SUNY Geneseo Civic Action Plan 2017


Author
Robert A. Bonfiglio, Vice President for Student and Campus Life, SUNY Geneseo

Published
July 13, 2017


Vision and Mission

In the spring of 2016, SUNY Geneseo developed and adopted a new institution-wide strategic plan, which included a revised mission statement for the College.  The newly revised mission statement reinforced the College’s commitment espoused in the previous mission statement to “work together to advance knowledge and inspire students to be socially responsible.”  In addition, spring 2016 saw the President of SUNY Geneseo, Denise Battles, add her name to the college and university presidents endorsing the Campus Compact Thirtieth Anniversary Action Statement of Presidents and Chancellors, further cementing the College’s civic and community commitments.

Furthermore, the strategic planning process declared “civic responsibility” and “sustainability” to be foundational institutional values, with the aims of “promoting ethical local and global citizenship,” and “advancing just principles of ecological, social, and economic stewardship.”

To even more effectively fulfill its mission, and promote and act on its values pertaining to civic action, and in keeping with the expectations of the signatories of the Campus Compact Thirtieth Anniversary Action Statement of Presidents and Chancellors, the College created a civic action plan.  The civic action plan was based on the work of the Strategic Planning Group, the President’s Commission on Diversity and Community, the Applied Learning Task Force, the Project for the Common Good, and other groups and individuals at Geneseo who have put the development of civic responsibility at the forefront of their work.  In fact, the plan provided the College with an opportunity to integrate the work of these various groups and the aims of these various initiatives into one cohesive plan.

Campus Compact identified five core principles for creating an impactful civic action plan, and these core commitments were taken into account when framing the Geneseo plan.  These five core principles are:

1.     We empower our students, faculty, staff, and community partners to co-create mutually respectful partnerships in pursuit of a just, equitable, and sustainable future for communities beyond the campus—nearby and around the world.

2.     We prepare our students for lives of engaged citizenship, with the motivation and capacity to deliberate, act, and lead in pursuit of the public good.

3.     We embrace our responsibilities as place based institutions, contributing to the health and strength of our communities—economically, socially, environmentally, educationally, and politically.

4.     We harness the capacity of our institutions—through research, teaching, partnerships, and institutional practice—to challenge the prevailing social and economic inequalities that threaten our democratic future.

5.     We foster an environment that consistently affirms the centrality of the public purposes of higher education by setting high expectations for members of the campus community to contribute to their achievement.

Approach

Inherent in the newly articulated institutional strategic plan, as well as the civic action plan, is the idea that we as an institution could be a more effective agent of promoting civic responsibility and community based learning across the College. 

For example, there is often a lack of awareness how different institutional agents are approaching the development of civic agency in their daily work.  This is sometimes manifested in a lack of coherence and coordination in advancing the College’s civic agenda.  While at present, there are numerous College stakeholders involved in this effort, by better working together we could bring about greater institutional capacity to promote civic engagement that leads to student learning.

When Geneseo launched its participation in NASPA’s Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement initiative as a “Lead Institution,” one of the aims of its lead project was to define what we at Geneseo meant by the term “socially responsible citizens” found in the College mission statement at that time, and to identify the skills needed by socially responsible citizens that are important to, in the words of the former College mission statement, “the pursuit of an enriched life and success in the world.”

In 2013, a committee on Civic Engagement and Democratic Learning composed of faculty, students, and staff, and co-chaired by the Vice President for Student and Campus Life, and the Associate Provost, arrived at the following definition of “socially responsible citizens:”

individuals who recognize they are part of, and have an on-going commitment to, a larger community, and take ethical action to contribute to the well-being of others, broadly conceived, sharing responsibility for the current and future public good

In addition, the committee identified the following types of skills needed by socially responsible citizens that they deemed important to “the pursuit of an enriched life and success in the world.” 

Intellectual skills in a civic context, including

  • analytical and critical thinking skills
  • decision making skills
  • reflective thinking skills
  • ability to apply one’s disciplinary knowledge to participation in public life

Communication skills in a civic context, including

  • verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • written communication skills
  • listening skills
  • interpersonal communication skills
  • ability to articulate complex concepts successfully
  • ability to express criticism in a civil manner            

Collaboration skills in a civic context, including

  • conflict resolution and problem solving skills
  • organizational skills
  • political skills
  • community building skills
  • empathy
  • multicultural competence

The application of these skills requires the motivation to act in a civic context, including

  • the willingness to take public action
  • the willingness to take reasonable risks
  • the willingness to motivate others
  • the willingness to advocate for social action on behalf of others

Lastly, the group expanded on the College’s core values at the time in the context of socially responsible citizenship:

  • excellence rooted in the application of talents and skills to achieve a superior accomplishment
  • innovation fueled by intellectual curiosity and a vision of a better future
  • community informed by civility
  • diversity flowing from the highest regard for human dignity
  • integrity that encompasses the ethical considerations of one’s actions
  • service to society based on responsibility to others

In developing the College’s 2017 civic action plan we revisited these concepts, and updated them to conform to the revisions to the College’s mission statement and values, as well as the emerging Geneseo Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE).  In addition, the College strategic plan has specified eight individual objectives that, taken together, contribute to the conception of a civic action plan for SUNY Geneseo.   They are:

  • increase the number and accessibility of applied learning opportunities, including internships
  • develop a faculty responsibility and evaluation model that encourages, supports, and recognizes teaching outside of the classroom, especially in connection with applied/integrative learning, undergraduate research, and other high impact practices
  • encourage, support, and recognize staff contributions in co-curricular programming, especially in applied learning
  • build a system for documenting applied and integrative learning achievement, both curricular and co-curricular
  • promote opportunities for student/faculty research, service, and economic development
  • increase student volunteerism in the local community, as well as in state, national and international contexts
  • develop relationships with the Humphrey Nature Center in Letchworth State Park to enhance its public programs and to provide opportunities for our students
  • increase student internships and service-learning opportunities in the local community, as well as in state, national, and international contexts

Conclusion

Once this plan is fully enacted, it is anticipated that:

  • across the institution there will be a shared, operationalized recognition of the centrality of civic action in a Geneseo education;
  • this recognition will be informed by the systematic, comprehensive collection and reporting of data related to student, faculty and staff involvement in educationally intentional civic activities;
  • this recognition will be evidenced by a common vocabulary for this work, and greater coordination of institutional structures that promote this aim.

The enactment of this plan, however, would not mark the end of a journey for the College.  Ultimately, the ability of the College to achieve its aims related to civic learning will be contingent on its capacity to demonstrate, in its mission, leadership and advocacy; its general education program; its majors; its student and campus life program; its community-based experiences; and its reward structures, the Four Dimensions of a Civic-Minded Institution described in A Crucible Moment:  College Learning and Democracy’s Future, the report of the Association of American Colleges and Universities National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (2012).  These four dimensions are:  civic ethos; civic literacy; civic inquiry; and civic action. 

By demonstrating these four dimensions across the Geneseo experience, the College will, to quote William M. Sullivan, better “enable students to make sense of the world and their place in it, to prepare them to use knowledge and skills as means toward responsible engagement with the life of their times (source: “The Twin Elements of Learning:  Knowledge and Judgment,” Liberal Education, Summer 2010, 12).”


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