American Democracy Project Letter
April 2, 2004
April 2, 2004
Dear Campus Community:
I am writing to inform the campus community about Western Illinois University's involvement in the American Democracy Project and, more importantly, to invite you to participate in the activities and programs that will occur during the next several years as part of the project.
The American Democracy Project is a joint venture of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the New York Times , and some 170 AASCU colleges and universities. Western Illinois University and Illinois State University are the only two participants from the state of Illinois. The project seeks to engage the higher education community -- administrators, faculty, staff, and students -- in discussions and activities about civic involvement.
The project grows out of a concern about decreasing rates of participation in the civic life of America and in voting, and a decline in other forms of civic engagement and community life that are necessary for the vitality of our democracy. The decline is particularly pronounced among young citizens, although, ironically, it is occurring at a time when volunteerism is increasing dramatically. Of further concern to institutions of higher education, especially the public colleges and universities like Western, is the growing perception of higher education as a private good with limited or no responsibilities in fostering an engaged citizenry. The project's two goals relate directly to these concerns: first, to enhance civic understanding and engagement in the university community and, secondly, to focus public and policy attention on the civic value of the college experience. This will, in the longer term, serve to renew the mission of colleges and universities of fostering the development of an informed and involved citizenry for the 21st Century.
The first phase of the three-year project is a year-long discussion of civic engagement among members of the University community and also an audit of existing curricular and extracurricular programs and activities at Western Illinois University. This audit will be done in cooperation with another civic engagement effort underway on campus, the McCormick Presidential Civic Leader Fellows Program. The latter is a one-year program focusing on student leadership. These programs and activities also will build upon the University theme and the new First Year Experience initiative. During this academic year, the Fellows Program and the American Democracy Project will work together as much as possible. Hopefully these cooperative efforts will yield projects that will be developed and carried out in the second and third year of the American Democracy Project.
Charles Helm and Mario Morelli have agreed to co-chair the American Democracy Project at Western, working with Provost Joseph Rallo and Vice President for Student Services Garry Johnson. If you are interested in participating in the American Democracy Project at Western Illinois University, please notify Charles Helm or Mario Morelli by April 9. It will be useful if each volunteer includes a statement of one or two sentences regarding her/his experience with civic engagement in education. (The Website of the American Democracy Project (www.aascu.org/programs/adp/) contains additional information.)
A meeting of the American Democracy Project participants will be called in the near future.
Thank you very much,