Our Compact: Renewed

September 27, 2016

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One of the things I most love about Campus Compact is the deep resonance of our name, especially the word compact. I picture the Puritans aboard the Mayflower in November of 1620, about to debark in a place about which they knew nothing, bringing with them virtually no tools to ensure their survival against the impending winter, and deciding that the highest priority was to form a compact by putting on paper that they “by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid.” I picture the signers of the Declaration of Independence, preparing, on the basis of a novel political theory, to stick a finger in the eye of a powerful king with a proven military, and recognizing that their act would be madness were it not for their strength of their compact, captured in the Declaration’s closing words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Last year, Campus Compact celebrated our 30th anniversary. Heading into that milestone year, our network—led by our national board—decided that the focus of our observances should not be on the path we had taken to get there but on the road ahead. We did not ignore our history, especially the fundamental values animating the founding and growth of our compact. But we dedicated our time and energy to answering this question: In light of Campus Compact’s core democratic values and the actual state of affairs in the United States and the world, what must we do together to shape the future? What is the meaning of our compact, our shared commitment, in the face of the challenges of our time?

We posed versions of that question in countless settings beginning in the spring of 2015. We engaged students, faculty, staff, community partners, and institutional leaders in conversations about how we could move from the inequality and polarization of our present to a more just, equitable, and sustainable democratic future. These conversations were surprising and challenging. Through them, our network developed an understanding that we must continue to challenge institutions to take a more comprehensive and thoroughgoing approach to the achievement of higher education’s public purposes. And we as a Compact must continue to challenge ourselves to support institutions in moving forward.

Out of these conversations came an agenda. It is our agenda for continuing to move higher education to embrace and achieve its public purposes. This agenda embodies the renewal of our Compact, our shared commitment to each other to work together to ensure higher education’s contribution to positive change. In the work we are doing to enact this agenda—every day, all across the country—all of us can see Our Compact: Renewed.

Our renewal is evident in the nearly 450 presidents and chancellors who have signed our 30th Anniversary Action Statement, committing to deepen their work to build partnerships, prepare students for democratic participation, embrace their place-based responsibilities, challenge inequality, and build these values into the roles of everyone on campus. These principled commitments are matched by a commitment to develop a Campus Civic Action Plan. Campus Compact—through our national office and state and regional Compacts—is working with hundreds of institutions on the development of these plans for change.

Our renewal is evident in the re-designed Newman Civic Fellowship, which will be announced in the coming weeks. Building on our history of recognizing outstanding student civic leaders, we will now offer Fellows an engaged fellowship experience through which they will build civic skills and create a national network of the next generation of public problem solvers. We will take the first step toward the realization of this new model with our inaugural national convening of Newman Civic Fellows at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in November.

Our renewal is evident in our new publishing partnership with Stylus, a leading higher education publisher. Through this alliance, Campus Compact will once again bring to practitioners, scholars, students, and community partners original works with an orientation toward putting great ideas about engagement into practice. Moreover, we will now be able to make these works available to readers using all of the channels available to a contemporary publisher. The first works created through this new arrangement will be available in the coming months.

Our renewal is evident in the professional credentialing program we are building for higher education community engagement professionals. This program will bring knowledge about how to do engagement work effectively developed over decades of research and practice to the people doing this work on the ground—and those who aspire to do it. We approach this work with the conviction that our shared high aspirations for a more just society mean that we must all continue to challenge ourselves to improve our practice. We expect to have the initial elements of the program ready to launch in the first half of 2017. Working with partner organizations and member institutions, we will enable participants to pull together diverse learning experiences to achieve a credential that stands as a symbol of their preparation and their commitment to excellence.

And there is more. You can see our renewal in our new podcast, a symbol of our commitment to innovation. You can see it the work we are undertaking within our national network to rise to the equity challenge around us. You can see it in our experimentation with new structures and practices to keep our state and regional Compacts strong and our network responsive.

Most importantly, I see the evidence of our renewal in the energy with which our member institutions approach the challenge of deepening the impact of their work for students, for communities, and for our democracy. I get calls and emails every day that reflect the widespread desire to do more and to achieve more. When I attend conferences and visit campuses, I learn about new efforts, new challenges, and new creativity in response to those challenges.

I am inspired by what I see and hear, and I am reminded that a compact is not an organization but an agreement among parties to work together toward a shared goal. If the goal were easy to achieve, we would not need to pledge to work together to get there. Our members have pledged to work together to achieve a more just and equitable democracy because doing so is important and the future is uncertain. Those of us charged with shepherding our Compact work every day to push the odds in our collective favor. We enter this fall with a little extra spring in our stride because we feel the energy of our shared renewal.

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