URBANA – The education of a University of Illinois student should be more than just acquisition of knowledge. It should be tied to service to society, said Chancellor Richard Herman.
"Citizenship and civic ethics and leadership must be the personal responsibility of us all, if we are ever to live in a truly just society," Herman said in a speech on the UI campus Tuesday. "We must be better at educating – even inspiring – students to realize that citizenship and leadership are the sacred duties of all people who would govern themselves."
To that end, Herman is creating the Chancellor's Task Force on Civic Commitment in the 21st Century. His office will sponsor a series of events for the 2006-07 academic year to address how to meet the challenges of modern citizenship.
A group of faculty, staff, students and people from the community will spend the rest of this academic year coming up with ideas for events, conferences, speakers and research projects.
"We have several thousand students per year that volunteer. We have 600 alone in the schools," Herman said. "Are there ways to blend these co-curricular activities into academics?"
One such idea is sending students to Washington, D.C., for internships at non-governmental organizations for academic credit, Herman said.
Administrators, faculty and students support tying leadership and civic activities to academic programs, rather than as extracurricular activities, said Associate Provost Ruth Watkins, who is working on the initiative.
She said there are several examples of such programs on campus already, including urban planning students working in East St. Louis, students in a UI writing program working with local high schools, psychology students working with the Crisis Nursery and a juvenile justice program, and special education students working with families with disabled children.
Watkins said UI leaders would like to see such programs expanded to academic areas where involvement in the community is less likely to happen. She also said increasing civic involvement of faculty and staff would serve as an example for students.
Herman spoke Tuesday about what those at the UI will do on "our watch" to make the university the premier public institution and to ensure students' education is about more than making a living in a global economy.
Herman said the UI needs to better promote its business and law schools, better relate its courses to international experiences or issues, and address socially important issues, such as energy needs.
"We also need to recognize the importance of our own backyard, meaning our own community, whether that be the research park generating jobs or working with the local schools," he said.
He said students need to be touched by the arts, driven by creativity, and able to address public issues and the pursuit of knowledge from multiple perspectives. And he said they, and all those at the university, must have a mission beyond personal goals.
"The great challenge of the Information Age is figuring out how to transform information into knowledge, wisdom, understanding, compassion and action," Herman said. "Our great challenge is to assure that our expanding knowledge also expands our humanity."