The Civic Commitments

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The Civic Commitments

A fresh and pragmatic framework for fostering free expression, civil discourse, and civic readiness within higher education.

Co-created by the consortium presidents, the Civic Commitments offer a realistic and reasonable blueprint for advancing American higher education’s role to uphold democratic principles in our rapidly changing era. These commitments move beyond oversimplified debates around free speech versus diversity and inclusion. Instead, they prioritize meaningful engagement with diverse voices and viewpoints, underline the importance of supporting free inquiry for democratic understanding, and recognize diversity as a cornerstone of both American democracy and campus life.

The Civic Commitments

Presidents make the following Civic Commitments to our students, our academic communities, and the democratic society we serve:
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Educating for democracy is central to our mission.

American higher education has a duty to prepare a rising generation for citizenship, ensuring that all students acquire a strong foundation in the tenets of democracy and a deep understanding of their own rights and responsibilities in a free society. Every student deserves a sense of confident agency in shaping and upholding our democracy.
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We will prepare our students for a vibrant, diverse, and contentious society.

Being part of a thriving democratic society means living, working, and governing alongside people from remarkably different backgrounds, cultures, and worldviews. Colleges and universities must be training grounds for democratic life, creating a genuinely diverse community and ensuring that students practice listening, arguing, and collaborating with people who come from different backgrounds and hold different political views.
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We will protect and defend free inquiry.

Academic excellence and democratic progress depend on open inquiry. Our campuses will remain welcoming spaces for intellectual exploration, cultivating an openness to new ideas, offering and assuming goodwill among our students and scholars, and reinforcing the free exchange of views as a source of strength for our society. Any limits to free expression will be narrowly defined, applied consistently, and grounded in institutional values.
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What makes the Civic Commitments unique?
What makes the Civic Commitments unique?

Activation and Accountability

Presidents will develop programming on their campuses to advance these civic commitments in keeping with their unique institutional missions. Examples include but are not limited to:
  • Creating free expression theme years
  • Hosting speaker series that center diverse viewpoints
  • Expanding course offerings centered on civic preparedness
  • Utilizing orientations for student debates and free expression skills
  • Designing student programming around constructive dialogue and civic engagement and learning
  • Promoting voter engagement initiatives
  • Presidents are also encouraged to highlight the themes of democracy and civic life through speeches and seminars.
    We make a promise to the students who trust us with their college choice that they will have an academic experience that prepares them for careers of impact. As a public university, we also have an equally critical responsibility to help them understand how to put their knowledge and skills to work in ways that don’t just enhance their own lives, but that make more resilient and more compassionate communities for all.
    Photo of Robert Jones

    Robert Jones

    Chancellor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
    Higher education institutions play a crucial role in shaping well-educated and engaged citizens, emphasizing the importance of civic responsibility, critical thinking, and the ability to engage constructively in societal discourse. By fostering an environment of open dialogue and debate, higher education prepares students to be active participants in democratic processes, ensuring they emerge as individuals committed to contributing positively to society and advancing democratic values.
    Photo of James Danko, President of Butler University

    James Danko

    President, Butler University
    I believe fervently in the importance of educating and preparing students—leaders of the future—to embrace discomfort and challenge to their beliefs, to accept and engage with the ‘other,’ and to embrace an educational trajectory that prepares them for the world beyond campus by supporting them in engaging in respectful conflict and dialogue across difference.
    Photo of Hilary Link, President of Drew University

    Hilary Link

    President, Drew University
    There is a basic if oft-stated truth about democracy: it is not a spectator sport. The health of our civic institutions requires engaged citizens ready and able to exercise their voice thoughtfully and responsibly. When this College, and institutions like it, graduate broadly educated students with the skills and determination to get involved, we have every reason to believe that our country’s fragile democratic experiment may long endure.
    Photo of Robert Iuliano, President of Gettsyburg College

    Robert Iuliano

    President, Gettysburg College
    The free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of liberal education. Communicating persuasively, disagreeing courteously, and engaging respectfully across the ideological spectrum, are essential skills for the thriving of a democratic society. Differences of opinion must be treated as opportunities to learn and grow.
    Photo of Suzanne Rivera, President of Macalester College

    Suzanne Rivera

    President, Macalester College
    This is a critical role for higher education that is more important than ever in today’s highly polarized environment. We are challenged today by the fact that much of the American populace does not have confidence in higher education, so a collaborative, focused initiative such as this represents our best opportunity to emphasize the importance of preparing engaged citizenship.
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    Eric Spina

    President, University of Dayton
    At the University of Virginia, we prepare students for a life of public service as compassionate and effective citizen-leaders, no matter what profession they pursue. That goal starts with an educational environment that protects free expression and inquiry and encourages debate while also fostering connection, empathy, and lifelong curiosity.
    Photo of James Ryan, President of University of Virginia

    James Ryan

    President, University of Virginia
    …But we also know that, to realize the full potential of Duke’s people, we must cultivate and maintain a campus community where every person—especially those whose viewpoints or backgrounds may be in the minority—feels a strong sense of belonging and support for their work. We must work to create a culture that clearly reflects our core institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence in all we do.
    Photo of Vincent Price

    Vincent Price

    President, Duke University
    Societal divisions threaten the mutual understanding, shared norms of behavior, and commitments that are so vital to the resilience of our democracy. Mending these divisions is not only a challenge of policy and politics. It is an educational imperative.
    Photo of Hiram Chodosh, President of Claremont Mckenna College

    Hiram Chodosh

    President, Claremont McKenna College
    Our campuses and our words are enriched, our communities become more equitable and we develop open-minded leaders when we explore and are open to discussing and debating a range of ideas and perspectives, freely expressed, while understanding these ideals within the context of the historical experiences of diverse communities.
    Photo of Lori White

    Lori S. White

    President, DePauw University