A grand meeting hall in Strasbourg, France — ancient site for reconciliation and learning. A discussion of citizenship, human rights, and civic responsibility. Three hundred leaders in higher education selected from across North America and Europe, and higher education policy makers from other parts of the world. Mary Baldwin University President Pamela Fox was one of them.
“I was extremely energized to be part of the unusual gathering of stakeholders in higher education from around the world — primarily Europe and the United States,” Dr. Fox said shortly after returning from the conference, which was sponsored and hosted by the Council of Europe at its headquarters (pictured right on front).
It is rare for the president of a small liberal arts college in America to be selected for audience with people such as the president of the International Association of Universities, the minister of education from the Republic of Macedonia, and the secretary general and commissioner of human rights for the Council of Europe, among others. Dr. Fox saw value in breaking for a few days from the intimate, hands-on management of day-to-day operations at the college to contemplate the role of education in addressing global issues such as literacy, access to education, poverty, human rights, famine, disease, religious conflicts, and more. Because of her involvement, Mary Baldwin will be one of a select few American colleges to endorse, as a founding partner, an international commitment to use higher education to advance sustainable democratic culture (see excerpts below). She plans to use this experience to articulate how activities on campus and in the surrounding community — as well as abroad — can translate into impact on a global scale.
“Meaningful participation in one’s own community is the key to change on a larger scale,” Fox said. “At Mary Baldwin, we are successful at engaging students, faculty, and staff in community service. We need to continue those efforts, and supplement them with ways to connect those experiences to what’s happening in the world and opportunities for global citizenship.”
Increased interest in civic engagement is percolating at many U.S. colleges and universities, and Mary Baldwin recently adopted the topic as the focus of the college’s QEP — shorthand for Quality Enhancement Plan. Implementing a QEP is one of several requirements Mary Baldwin must meet to retain its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). A draft of the plan — including specific strategies for embedding civic engagement in Mary Baldwin’s educational mindset — is slated for completion at the end of July.
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Brief History of the Council of Europe and the Forum:
Founded in 1949, the Council considers itself to be the center of the united work of Europe’s democratic states for the shared values of human rights, education, democracy, and the rule of law. The Council is therefore distinct in history and purpose from the European Union, the principle economic entity.
The forum was organized in cooperation with the International Consortium of Higher Education, Civic Responsibility and Democracy, comprised of: the American Council on Education, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and Campus Compact. The forum was intended to build upon previous work to explore the responsibility of higher education for advancing sustainable democratic culture. Panelists reviewed a series of previous statements and declarations dating from 1997 onward.
Key excerpts from the declaration:
As higher education leaders we affirm our commitment to democratic practice; our conviction that higher education has an essential role in furthering democratic culture; and our obligation to educate each successive generation to renew and develop the attitudes, values and skills needed for this to become a reality.
We further affirm our conviction that the complex environmental, economic and societal issues can only be solved at the local, national, and global levels if citizens can combine basic democratic values with a local knowledge and understanding of the relationship of these challenges.
We declare our obligation to safeguard democracy by supporting and advancing within higher education as well as society at large the principles of:
- Democratic and accountable structures, processes and practices
- Active democratic citizenship
- Human rights, tolerance and social justice
- Environmental and societal sustainability
- Dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts