Departments that Integrate Civic Responsibility by Design in Majors

Posted by Association of American Colleges and Universities on November 6, 2017

AAC&U Selects Twenty-Two Institutions to Highlight Departments that Integrate Civic Responsibility by Design in Majors

Grant from the Endeavor Foundation Supports AAC&U’s Signature Initiative, Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced recently twenty-two departments from institutions across the country that are providing models for how to make civic learning and democratic engagement an expectation for all students who major in a given discipline. Nine departments listed below were singled out for special recognition and will be featured in an upcoming issue of Peer Review, AAC&U’s quarterly publication on emerging trends and key debates in undergraduate education. The issue, “Civic Learning in the Major by Design,” will be published in January 2018. Thirteen other departments, also listed below, will be featured on AAC&U’s website.

Supported by a grant from the Endeavor Foundation, this initiative aims to limit the civic-free zones within departments by providing guidance to colleges and universities as they tackle one of their most resistant, yet fertile, areas of civic learning by bringing it squarely into where students invest most of their academic attention: their majors.

A Crucible Moment: Civic Learning and Democracy’s Future (2012) found that most civic-oriented study occurs in the first two years of students’ academic careers and then shrinks demonstrably as they move into more concentrated academic study. One of the recommendations in A Crucible Moment calls on colleges and universities to “define within departments, programs, and disciplines the public purposes of their respective fields, the civic inquiries most urgent to explore, and the best way to infuse civic learning outcomes progressively across the major” (32).

AAC&U took up this challenge through a pilot initiative that resulted in the publication of Civic Prompts: Making Civic Learning Routine Across the Disciplines (2015) by Caryn McTighe Musil. Civic Prompts constructs a process for faculty members to hold deep conversations with their departmental colleagues to explore on their own disciplinary terms how best to make civic learning unavoidable. This new grant enables AAC&U to offer concrete models of what that actually looks like in practice.

Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives, and director of the Civic Learning in the Major by Design project, was impressed by the creativity and variety of ways that the selected departments used a civic lens to enhance the design of the major. “These civic-rich departmental designs seek to increase students’ comprehension of their discipline’s investigations, enhance voice and agency, offer hands-on practice in collaboratively addressing challenging public problems, and introduce students to moral, ethical, and civic responsibility issues that are likely to be part of their professional lives,” McTighe Musil said.

The grant from the Endeavor Foundation will also support national dissemination of some of the exemplary models through (1) a session at AAC&U’s 2018 Annual Meeting, to be held January 24–27 in Washington, DC; (2) a webinar in March 2018 for departments wanting to learn more about how to craft civic departmental designs; and (3) seed grants to support departments in their efforts to incorporate public questions, consequences, issues, and pedagogies into their major requirements.

The nine institutions and departments selected as featured case studies in Peer Review include:

  • Bates College (Maine): Environmental Studies
  • James Madison University (Virginia): Nursing and Social Work
  • Lehigh University (Pennsylvania): English
  • Providence College (Rhode Island): Public and Community Service
  • Saint Mary’s College of California (California): Justice, Community, and Leadership
  • Texas Woman’s University (Texas): Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • University of Puget Sound (Washington): African American Studies
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Tennessee): Sociology
  • Willamette University (Oregon): Civic Communication and Media

The thirteen institutions whose departmental designs will be featured on AAC&U’s website include:

  • Clark University (Massachusetts): Community, Youth, and Education
  • California State University–Monterey Bay (California): Human Communication
  • Emory & Henry College (Virginia): Civic Innovation
  • Fort Hays State University (Kansas): Leadership Studies
  • Gustavus Adolphus College (Minnesota): Communication Studies
  • Illinois State University (Illinois): School of Communication
  • Middlebury College (Vermont): Environmental Studies
  • Syracuse University (New York): Citizenship and Civic Engagement
  • Texas Lutheran University (Texas): Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship
  • University of Maine at Machias (Maine): Psychology and Communication Studies
  • University of Miami (Florida): Public Health
  • Weber State University (Utah): Social Work
  • Wittenberg University (Ohio): Environmental Science and Geology

For more information about Civic Prompts: Civic Learning in the Major by Design, visit

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