The federal government shutdown is garnering a great deal of attention and outrage. Late last week, AASCU, along with five other national higher education associations, issued a joint community statement on the shutdown, calling for our campuses to treat it as a teachable moment and to encourage civic learning and engagement (see below).
AASCU’s American Democracy Project also sent out a query asking campus coordinators if they were utilizing the government shutdown for the purposes mentioned above and, if so, how they were doing it. Stephen F. Austin State University’s (Texas) Democracy Wall, a free speech area similar to the Democracy Plaza at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is dedicated to the shutdown this month. SUNY Buffalo State is engaging in classroom-based discussion of the shutdown vis a vis the private capture of public goods and Larry Diamond’s “Physician Heal Thyself” chapters from his 2009 book The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World. And at Western Carolina University, the International Programs & Services office is making sure that students studying abroad or planning to go abroad are well aware of how passport, visas, embassies, and consulates are functioning in face of the shutdown.
Community Statement on Shutdown of the Federal Government
My colleagues and I write as college and university leaders, concerned about the effect that the ongoing political paralysis in Washington is having on our country. The shutdown of federal agencies and the potential for default if the government’s borrowing limit is not raised are having a significant effect on the nation’s economy and many of our fellow citizens. This stalemate threatens to exacerbate the cynicism Americans already feel about the function and importance of their government.
This is a challenging time for our democratic process, a process which has served our country well for more than 200 years.
We are deeply concerned by the growing resignation of the American people to this “new normal”: the idea that Washington is so broken and dysfunctional that it cannot be fixed, only ignored or ridiculed. Our democratic government is most effective when it embraces open discourse, bipartisan cooperation and the art of compromise. These traditions have served us well since our founding, and are at the heart of the success of the American Experiment.
We believe this gradual acceptance of government dysfunction should be vigorously challenged and that each college and university can play a role in doing so. We call on colleges and universities around the country to bring together students, business and community leaders, and the public to engage in conversations and to be active engaged citizens. We should focus attention on the processes that ensure responsible government and sound budget policy.
Our nation was built upon the idea of a new form of government. Inherent in this promise is the idea of compromise and respect for the views of others. The belief in ideas and respect for conflicting viewpoints is also a core purpose of education. Together we can and must act to ensure the current stalemate in Washington is used to renew our students’ interest and commitment to democracy, rather than to discourage it.
We hope each of our institutions will make that possibility real for students and communities across the nation.
With warm regards,
Muriel A. Howard, Ph.D.
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
In cooperation with:
M. Peter McPherson, President
Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
Hunter R. Rawlings III, President
Association of American Universities
David L. Warren, President
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities