American democracy is in danger
Here's how universities can help to protect it
Five months after the insurrection of Jan. 6, the country is still waiting for answers. How could this have happened—and why? Who should be held to account for an attack on the heart of our government? Were mistakes made in preparation or response?
These are important questions that demand a reply. But our inability to answer—or even debate—them reflects the deepening chasm in our democracy and raises even more urgent issues.
Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to nurture democracy, and to strengthen the norms and cultural beliefs that are necessary for it to function.
What must we do to protect and strengthen the principles that define and guide our American experiment? How can we build a democratic culture that bolsters our institutions and ensures they work effectively—for everyone? How can we repair damage that’s already been done?
This, of course, is the responsibility of every citizen. But it’s also a special responsibility of institutions of higher education. Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to nurture democracy, and to strengthen the norms and cultural beliefs that are necessary for it to function.
As leaders within higher education, we also can’t deny that some people think universities are part of the problem instead of a part of the solution. We have our own work to do in rebuilding trust and credibility with all Americans, especially the skeptics who portray us only as instruments of liberal indoctrination or protectors of ingrained systems of power.
The good news is the most valuable work universities can undertake to support democracy is purposeful and non-partisan. And there is plenty we can and should contribute.