Higher Education and Civic Engagement: International Perspectives

Jill A. Aguilar (California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 9 May 2008



Aguilar, J.A. (2008), "Higher Education and Civic Engagement: International Perspectives", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 425-427. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578230810869347



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Has the university abdicated its position as the “marketplace of ideas” (United States Supreme Court, 1967)? Has higher education been “McDonaldized” (Hayes and Wynyard, 2003), commodified out of its role in civil society? To what extent are universities actually meeting their civic missions versus turning out knowledge workers? What methods are effective in successfully doing so? These are among the questions that enliven the essays collected McIlrath and Mac Labhrainn in Higher Education and Civic Engagement: International Perspectives. Together they form a brave and passionate anthology that seeks to reclaim the university's centrality in the growth and maintenance of healthy and democratic societies.

In 2005 the National University of Ireland, Galway played host to a conference on the civic mission of the university “and how it might be pursued through service‐learning, volunteering and community‐based research” (p. xxi). This volume of essays came out of that conference. As a collection, the authors advocate for the university to reclaim its role as animator of public debate in civil society with a critical responsibility in the ongoing tasks of building democracy and community. This volume shares research, debate and discussion related to the philosophy and practice of civic engagement with the university at the policy, institutional and programmatic levels.

The 14 chapters are organized into three parts. The first part, with articles from the UK and the US, addresses conceptual issues related to higher education and civic engagement. Part two deals with institutional considerations and includes reflections on issues faced by institutions in South Africa, the USA and Ireland. Part three, which makes up roughly half of the book, contains essays on specific programs and how each embeds process and practice. Entries from the UK, Ireland and the USA are included.

The first part of the book includes four articles that address central concepts that both undergird the field and are also contested within it. Two of the authors have connections to influential non‐university settings, thus providing useful extra‐institutional perspectives. Michael Edwards works with programs related to civil society at the Ford Foundation, and Edward Zlotkowski is a Senior Faculty Fellow at Campus Compact, the US non‐profit collaboration of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that promotes “community service, civic engagement, and service‐learning in higher education” (campuscompact.org).

Edwards' article, “Love, reason and the future of civil society”, develops a particularly audacious argument about the relationship between love and power, and how service learning can explicate that relationship. He invokes Rainer Maria Rilke – “to take love seriously and to learn it like a task, this is what young people need” (p. 20), Martin Luther King – “the love that does justice” (p. 19), and bell hooks – “love gives meaning, purpose and direction” (p. 20) to build his argument and knit the concrete work of education to the more elusive work of building community. He describes the transformative potential of loving relations on civic engagement: “Love provides a different set of motivations from which alternatives can grow” (p. 20).

Zlotkowski presents clear definitions of service learning and a set of frameworks that positions service‐learning as a key site of linkages between government and the private sector. Service learning, he states, “insists … that addressing public problems is an essential component of education in a democracy” (p. 44). He then shows how service learning fills a complex need by operating in the spaces between – between community service and experiential education, between social responsibility and active learning and between charity and pre‐professional training. Further, he argues that service learning develops a “practical rationality” among learners by functioning in a space between the technical and the civic.

Part two of the book moves on to consider institutional contexts. Ahmed Bawa brings these issues to life in his presentation of a brief history of service‐learning projects from the apartheid era in South Africa. A total of 86 programs functioned under apartheid at one institution to make difficult and important connections between the elite forms of knowing of the university and the commonly less‐valued traditional and local forms of knowing. He traces the demise of these programs, highlighting their institutional vulnerabilities, and then mines that history for indications of ways to protect such unique programs in the future. Andrew Furco presents findings from a three‐year exploratory study on the struggles of institutionalizing service learning. He then presents a conceptual framework on institutionalization. Boland and McIlrath consider the complex cultural issues that arose in their attempts to “localize” service learning, or what they prefer to call “pedagogies for civic engagement”, to their institution in Galway.

The last part of the book includes seven diverse and fascinating descriptions and analyses of various aspects of specific community‐based education approaches. Welch helpfully includes 27 skills identified in the literature as being developed in service‐learning contexts (pp. 106‐7), as well as examples of specific program components and assessment methods. Doorley thoughtfully deliberates on the meaning of education, emphatically asserting that “education ought to engage the whole human subject in the task of her existence” (p. 135), and then proceeding to consider the implications of that statement for educators and schools. Murphy discusses ways that teacher education – in some ways already operating off of a service‐learning model – can exploit its practice to get more of both service and learning.

Taken as a whole, the essays in this volume map the terrain of civic engagement in higher education usefully and comprehensively. The authors are among the leaders in the field. They put forward their struggles and successes with candor and commitment. This is a volume that will both inform and inspire. This book is a must‐have for any institution of higher education seeking to launch a new community‐based education initiative, retool an existing one, or develop networks with like programs in other institutions. The audience is academics and the language and format of many of the chapters might be off‐putting to those outside the university. Nonetheless, policymakers at any level would do well to consult this handbook and gain from the hard‐won wisdom it contains.


Hayes, D. and Wynyard, R. (Eds) (2003), The McDonaldization of Higher Education, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT.

United States Supreme Court (1967), Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 US 589, 605‐606, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

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