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Updated 11:30 AM October 27, 2003



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Committee explores how to prepare students for democracy

Members of the U-M community came together Oct. 23 to brainstorm about how to take disparate efforts at incorporating the concepts of democracy and diversity into the student experience and make them work across a large, decentralized university.

Professor Emeritus Patricia Gurin leads a dialogue on democracy. Participants include David Scobey, associate professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Planning and director of the Arts of Citizenship program, and Stella Raudenbush, instructor in the School of Education and director of the Lives of Urban Children and Youth Initiative. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

"We have this complicated institution that is very hard to navigate," Provost Paul N. Courant said. "We keep saying how great it would be if only everyone could know everything that's available all the time, but that is impossible because there is too much going on. Actually it is a great strength of our university is that there's too much. The question is: How do we take advantage of too much?"

In the first of three sessions under the theme "Journey Toward Democracy," the Provost's Faculty Committee on Education for a Diverse Democracy, led by Professor Emeritus Patricia Gurin, invited more than 50 faculty, staff, student and community representatives to tell what they are doing in and outside of class to promote democracy, and to encourage students to become responsible and involved citizens.

"It is an extraordinary opportunity we face at this unique time when we have energized the campus so much around the [affirmative action] lawsuits," Courant said. "But what does our commitment to diversity and democracy mean for the way in which we participate in the education of students?"

Gurin's research on the educational benefits of diversity, along with other social science evidence, was considered influential in the outcome of the court cases. She said the ultimate goal of the committee is to make recommendations for how all students can be engaged in activities for the public good that will make them strong leaders in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society long after they leave U-M.

Scott Kurashige, assistant professor of American culture and of history, LSA; A.T. Miller, program manager in the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching; and Susan Wilson, director of the Office of Student Activities and Leadership, discuss how to prepare students for a diverse society. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

"We in America have the great challenge of continuing to make democracy work," Gurin said. "We are doing probably as well as any place in the world. But we are going to be even more diverse by 2050, with about 49 percent of the population made up of white people at that point. So our students, as leaders in the post-college world, need to know how to make democracy work when it's with diverse people."

How students will be educated for this task is one of the primary questions for which the committee hopes to gather input, said John Burkhardt, clinical professor of education and a member of the provost's committee.

"We're exploring the idea of pathways, or some sort of approach that offers students an opportunity in their undergraduate and graduate curriculum to better navigate the many opportunities available to them in shaping their learning," Burkhardt said.

"These could possibly take the form of a coordinated series of courses, new forms of research, or by participating in various types of social servicemanOur concern is for greater coherence across many different learning experiences, not only more opportunities," he said.

The Journey Toward Democracy series of three dialogues is funded by a grant from the Center for Liberal Education and Civic Engagement, a joint initiative of the Association of American Colleges and University and Campus Compact. U-M was one of seven institutions to be funded out of 137 applications, Burkhardt said.

Other faculty, staff, student and community partner conversations will be convened during the winter term theme semester on Brown v. Board of Education. One will be held in connection with a lecture by Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine, and another to coincide with public presentations by Gary Orfield, co-director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, and Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College.

Click here for a Brown v. Board of Education event schedule>

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