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
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
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.