Campus Compact is dedicated to the proposition that colleges and universities have a special role to play in creating and sustaining the conditions for a thriving democracy. For that reason, we are compelled to respond to events in Baltimore, related protests across the country, and their antecedent conditions by providing our view of how colleges and universities can take positive action. We offer this view with a recognition that our colleges and universities are not separated from the broader society. The lives of students, faculty, and staff are directly affected by these issues, both on and off campus. We recognize also that many colleges and universities have long histories of leadership in addressing crucial public issues. We hope to call attention to the lessons learned through those histories to inspire even greater commitment across higher education.
Two inter-related conditions are increasingly undermining democratic practice in the United States: the explosion of inequality and the disappearance of space for thoughtful deliberative public discussion. As has been widely documented, economic inequality has spiked over the last four decades, and mobility has been in steep decline. There is broad agreement in the United States that differences in income and wealth are legitimate in a market economy. However, as gaps have grown and residential segregation by income has increased, we have separated ourselves into communities with vastly different access to wealth, education, and the political influence that comes with both. The persistence of historical racial inequality means that this class divide is mirrored in a racial chasm.
At the same time, myriad factors have contributed to the polarization of our political discourse and a sharp reduction of thoughtful discussion leading to shared solutions based on the common good.
When groups feel aggrieved, our legitimate political processes are supposed to provide channels for resolving those grievances. When confidence in those processes erodes and our broader community is riven by mistrust, we find ourselves without civil and productive means for achieving solutions.
Colleges and universities cannot, of course, solve these problems by themselves. At the same time, no social institution is as well positioned as higher education to have positive influence in both advancing progress toward equality and re-establishing space for meaningful democratic deliberation. Colleges and universities can take immediate steps while also beginning sustained work to effect long-term change. Campus Compact calls upon our 1100 member colleges and universities and all of higher education to act, and we commit ourselves to supporting institutions as they do. While we are prompted to issue this call by events in which race and class have taken center stage, we encourage campuses to take the opportunity for reflection on how they can advance equality along a wide range of dimensions and how they can broaden and deepen existing efforts.