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The Power Of Higher Education

The Power Of Higher EducationRecently returned from Tufts University’s European Center in Talloires, France, where he convened a first-ever international meeting of university leaders to focus on civic engagement and social responsibility, President Lawrence S. Bacow is optimistic that institutions of higher education can enhance social responsibility worldwide.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.19.05] When disaster strikes – in the form of a hurricane, tsunami, terror attack or other tragedy - there is little hesitation on the part of individuals throughout the world to get involved and reach out to fellow global citizens. But, according to Tufts University President Lawrence S. Bacow, social responsibility and civic duty should be realized and practiced regularly, not just when times get tough.

“The question we need to ask is whether it is enough to act on this sense of civic responsibility only during major disasters and to let our commitment to society hibernate the rest of the time,” Bacow wrote in an op-ed in The Boston Globe. “I believe we need to make civic engagement the norm, not the exception.”

To discuss how universities can play a role in increasing social responsibility, Tufts University, under President Bacow’s leadership, convened an international conference on the Civic Engagement Roles and Responsibilities of Higher Education in September at its European Center in Talloires, France. Leaders from 28 colleges and universities from 22 different countries attended the meeting and examined how universities can aid the community around them and how they can promote public service as a lifelong commitment.

“Civic involvement, as we see it, does not have to be epic in nature. It can be as simple as voting, serving on a local school board, or volunteering to teach a child in need,” Bacow wrote in the Globe. “Although the individual act may seem minor, the cumulative impact can be monumental.”

Bacow added that there are about 100 million college students worldwide, with that number expected to grow in coming years.

“Students represent perhaps the greatest asset we as a human race have at our disposal to eradicate problems that have plagued the world for generations,” he wrote.

The conference in Talloires was a step toward tapping into the power of this group, according to Bacow. “The process of engaging this force in a coordinated way is just beginning, but it is moving forward with great momentum,” he wrote.

Bacow noted that, after three days of discussion in Talloires, the conference closed with the identification of a number of immediate next steps and the adoption of “a formal declaration to reflect the purpose and possibilities of this initiative and help engage our peer institutions around the world.” [Full declaration]

“The potential for social participation by students young and old, now and in the years to come, is massive. The extent to which this potential can be realized will depend on universities worldwide mobilizing students, faculty, staff, and citizens in programs of mutual benefit,” the declaration states.

According to Bacow, the Talloires Network - an open, electronic space dedicated to the exchange of ideas among people worldwide - was also born out of the conference. All citizens are invited to make suggestions about social issues they believe universities can address through this network, he explained.

“We have already seen in the aftermath of Katrina what can be accomplished when hundreds of thousands of people, each in their own way, decide to work toward a common goal,” Bacow wrote in the Globe. “I think we'll all be amazed what can be accomplished when we apply that same commitment to helping meet the needs the world faces every day, not just during times of disaster.”












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