Liberal Education

From the Editor

Americans’ expectations of higher education, especially as framed by the lingering aftereffects of the recent “Great Recession,” have narrowed considerably to focus on the private, individual, economic benefit of college. The result has been an overemphasis on market priorities and an underemphasis on longstanding civic commitments and the public good. To call attention to the dangers of this imbalance—for educational quality and for our democracy—the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement issued A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, a report that calls on the nation to reclaim the civic mission of higher education.

The release of the Crucible report at a White House event on January 10 was, in a sense, a prelude to AAC&U’s annual meeting, which began with a symposium titled “Reversing a Civic Recession: What Higher Education Can Do.” The Featured Topic section of this issue of Liberal Education presents highlights of the annual meeting program, which was designed to foster constructive discussion of the consequential issues raised in the Crucible report, as well as to showcase examples from institutions that are successfully building on democratic visions and practices.

In the lead article, Don Randel addresses several mistaken assumptions about what drives the cost of higher education, very helpfully clearing the ground for sober discussion of access and affordability, and of the right relation of value and values. Cheered by the release of the Crucible report, and heartened by the serious attention it received at the annual meeting, Adrianna Kezar, Matthew Hartley, and Daniel Maxey draw attention to the need for greater democracy in campus governance—a neglected but nonetheless essential ingredient if we are to promote civic learning and, ultimately, recover from the “civic recession.” This is followed by strong encouragement from US Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, who expresses the Obama administration’s commitment to civic learning and democratic engagement, and lays out the many concrete steps the Department of Education is taking in support of efforts to advance both within higher education. Finally, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend calls for the reinvigoration of the notion of the common good and provides an inspiring vision of the role colleges and universities can play in this urgent national mission.

Additional highlights of the 2012 annual meeting are available as podcasts at

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