by Laura Huenneke, Provost

I really enjoyed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s visit to campus this past Monday. Her conversation was a reminder that legal minds are very disciplined and focused, not too patient with fuzzy thinking or the confusion of political with legal analysis.

Her thesis is that civic engagement is endangered, in part because of the waning of civic education and in part because of decreasing participation in civic discourse. People seem less likely today to hold thoughtful conversations or engage in difficult discussions; instead we hear polarized shouting or witness passive disengagement.

Justice O’Connor suggested that we accept invitations to serve – for example, on juries or in volunteer activities — as well as invest in civics education. On that point, NAU is doing a good job. Our faculty are leaders in the American Democracy Project, and our students benefit from service learning projects, action research teams and so on.

But what about engagement in the life of our own academic community?

The Faculty Senate is tackling important issues this year but struggles to fill its committees and councils; some colleges are not well represented. Another forum for engagement is the PlanNAU website, established to encourage discussion in our strategic planning process. Some interesting ideas have been posted, but not many of them draw any comments or true exchange of thoughtful ideas.

Engagement begins here at home. How do we encourage a vigorous, diverse, but respectful exchange of ideas?