Civics lesson

By Maureen Hartford

Colleges and universities were once expected to produce both scholars and citizen leaders.

In the years following World War II, the focus has been more on scholarship than on citizenship and leadership.

It is no coincidence that this change in focus in higher education coincided with increased apathy of American citizens toward their civic responsibilities.

Now, many colleges and universities are rededicating themselves to educating citizen leaders, and recognizing their responsibility to ensure that the U.S. continues to produce enlightened leaders for all fields.

At Meredith College, community involvement is an integral component of the educational experience.

Our new general education curriculum requires students to address timeless questions about the relationship of the individual to society, about cultural interactions, and about issues of global importance.

Our volunteer services office works with students to effect change through their humanitarian contributions and civic engagement with the local community, the state, the nation and the world.

In our state, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has created the Carolina Center for Public Service, which leads the university’s service programs, while the Community Service Center at Duke University is a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities.

As more campuses create a culture that values civic engagement, it is my hope that all college graduates will feel compelled to fulfill their role as citizen leaders.

To achieve this goal, all college and university presidents should continue to put leadership and civic education back into the core of their institutions.

Every time mission statements are reviewed, every budget season, every time the general education requirements are changed, every time their opinions are sought, in every speech and presentation, there is an opportunity to focus our nation’s higher education institutions on civic engagement.


Maureen A. Hartford is president of Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., one of the largest private women’s colleges in the Southeast.

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