By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan University President Matt vandenBerg is among the earliest college and university leaders nationwide to join a consortium designed to advance higher education’s critical role in preparing students to be engaged citizens and in upholding civil discourse on their campuses.

Through the College Presidents for Civic Preparedness consortium, designed by the presidents and convened by the nonprofit Institute for Citizens & Scholars, vandenBerg and the other participating presidents pledge to prepare the next generation of well-informed, productively engaged, and committed citizens; defend free expression, civil discourse, and critical inquiry as essential civic norms; and increase thoughtful engagement and better understanding by students for the effective functioning of our democracy.

“Our nation and world face daunting, vexing problems too often exacerbated by an insufficiently educated populace, cultural tribalism, the dramatic erosion of civil discourse, and a reluctance to engage in constructive dialogue,” said vandenBerg, Ed.D. “Working together, American higher education can help to build fundamentally stronger communities by developing more educated, engaged, grace-filled, and solutions-oriented citizens.”

Presidents participating in the consortium commit to take campus-specific and collective action, reflecting three shared Civic Commitments:

  • Educating for democracy is central to our mission.
  • We will prepare our students for a vibrant, diverse, and contentious society.
  • We will protect and defend free inquiry.

According to the consortium: “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.”

In addition to vandenBerg, 60 presidents have joined the College President for Civic Preparedness consortium to date, including the leaders of Amherst College, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, Middlebury College, and the University of Virginia. In Ohio, vandenBerg joins leaders at Cleveland State University, Denison University, and the University of Dayton in becoming part of the association.

Ohio Wesleyan’s longstanding commitment to civic engagement and civil discourse includes:

  • The Arneson Institute for Practical Politics and Public Affairs, which brings national and international guest speakers on campus; supports interdisciplinary student and faculty research involving local, state, national, and international public policy; and supports OWU’s Model United Nations and Moot Court teams.
  • Holding the oldest mock presidential nominating convention in American higher education, which dates back to 1884 and provides students with hands-on experience in holding platform hearings, drafting and debating a party platform, and nominating and electing candidates to run for the offices of U.S. president and vice president.
  • Partnering with the League of Women Voters on a focused voter registration, education, and turnout effort for the 2024 election and hosting the co-CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States as the 2024 commencement speaker.

Rajiv Vinnakota, president of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, said the consortium advances the institute’s mission to cultivate talent, ideas, and networks that develop young people as effective, lifelong citizens.

“Higher education has a responsibility to provide students with critical civic skills and knowledge to participate effectively in our constitutional democracy,” Vinnakota said. “College campuses are among the most diverse spaces in our country, and college is an important time for students to develop the habits, practices, and norms to live in a multicultural and interconnected democracy. Doing so can create a ripple effect, making young people more optimistic and increasingly committed about their future and our nation.”

First announced in August 2023, College Presidents for Civic Preparedness has been supported by ECMC Foundation, Einhorn Collaborative, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, One8 Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Lumina Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, and Teagle Foundation, with individual campuses providing support for their own related projects.

Learn more about the consortium at collegepresidents.org and more about Ohio Wesleyan at owu.edu.

Source, Photo: OWU


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