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Reclaiming the democratic purposes of American higher education

Tracing the trajectory of the civic engagement movement

Matthew Hartley

American colleges and universities have historically sought to promote an enlightened citizenry. In the early 1980s many felt that this civic purpose was in danger of being lost. What unfolded was a widespread educational reform movement aimed at reasserting the public and democratic purpose of American higher education. This article traces the trajectory of this movement and notes a significant emergent tension among movement members - the question of whether to seek broad-based legitimacy within the academy by aligning the efforts with disciplinary norms or to challenge the status quo and attempt to transform higher education and align its efforts with the pressing needs of America's democracy.