President's Perspective
Among the many challenges facing colleges and universities today, perhaps none is as urgent as the call to provide solutions to the social and economic problems in our society. We are beginning to understand that the very future of our democratic society will depend upon how well we prepare our students to respond effectively to the complex issues of our society and how well they acquire the values and habits of social responsibility and good citizenship. In other words, we must attend to the duty of promoting the exercise of "civic virtue."

Civic virtue has classically been defined as both knowledge of the public good and the sustained desire to achieve it. According to Robert Dahl, underlying this definition is the supposition that community leaders have "both the opportunity and incentives to acquire the necessary knowledge and the predispositons to act steadily on the basis of that knowledge." This simple definition can shape our approach to our role as a virtuous university.

In contemporary society, few of us appear to hold the values that we would characterize as a respect for civic virtue. In the modern view, each citizen is seeking to foster his or her own interests. In this model, the public interest is the sum of all these individual interests. In such a democracy, the job of good citizen is much easier. We need only to define our own interests and be able to act upon them. Questions of virtue or predispositions to public service fall away.

This view, of course, strays from the philosophical roots of this nation and is incompatible with the traditions of UVM. It also leads to divisiveness and a loss of a sense of respect and concern for others who differ from ourselves. Early in our history, the leaders of this nation espoused a form of republicanism based on the theory that liberty depends upon sharing in self-government. For our forebears, a citizen's responsibility was to engage in healthy debate with one's fellow citizens about the common good and to take responsibilityfor shaping the destiny of the political community. This concept of liberty requires a knowledge of public affairs and a sense of belonging, a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community whose future is at stake. These qualities make up what we used to mean by civic virtue. It is time to ground our aspirations in these classic values and virtues.

Robert Dahl concludes that the average citizen in democracies today falls short of this ideal. Only a few of us are deeply interested in politics and public life and fewer even elect to vote, much less to engage in political life, either to serve our own interests or to address the interests of the public. We are losing confidence that we can, individually or collectively, control the forces that influence our lives. From family, to neighborhood, to town, to region, to nation, we believe that the moral fiber of our community is unraveling around us. How wonderful it is to realize that here in Vermont and at UVM we are worrying about losing what many of our friends elsewhere can only barely remember ever having enjoyed.

One of the significant problems facing society today is the need to create the knowledge and understanding that can support lifelong learning and purposeful change. At UVM, we are committed to building greater intellectual and social capital in the communities we know and serve. Service-learning,outreach and sustained university-community partnerships can foster good citizenship. They also are powerful motivators of learning. These forms of learning and engagement can also foster the renewal of social capital, encourage leadership development, and support and develop a highly skilled workforce.

Service-learning has long been an integral part of the UVM undergraduate experience. I'm happy to report it is a current that still runs strong on this campus. One-thousand hours of UVM student power were put to work in the community during a daylong Serve-A-Thon last September. Within the course of a year many more students are involved in the programs under the umbrella of Volunteers-in-Action, the largest student-run organization on this campus. Our students, our faculty and our staff are generous with their time and are a major part of the social and intellectual capital of Vermont. Our faculty and staff also engage in professonal service and outreach efforts to share their expertise and to support the development of greater understanding and capacity in organizations, neighborhoods, communities and agencies throughout the state and the Northeast as well as further afield. Through our example as citizens and our collective work as a University, we set high standards for our students to emulate. In return, our students expect the best from us.

Many of our University programs close the gap between learning and service, knowledge and action. Students see the immediate relevance of their education and the power it gives them to effect change for the better. ACTIONS (AIDS Coalition Teaching Involvement and Outreach for Needed Services) educates others in the UVM community regarding AIDS and HIV-related issues. SEEDS (Student Environmental Educators Doing Something) places UVM students in local elementary schools where they teach about global warming, recycling, and other environmental issues.

UVM students' service reach isn't limited to Burlington, or even Vermont. Each spring break nearly one-hundred of our students fan out to sites across the country for a week of community service through the Alternative Spring Break program (ASB). (Ed. See page 16.) Diverse societal problems from homelessness to AIDS to youth at risk and diverse American and international cultures from northern inner cities, to the rural south, to the Maine woods, to communities abroad are the order of the week for ASB students and for exchange students who spend significant time in other parts of the world. These experiences, which allow our students to see the world in new ways, for a week or for a year, are often powerfully motivating and often are still fresh and important to our students years later.

Through all of these options and many more, UVM grows as a caring, engaged institution and our students grow similarly as individuals well-prepared to take their place as involved citizens. We cannot measure the quality of our education solely by what our students do during their years here, of course. Our graduates' passion for lifelong learning and a lifelong habit of caring will be the truest measures of our success in building civic virtue. Because of this, I'm very proud of the fact that UVM has ranked as the top institution per capita for placing graduates in the Peace Corps. That number is testimony that lessons and values learned and practiced locally in Burlington ripple out and continue to make a difference globally.

At UVM, we enjoy a heritage of community and a tradition of academic excellence and service. These experiences shape good citizens and promote civic virtue. We are, indeed, a virtuous university.