals and civic engagement may be synergistic. It provides specific examples and is a useful discussion starter.

  • H.R. Barcus, and Birgit Muehlenhaus, “Bridging the Academic-Public Divide in Collaborative Community-University Partnerships,” Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34:3 (2010), 363-378.

Even though this article is within the field of Geography, I highlight it here because it may be off the radar of people in other fields.  Holly Barcus is one of my colleagues at Macalester and is a shining star in developing the kind of team-based, semi-structured, problem-based courses that William Sullivan advocates as a way to develop the skills, inclination, and commitments to civic professionalism.  Each year, she and/or her departmental colleague Laura Smith center their GIS courses around a community problem identified by a community-partner.  As a team, the students have to draw on their academic skills and civic engagement skills to engage the problem, and in process they learn a myriad of vocational, academic, and civic skills.   Barcus and her former lab instructor Birgit Muehlenhaus explore some of the models they have used.


2 thoughts on “Research

  1. Another great article, authored by Peter Levine, What are the Humanities:

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