Syllabus for What Do Colleges and Universities Owe Democracy?


Midcoast Senior College First Spring Term 2022


Thursdays, March 10-April 14 via Zoom


     Copyright © 2022 Bruce W. Hauptli


Ronald Daniels’ account of liberal education points to a “vital tension” in liberal democracies arising as they work to bind “… the notion of a government responsive to popular will to the imperative to protect individual rights and preserve rule of law.”  As President of Johns Hopkins, he contends universities must provide students with a civic education which prepares them for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship, and maintains universities fail to recognize let alone meet this responsibility.  Daniels discusses historical attempts to address this and offers his own proposals.  In this course we will critically study his analysis and proposals. 


Text: Ronald J. Daniels, What Universities Owe Democracy (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins U.P., 2021)


Class Forum [click on this link to enter the Discussion Forum for the class where postings, comments, and discussions are welcome]


First Week March 10: Introduction


Readings for First Class:


begin reading Daniels (hopefully complete your reading by the third Class)


from my website read: My View of the Nature of a Liberal Arts Education and


Education, Indoctrination and Academic Freedom


In this first class we will consider and discuss the following questions/topics:


What are Universities/Colleges? 


“Essences” vs. “family resemblances.” 


Discussion of Types, Purposes/Goals, History, etc. of universities/colleges--are there any types where civic education might work against institutional missions?  


Jefferson and the University of Virginia. 


“Historical Tidbits about universities and colleges over time. 


What should colleges and universities do?  Teaching, research, cultural/artistic performance and preservation, service (to...).  

Teaching vs. Indoctrination. 


What Daniels says: “everything that universities embody is inimical to the autocrat’s interest in the untrammeled exercise of arbitrary public power.  They are institutions committed to freedom of inquiry, to the contestation of ideas through conversation and debate, to the formation of communities that gather and celebrate a diverse array of experiences and thought, and to individual flourishing achieved through diligent study.  They rest upon a foundation of reliable knowledge and facts, which are antidotes to the uncertainty and dissimulation peddled by authoritarian regimes.  They are, to quote William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, an “institution born of the democratic spirit.”  pp. 8-9 


My Supplement for the First Class. 


Second Week March 17: How Do Universities Change, Liberal/Civil Education, and What is Democracy? 


In this class we will consider and discuss the following questions/topics:


How & Why do universities/colleges change?  Who decides on such changes? 


What is “Liberal Education?”  Is it the same thing as "Civic Education?" 


What Is Democracy?  


Who are "the people?  


What is necessary for it? 


How important are:


written constitutions,

rule of law,

separation of powers,

an independent judiciary,

consent and the freedom and integrity of voting,

an independent press,

freedom of assembly and speech (and can it allow for restrictions on hate speech),

freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty,

minority rights….  


Supplement for Second Class.   


Third Week March 24: Overview of Daniels’ book and argument, and Into the text: Universities and Access, Mobility, and Fairness:


A. Overview of Daniels:


B. Daniels’ Chapter One: Universities and Access, Mobility, and Fairness:


Supplement for Third Class


Fourth Week March 31: Educating Democratic Citizens:


A. Critical Question: could one contend that mandatory civic education might be “indoctrination?” 


B. Summary from Chapter 1: American Dreams Access, Mobility, Fairness:


pp. 84-85 I began this chapter by arguing for the essential role social mobility plays in the liberal democratic project and how vital the collective belief in the prospect of mobility is to sustaining it.  Democracies draw their credibility and their resilience from an implicit covenant that anyone with enough grit and talent can move beyond the confines of the circumstances into which they were born.  As income inequality and stratification have grown more acute and intergenerational mobility has stalled, this central tenet of the American Dream has become increasingly fragile…[and] universities cannot truly stand for equal opportunity until they muster the courage to eliminate the most conspicuous vestiges of caste that still cling to them.  Only then can they lay claim to their heritage as carriers of the American Dream…. 


C: Educating Democratic Citizens:


Chapter Summary: p. 128 building a new requirement into the curriculum—especially one that has the potential to be as controversial as a democracy requirement—is no mean task.  The curriculum at any college or university lies at the intersection of a great many stakeholders—including faculty, students, and administrators—with a lot of divergent interests.  The coursework students take must be responsive to students’ needs and trajectories, accommodate the disciplinary expertise of faculty, and adhere to the broader aims of the administration as well as the structural and historical legacies of the institution.  Even the best-laid plans for curricular reform can fall apart.  Meaningful and enduring reforms demand the sustained commitment of leadership and engagement at multiple levels of the institution. 


D. The Example of Another University’s Approach:


Amy Guttmann is one of the nations most respected and highly influential political theorists of democracy.  From 2001-2004 she was Provost of Princeton and from 2004-2022 she was President of the University of Pennsylvania.  She is currently the US Ambassador to Germany.  Her Democratic Education (Princeton: Princeton UP., 1987 and 1999) and Why Deliberative Democracy? coauthored with Dennis Thompson (Princeton UP., 2004) are important works and their conception of “deliberative democracy” is highly influential.  During her Presidency she led Pen to commit to commit to a vision that its “highest institutional priority is to prepare promising students of all races, religions, and backgrounds to become the leaders and innovators of the future.”  In many ways she appears to have committed the University to many of the goals Daniels champions and the Penn Compact 2020 codifies many of these initiatives.  Amongst her initiatives was the establishment of The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement which is founded on the principle that a democratic, open, secure, tolerant, and interconnected world benefits all Americans.  One of its initiatives is The Democracy Project which aims to reverse what it believes is a crisis of confidence: “even as Americans remain committed to the ideals of democracy, a majority see democracy in the United States as weak and getting weaker, according to a national survey jointly commissioned by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. 


One example of both the potential and the challenges confronting “civic education” is an “undergraduate student’s paper: Patel, Amit B., “Democratic Political Socialization on University Campuses” 08 April 2011. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania. 


Supplement for Fourth Class


Fifth Week April 7: Creating Knowledge, Checking Power, and Purposeful Pluralism:


A. Discussion:


I have extensively revised my Supplement on Deliberative Democracy and would like you to look at the new version: An Introduction to "Deliberative Democracy" and Democratic Education especially the new discussion on Democratic Education and the difficulties in implementing it as well as links at the end regarding “civics education” in primary and secondary schools. 


B. Summary from Chapters Three and Four Creating Knowledge, Checking Power, and Purposeful Pluralism:


pp. 23-24 Chapter Three “considers universities as fact-producing and fact-checking institutions.  Liberal democracies need reliable knowledge and a shared sense of truth for citizens to make informed decisions as voters and community members, for legislators to develop rational public policy, and for holding institutions like the free press, leaders, and governments to account.  With the founding of our first research universities in the 1870s, American higher education has been among the most important institutions for credentialing expertise; for conducting advanced research; and for unearthing, preserving, and disseminating facts.  In time, democratic societies came to embrace universities as beacons of factual truth, and government support of research across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities has unleashed countless discoveries and strengthened the university’s role as an anchor for democratic life.  Yet this relationship has frayed in recent years, as questions from within and without the university have accumulated about the objectivity, legitimacy, and accuracy of the academy as a locus of truth and facts. 


Creating Knowledge and Checking Power:


pp. 143-184 a historical discussion of how colleges and universities “create knowledge” and “check power.” 


pp. 185-188 His conclusion of all of this is that “What is needed is openness with guardrails.” 


Purposeful Pluralism:


Chapter Four addresses [p. 24] “…the question of diversity and speech on campus.  Colleges and universities are microcosms of pluralistic, multiethnic democracy that have the capacity to model for students how to interact with one another across a vast spectrum of experiences to forge democratic compromise, consensus, and will.  Our campuses today are far more diverse than in past eras, yet we do not fully or adequately encourage the interactions and exchanges across differences that are foundational to a healthy democracy.  In a multitude of ways, universities have essentially given students a pass to opt out of encounters with people dissimilar from themselves.  Higher education has rightly focused on promoting diversity in admissions, but it has neglected to foster pluralism once students arrive, which has given rise to an undercurrent of silencing and a dearth of substantive debate.  The answer to this dilemma, I argue, lies in a move toward a more purposeful pluralism on our campuses, undergirded by policies that drive students to have more encounters with those unlike themselves, and that then help deepen and enrich these interactions.” 


pp. 187-218 as was the case in all the other chapters, there is an initial discussion of the importance of diversity for democracies, and a discussion of factors which encourage and broaden it a well as those which diminish it (187-193).  It is followed by a long historical discussion of how college and universities initially provided students the opportunity to leave their local communities and meet others from: other communities, religions classes, races, genders, and nations pp. 193-217).  He notes that p. 195 “unlike the previous chapters of this book, which have focused on admissions, curricula, and research, this one turns to the less formal social interactions of campus life, to those moments of contact—sometimes spontaneous and serendipitous, sometimes structured and deliberate—across the unfamiliar that have occurred on campuses for two centuries.” 


This leads him to the section on “Purposeful Pluralism:” 


pp. 232-233 “diversity is being invited to the party.  Inclusion is being asked to dance,” writes social commentator Vernā Myers.  Universities have been so focused on the invitations that they have allowed themselves to be blinded to the dance.  They have devoted far more attention to creating a diverse class of students and minimizing the tensions that inevitably emerge (sometimes at the risk of infantilizing students who are in fact young adults) than promoting substantive exchanges across that diversity once they arrive on campus or modeling how to engage perspectives or statements that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.  


He quickly discusses efforts by universities to study their physical and residential spaces, roommate selection procedure, and first year courses so as to promote opportunities to interact, connect, and x connect students across difference.” 


Then he claims [p. 238]: “Our universities should be at the forefront of modeling a healthy, multiethnic democracy.” 


But so many colleges and universities have a mission of educating students in the theology of a religion, the intricacies of a profession, the preservation of culture....


In conclusion he says: p. 241 “throughout this book, I have sought to develop a holistic mapping of the role that the university plays in liberal democracy by focusing on four key functions: promoting social mobility, educating for citizenship, checking power with facts and knowledge, and modeling and promoting pluralism. In each of these functional areas, I showed how universities in the United States evolved to take on these responsibilities and how well (or poorly) they are requiting them today.” He then summarizes his proposals on pp. 241-244:


ending legacy admissions


institute a democracy requirement for graduation to better educate citizens,


embrace “open science” with guardrails


reimaging student encounters on campus


I am concerned about how Hate Speech may interfere with democracy and, thus, may require legal penalties.  Please look at my Hate Speech and Democratic Responsibility: Rights, Civility, and Dignity. 


Supplement for Fifth Class


 Sixth Week April 14: Critical Discussion


I thought it might be a good idea to learn a bit more about how "democratic" Johns Hopkins University is under the Daniels Presidency (since 2009).  In my experience, there are always complaints!  When I want to know such things I usually go the Faculty Senate and Student Newspaper websites and they generally give a solid picture.  Since I intended to only get a quick look, I stopped with Johns Hopkins Student Newspaper 12/11/21 article" "Daniels discusses democracy, public safety on campus".  I will not do a supplement for this class, but will place your questions/topics immediately below on Tuesday afternoon. 

Comments and Questions for Final Class:


Doug Bates:


After much pondering and reviewing the materials shared with us, I am most motivated to focus on the issue of democracy and the timing of when this should begin.  I need to read more about and by Amy Gutmann and plan to do this in the months ahead.  I agree that not all universities or colleges such as specialty schools, religious institutions, trade schools, and numerous others are of interest to some people because they focus on specific areas of study which may not be studies in democracy.  If universities/colleges do engage in the study/actions of democracy, then it should he a planned part of their agenda.  Democracy for me does not fit conveniently within the first amendment, although certainly many other limitations and requirements that we accept in our society that does not change our perception of democracy. 


The second point that influences me is Martha Nussbaum, and her issues of timing: “one thing that a society based upon equal respect needs to do urgently is to teach young citizens that their society contains many religions and ethnicities and that we  are all committed to the fair treatment of all of them.”  I think I recall in grammar school that we had to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag every morning in our home room.  This is an ideal time to incorporate simple ideas in the form of storytelling to your students and follow up each year with additional information suitable to the grades in which the students are studying.  I think personally waiting until the college or university level to inculcate discussions about democracy is too late.  One simple way to help college students with democratic ideas is the require essays for most exams.  Learning good writing skills leading to improved communication (and selling) skills is important.  I am impressed by Nussbaum’s thoughts and will need to look up suggested books/essays to read to broaden my horizons.  


I have enjoyed thinking about democracy and its application to our futures.  Having been fascinating by the global financial world throughout my career, I have watched with considerable interest how different societies were adjusting to the new global digital (and nuclear) world.  It became evident to me that democracy was merely one idea to consider or confront in the economic world.  Concern for global geopolitics has been brought front and center in the modern world, evolving over the past 50 years.  The Wild West ways of the 1970’s and 1980’s in the economic and investment world unfolded with much enthusiasm and little apparent concern for how to manage the global expansion of opportunity.  The rusting concepts of economic comparative advantage of different economies were changing rapidly in the explosion of technological evolution.


Michael Wormser:


Leadership in a Democracy: Daniels and the other writers cited have focused on better educating American students and the public generally.  They do not discuss at length leadership in a democracy and the responsibilities of opinion leaders and elected officials to promote and protect the tenants of our democratic system that we have emphasized: mutual respect, tolerance in various forms, civility, civic learning, compromise, the common good, pluralism, etc.


Should leadership be part of the discussion or is it a dead end, the quality of democratic leadership being no better or worse than that of the population at large and is dependent on the same American education?  Can the public demand more of its leaders, a degree of competency in understanding and practicing these tenants?  How can politicians for elective office be encouraged to set a better example of what self-government in a democracy means?  And is there anything that can be done to reverse the increasing, if not almost total, negative campaigning? 


We have alluded to some negative restraints on lawmakers such as shame, which tends to be after the fact.  What about proactive incentives to promote better opinion makers, particularly on social media, and better legislators at all levels but particularly at the federal level? 


At the present time, the cards seem to be stacked against any meaningful improvement in the quality of our leaders, and particularly in our elected leaders (I mean in terms of the discussed essentials of democratic governance, not liberal or conservative ideology). 


A “Culture of Democracy:” Schools can teach courses about civics, on how the U.S. government and its three branches work and on the Constitution, but does this impart an appreciation of what it means to live in a democracy?  Most democracies historically have developed gradually, with trial and error part of their development but at the same time providing a means of educating the population about democratic values.  Isn’t there a learning curve in this process and training in how one participates in and contributes to a democratic culture?  It would appear that this form of education, however derived, hardly exists in this country anymore.  Students and voters can learn about the operations of our government but that alone doesn’t make them better democratic citizens.  It’s not formal knowledge of the workings our government that’s most important, it seems to me, but the informal customs, habits, mores, fair play, interactions of citizens in daily life and how they treat each other that’s more fundamental.  How can the country acquire a higher level of mutual respect, empathy for others, an attitude that no one person or group has all the answers and that other people and groups have valid positions and answers that contribute to better solutions? 



Deliberate Media Misinformation for Public Consumption: To put it bluntly, can democracy exist in this digital/social media age when numerous groups, with access to social media outlets and unlimited money, deliberately spread misinformation, lies, and half-truths?  Should the excuse of exercising one’s First Amendment rights be used to insulate what often are conspiracies to deliberately sow havoc, destabilize our society, divide citizens and groups, mislead the public for selfish or undemocratic agendas, destroy people’s reputations and flout all forms of basic decency and civility that any society must have to survive and prosper? 


What we have today are nothing less than efforts to destroy American democracy by using the very democratic values and protections we cherish.  Laws on hate speech have been mentioned.  Shouldn’t these laws be strengthened?  Shouldn’t there be some additional limits on free speech, as there are in other democracies?  The First Amendment should not be a license to undermine the very foundations of our democracy.  It is not a sacrosanct right that surpasses all other values and tenants of our Constitution. 


Why should Fox News, for example, be allowed to air deliberate lies, half-truths, character assassination or attempts to sow discord and poison public discourse in this country and without any accountability?  One proposal is to revive the “Fairness Doctrine” (1949) of the Federal Communications Act, requiring that different points of view be aired.  Indeed the Act needs to go further: If Fox News attacks a person’s reputation or point of view on a subject, it should be required to allow that person or group equal time for rebuttal and for persons to defend themselves.  Since Fox News viewers or listens, I would venture, do not listen to other news sources, this could make a major difference in a segment of the population’s perceptions of politicians and personalities and policies that Fox News chooses to smear or on the issues and policy positions it attacks.  Fox News might also become somewhat more careful in the tactics it uses to malign people and the policies it opposes. 


The equal time provision of the FCA relating to political campaigning also needs to be resurrected and libel laws strengthened. 


In addition, the criteria for granting broadcast and television licenses under the original Communications Act needs to be strengthened or at least more vigorously enforced to comply with the Act’s intention to “operate in the public interest and afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on controversial issues of public interest.”  There are tools out there that can force the media to become more accountable.  They need to be used forcefully and consistently. 


Erv Snyder: Shortly after we finished our most recent class the Senate voted to confirm K B Jackson as our newest Supreme Court Justice.  It was somewhat disturbing that 3 Rep. Senators wouldn't even come into the chamber to cast their votes.  Yet more disturbing was the haste with which the Rep. Senators exited the chamber after the vote was announced.  But of particular note to me was that as the Rep. Senators exited they were immediately followed by the row of young interns (some may have been young staffers) leaving the chamber while the other side of the room continued to applaud and celebrate the momentous event which had just occurred.  My question - even if colleges and universities have an obligation to teach our youths about and promote our democratic experiment, in today's climate do they even have time left to have a positive impact on our troubling trends? 


Cletis Boyer: This is a long piece that identifies one issue that I think Daniels’ position as president of Johns Hopkins renders him simply incapable of seeing.  Indeed, there is a clear conflict of interest between his role as social critic and his role as university president. 


Daniels acknowledges the work of two “anti-meritocrats”, Michael Sandel (The Tyranny Of Merit) and Daniel Markovits (The Meritocracy Trap), noting that….“they argue that the endless pursuit of merits and credentials has become wrenching for the winners and humiliating for the losers.  In addition, they claim that the heavy emphasis our society has placed on education damages the mental health of those who go to college, and above all that the populist upheaval in democracies is due in no small part to those who feel an education-based meritocracy has left them behind.” (77) 


Daniels accepts most of their assessment, yet he rejects a call for overturning meritocracy:

“But where Sandel, Markovits, and others see despair in the machinery of opportunity, I see hope…..Even if a college degree is a minority status, a totem of privilege, it need not be for much longer….[if we] turn toward education, not away from it; to recommit to the potential of a human capital economy, not unravel it.” (78) 


Daniels’ primary recommendation for increasing the potential of a HUMAN CAPITAL ECONOMY [my capitalization] is to drop “legacy admissions”.  And Johns Hopkins has done so. What changes does that make in the meritocracy? 


JH remains one of the most selective colleges and universities in the country.  The 2408 students of the class of ‘26 were chosen from 37150 applicants from 7774 high schools from around the world, a 6.5% acceptance rate (JHU website).  Yes, 20% of those are first-in-family to go to college, so JH has “diversified” its student body, and widened the pool of individuals who can meet their standards.  But those standards maintain JH’s standing as a “highly selective college”, and thrust those “firsters” into the pipeline for possible admission to a highly selective graduate program. 


The meritocracy remains as is, the personality and character shaping pressures remain in place, and if “upward mobility” continues to, say, Yale Law School, a “firster” might become, as Daniel Markovits chronicled in his commencement address to the 2015 LLM (a program of legal specialization following the attainment of a JD and passing the bar exam) graduates of Yale Law, “[Y]ou are sitting here today because you ranked among the top 3/10ths of one percent of a massive meritocratic competition; and one on which the competitors conspicuously agree about which is the biggest prize.”  (manuscript for commencement address “A New Aristocracy”, hereafter ANA). 


Markovits continued to remind the students that they were right not to believe the “rat race ends here”: “[Y]ou don’t believe it.  More important, you don’t act as if you believe it; you do almost whatever is necessary to learn, to produce, to continue to distinguish yourselves.  There’s a sense in which you’re right – or at least reasonable – to stay in the rat-race.  You all know the list of plums you’re competing for and you agree (astonishingly widely) which are sweetest.  This intensifies your ongoing competition: the clerkships, executive-branch posts, public interest jobs, elite law-firm partnerships, and professorships that you overwhelmingly most want all have hundreds of aspirants for each opening.” (ANA) 


A Marxist couldn’t have stated better how capitalism forms our very subjectivities!  And what of “those plums”, what exactly does that entail?  “[T]he top one percent of earners, and indeed even the top 1/10th of one percent, today owe fully 4/5ths of their total income to labor.  That is unprecedented in all of human history: American meritocracy has created a state of affairs in which the richest person out of every thousand overwhelmingly works for a living.” (ANA) 


“This, then, is where things stand.  We have become a profession and a society constituted by meritocracy.  Massively intensified and massively competitive elite training meets massively inflated economic and social rewards to elite work.  You, in virtue of sitting here today, belong to the elite – to the new, superordinate working class.” (ANA) 

Now, Markovits (Yale Law), like Sandel (Harvard Law), are themselves possessors of one of the plums, yet they see the dark side of meritocracy, they see the formative processes of individual character traits, and they see the catastrophe for our democracy of the rule by the meritocrats, and the exclusion of the masses from having any influence whatsoever in shaping the rules which govern their lives. 


Markovits sees the social structure of our society clearly, he knows his students want to be in this superordinate working class, but he wants them to have more genuine fulfillment.  “[W]hen you find an opportunity to trade a little money or status for a lot of freedom, you should take it….you should take it every time.  [But] the forces that brought you to this point remain in place. Every incentive is wrong.” (ANA) 


“The new aristocracy promotes human flourishing for no one: certainly not for the excluded rest; nor even for the ensnared rich.  We are trained to think of economic inequality as presenting a zero sum game: to suppose that redistribution to benefit the bottom must burden the top.  But this is not such a case: reforms that democratize training and talent would benefit everybody." (ANA). 


“Such democratic reforms would restore the bulk of Americans to full participation in an economic and social order from which they have been, for several decades now, increasingly excluded.  And democratic reforms invite the elite – you all – to accept an almost costless diminution in wealth and status in exchange for a massive, precious increase in leisure and liberty, a reclaiming of your authentic selves.” (ANA) 


“The problem remains how to make the global trade, how to reestablish a democratic social order.  Again, I don’t know.  But I do know that a winning trade – winning for everyone – exists.  And I also know that you – with your vast talents, enormous discipline, and immense energy – are better-placed than anyone else to conceive and to broker the deal.   You should keep a reborn democratic equality always in mind as you go forth, in your small decisions as well as your large ones.  You should support and sustain one another whenever you choose equality and freedom over caste and wealth.  And you should demand that Yale Law School loyally supports you as you make those choices.  The democratic project has no better midwife; and so much turns on your efforts now; including, not least of all, your own futures.” (ANA) 


The last paragraph of Daniels’ book provides a roadmap to identifying the most serious deficits of his analysis:


"The insurrection at the Capitol building may have failed, but the forces that fueled it have not left us.  We cannot be blithe about democracy’s prospects. It is incumbent upon our fellow citizens and our bulwark institutions to look unflinchingly and intensely at how we came to this place where our democracy feels as if it is coming undone.  There is no better place to start this conversation, this self-reflection, than the university.  Not only must this indispensable institution seize this opportunity to understand what ails our liberal democracy, but it must also go further in discerning its own role in fostering liberal democracy, its contributions and its failures, and then must act with fierce and unstinting resolve in remedying the places where it has stumbled.  It is hardly hyperbole to say that nothing less than the protection of our basic liberties is at stake." (250-251) 


I contend that Sandel and Markovits, not Daniels, have identified an essential component of “the forces that fueled the insurrection”, and that they, not Daniels, have looked “unflinchingly and intensely at how we came to this place where our democracy feels as if it is coming undone.” Among other things, it is meritocracy that “ails our liberal democracy”, and highly selective colleges which play a key role in both valorizing and producing meritocracy. Capitalism creates “winners” and “losers”, sets them in conflict with one another, and creates ideologies to obscure the way the system works. Meritocracy is just such an ideology, and it tells us, as did Margaret Thatcher, TINA, “there is no alternative”.


Markovits, in a piece published in The Hedgehog Review (Vol. 22, Issue 2), “Schooling in the Age of Capital”, will have the last word:  “[A] social and economic hierarchy based on HUMAN CAPITAL (my emphasis) creates a pitiless competition for access to the meritocratic education that builds human capital….The only way out – for schools as well as for students – involves structural reforms that extend well beyond education, to reach economic and social inequalities writ large.  But although reforms cannot end with schools, colleges, and universities, they might begin there. In particular, the familiar hope that making standardized tests less biased and more accurate and making rankings more comprehensive – that is, PERFECTING MERITOCRACY (my emphasis) – might effectively launder social and economic inequalities without diminishing them is simply a fantasy.  Colleges and universities, in particular, cannot redeem their educational souls while retaining their exclusivity. Instead, elite schools must become, simply, less elite.” 



My Questions/Topics Are:

I. In the above summation (from p. 241) he says he focused the book on "a holistic mapping of the role that the university plays in liberal democracy by focusing on four key functions: promoting social mobility, educating for citizenship, checking power with facts and knowledge, and modeling and promoting pluralism.  He claims he has shown "how universities in the United States evolved to take on these responsibilities and how well (or poorly) they are requiting them today.”  Is there a missing step in his argument that Universities owe democracy fulfillment of the roles?   To see my point consider the following  argument: American Universities have evolved into providers of highly treasured sporting events (e.g., NCAA football and basketball).  They currently do fairly good job of doing this, but things could be much better.  Therefore, they owe it to America to provide the highest quality sporting events. 

American colleges and universities do promote social mobility, educate for citizenship, check power with facts and knowledge, and model pluralism, but are they the sole agencies doing these things, and do they have an obligation to do these things?  Providing education is, clearly, a responsibility for universities, but is providing a "civic education" a responsibility?  Providing an education provides for social mobility, but does that make social mobility a responsibility for universities? 


II. There is a wide diversity of types of institutions of higher education.  Almost all should foster liberal education, most should foster narrative understanding, many could foster democratic citizenry and also pluralism.  I believe their places on this spectrum should be the result of an institutional value arrived at through a long process of an academic community’s reflective deliberation aimed at refining their core missions—a process actually encouraged by the American accreditation and decadal reaccreditation process.  Since such communities are composed of regularly changing groups of constituencies, their place on such a spectrum is likely to change over time.  One might well identify types of colleges and universities whose core mission makes "democratic education" a low priority.  Religious colleges, for example, could contend  that their responsibility is to prepare their students to be members of a "religious community" rather than for democracy.  Business might contend that their responsibility is to prepare their students to run businesses, and democratically-inclined individuals are not well-suited to the task.  Music colleges might contend that they are concerned with training musicians, and that they have no responsibility to provide citizenship training whatsoever.  One might even go on to claim that Daniels goal of "purposeful promotion of pluralism" requires the active acceptance and support of institutions which don 't have a focus on education for "democratic citizenship." 


III. Rather than thinking that institutions have an obligation to have "a democracy requirement" for their students, I think it is more appropriate to encourage them to deliberately become (and deliberately remain) academic communities whose character instantiates deliberative democracy.  Such an institution will best foster democratic citizenry within and outside its community.  A community of deliberatively-democratic faculty, co-curricular professionals, staff, administrators, and trustees would do a superior job of fostering future democratically-inclined citizens! 


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File revised on 04/13/22