I had a scheduled call with our newspaper publisher in central Connecticut on the morning of Friday, December 14th, to complain about what I thought was an unfair story about the university. But as we began to talk he sounded very different from his usual friendly, open self: the newsroom was just learning the full magnitude of the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary, and he was trying to figure out how to communicate it. Needless to say, I dropped my banal reason for calling and got off the phone quickly. Over the next few hours, the unimaginable tragedy became clear to all, and darkness settled on the entire region.
No one knew what to do, except our campus police officers, who by nature of their training know exactly what to do. They spent significant time in Newtown from the start and for days afterward, serving in motorcades and helping an overstretched local police force overwhelmed by media trucks and logistics of so many funerals. Everyone else on campus was pretty much frozen. The news starting pouring in about who was killed and of course there were scores of horrifying connections to our students, staff, faculty and alumni.
My first instinct was to cancel or at least avoid the holiday parties, many still planned for the days ahead. But then you remember that people worked hard to plan these, and want to be together no matter the context. That was true, and so we gathered. Of course Newtown was the topic and there were many tears, as things were still unfolding. We have an incredibly humane governor, who showed the depth of his feelings for people who suffer long before the events unfolded in Newtown. Those who know him got some comfort to hear that he was in the firehouse near Sandy Hook, and had been the one to tell 20 sets of parents that their children would not be coming home.
What were we to do as a university once the shock passed? This was not an on-campus tragedy, and the grief was in phone calls and on screens. Many UConn people live near or in Newtown, so their proximity made the trauma unavoidable. But it was not a time to head over to Sandy Hook, unless you were a police officer or first responder, so we had to set back and think about our responsibility as the flagship university, with so many in our community touched directly by a massacre of small children.
The email and phone calls started flowing in to me, as faculty, students, and staff communicated their ideas of what we should do – fund-raisers, memorials, video messages, websites, policy recommendations, and other very fine thoughts. I was staring into space by that Sunday afternoon, a bit overwhelmed by the creativity and possibilities, but we just couldn’t do all these things well. Then our Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, called with the best idea of all: a scholarship campaign for the siblings of Sandy Hook victims who might – in a few years – become UConn students. An excellent idea and we ran quickly with it, collecting nearly $500,000 within a few days. The campaign is still on and will be for a long while, at this address.
One of the victims’ parents wrote me a few days ago about how touched they were for our efforts on the scholarship fund, so I am certain that was at least one meaningful initiative. But this fund is the long-term good we can do for Newtown; the agonizing loss and trauma are still right here and right now.
I hope no university ever needs this list again, but here is what we at UConn have done over the past 10 days, beyond the scholarship fund:
Academic Contributions from the School of Education: Days after the shooting, Professor George Sugai, a nationally recognized expert on school violence, joined with eight other researchers to draft a position paper outlining proposals for a scientifically informed approach to preventing future tragedies. Already, the document (which can be found here) has been endorsed by scores of top researchers and policy experts, along with more than 100 professional organizations.
Commemorations: Following the tragedy, Connecticut towns saw an outpouring of public grief and support for the victims, and the UConn community was no exception. We did not hold a vigil on campus. Instead, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff members attended the candlelight vigil in Mansfield, home of the university’s main campus. This was about our town and our state, not our campus. Days later UConn responded to Governor Malloy’s call for a day of mourning with a commemoration in Hartford attended by hundreds, organized by the vice chair of our Board of Trustees.
Athletics: UConn is home to two of the country’s premiere basketball teams, and they receive significant television time with broad national audiences. Both teams held candlelit moments of silence for the victims at games following the tragedy, with the women’s game against the University of Hartford on Dec. 22 including participation from the Newtown Youth Girls’ Basketball Association. Both teams will wear patches on their uniforms this season that say “SH” in green and white, the colors of Sandy Hook School. And Coach Auriemma’s prominence enabled us to secure him spots on CNN and MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," where he was able to speak about our scholarship fund.
Genetics Research: Wayne Carver, the Chief Medical Examiner of Connecticut, enlisted the assistance of the department of genetics and developmental biology at the UConn Health Center in conducting tests on tissue samples from the gunman. Carver wants to learn whether the killer may have had a genetic disease or condition, and UConn’s nationally renowned geneticists will offer any support he requires.
Help for Parents and First Responders: In the wake of any tragedy, one of the most overlooked aspects of the response is providing proper attention and care for first responders and others who may have been traumatized by the horror they encountered. Julian Ford, a professor of psychiatry in the UConn School of Medicine, has been providing expert advice on the best ways to address post-traumatic stress disorder, and also on how parents should talk with their children about the flood of graphic images and information from the tragedy.
Just Being There: The bonds forged at a university are so strong, as Marvin McNeill, UConn’s Assistant Director of Athletic Bands, was reminded at the funeral for little Olivia Engel, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook School. Olivia’s father, Brian, is an alumnus of the marching band, and when he saw Marvin along with other members of the band representing UConn at his daughter’s funeral, he clasped Marvin in a strong embrace. “I whispered that I am bringing much love, prayer, and support from the UConn Marching Band into his ear, and he thanked me and squeezed a little harder,” Marvin said.
Susan Herbst is president of the University of Connecticut.
If ever an American campus personified “trouble in paradise” it’s Duke University. Rape accusations against three lacrosse players, documentation of repugnant student behavior, a slow administrative response, and a local election fueled by the controversy promise to keep one of the nation’s elite universities in an embarrassing spotlight it would desperately like to avoid and that keeps on returning with new developments, such as the reinstatement of the lacrosse team. The charges brought by an African-American student from North Carolina Central University have evoked discussions of race and privilege, as well as those of violence against women, as they should. At the same time, the often ignored saga of problematic town-gown relations between elite universities and their host communities demands a reinvigorated discourse of its own.
Unfortunately, the dialogue generated by the press provides an oversimplified and ahistorical characterization of town-gown relations, leading to poor policy decisions and hackneyed press releases. More than likely the months ahead will include announcements and initiatives by Duke and other elite universities about better serving their host communities, and more than likely most professors, students and town residents will see few meaningful changes.
However, if educators at Duke and elsewhere want to promote good relations with their home towns, they must understand that town-gown relations go much deeper than rowdy students, zoning disputes, and the snobbery of looking down at townies. Of course, many reports on town-gown troubles implicitly suggest that such issues comprise the totality of tensions.
A recent New York Times article highlighting the strained relations between Duke and Durham, for example, argued that the Trinity Park neighborhood bordering Duke University’s East Campus “got its first taste of infamy in January of last year” when police busted a party featuring bikini-clad women wrestling in baby oil to the delight of numerous Dukies. While the incident somehow warranted comment in the national news media, it was hardly a “first taste of infamy” to the residents of the neighborhood. A decade earlier a Duke community relations committee noted the need to address the persistent problems of “student parties which frequently last until 5:00 a.m. and the attendant problems of noise, trash, abusive language, greater levels of debauchery then [sic] in past years, excessive drinking including underage drinking.” The neighborhood meeting report also noted the surrounding residents’ irritation with Duke’s perceived lack of action.
In another article, a Raleigh News & Observer journalist opined that Duke would flee Durham if given the opportunity and the Bull City would be happy to see the institution go. Such an argument fails to consider the fact that Duke possesses the resources to retreat even further into the secluded Duke Forest (albeit still within the Durham limits) if it so desired. The comment also ignores the current economic impact of the university on the local economy (over $3 billion annually). Duke employs nearly 15 percent of Durham’s resident work force, and another 18,000 commute into Durham to work at Duke. The mean annual salary of “hourly” or non-professional staff amounts to nearly $40,000, while the mean professional salary exceeds $72,000. So, even the most vociferous Duke detractors would not want to see the institution leave. Finally, such characterizations fail to properly inform both locals and Duke employees of the institution’s original reasons for moving to Durham.
The old cliché that those who refuse to study the past are destined to repeat it might apply here. Reporters are misrepresenting the Duke-Durham situation largely because they do not know about its town-gown legacy. Duke’s town-gown story began over 100 years ago when both Raleigh and Durham fought to bring Trinity College, a Methodist institution located 70 miles west of Durham, in rural Randolph County, to their respective towns. Durham, an unkempt tobacco and textile town, needed some cultivation. Keenly aware of its image, Durham’s “Bull City” boosters outbid the state capital for the small college (which would become Duke University in 1924). The institution, argued many, would bring not only academic resources to the community but would provide the civilizing and refining influence needed in a town of the New South. Trinity would offer the town an opportunity “to enjoy the best available talent in furnishing a class of entertainment of high character” -- something the next lacrosse coach at Duke might want to reiterate to the new recruiting class.
John Crowell, president of Trinity College when it moved to Durham, believed an urban landscape was essential to the work of any truly great American university. It provided the best location to study and develop solutions to the great challenges facing America’s cities. He believed Durham offered the opportunity to study “sanitation, pauperism, crime, mortality and morality.” Without the guiding principals of scientific inquiry and the quest for truth, Durham was “doomed to cankerous decay.” In this comment Crowell echoed Daniel Coit Gilman who, as the first president of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, envisioned universities that would “make for less misery among the poor, less ignorance in the schools, [and] less bigotry in the temple.”
In the early 20th century, Trinity’s town-gown relations were characterized by isolation. Strict rules of conduct guided by an in loco parentis philosophy led to the prohibition of “alcohol, ... theatricals, sleight of hand, natural or artificial curiosities, or any performance in music, singing or dancing within two miles of the campus.” Locals often criticized the university's lack of involvement in the town’s affairs. Despite Crowell’s intention help solve Durham’s social ills, he lamented the fact that “the general burden of the college was to make good in the estimate of the community.”
Now, several decades removed from Crowell’s idyllic vision, many national writers have noted the parallels between Duke and Tom Wolfe’s depiction of DuPont University in his latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. The fictional university, which resembles Duke in many ways, demonstrates the preeminence of sex, alcohol and athletics over serious academic studies. Much earlier, however, another Tom Wolfe (the late Thomas) detailed his own collegiate experiences in North Carolina. In his autobiographical fictional work, Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, originally published in 1929, the author chronicles the life of a student in “Pulpit Hill” who heads to a house of ill repute in a nearby tobacco town (presumably Durham) where he loses his virginity to a prostitute -- even before flappers, Durham offered the taboo temptations.
All of the town-gown developments during the first half of the century occurred during the Jim Crow era, when white leaders of both Durham and Duke did not seriously consider that the community’s African-Americans would fight to gain their own seat at the table. When the fighting did begin, it solidified the already negative image of the university among many local residents. At the same time, university students nationwide successfully challenged rules set in place generations earlier that had at least kept more licentious behavior under the radar. As students and townsfolk asserted their views on civil rights and rules of student behavior, town-gown issues became increasingly complicated.
As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Duke hosted the 1942 Rose Bowl. In response to an article in the town’s African-American newspaper titled, “Duke Athletic Officials Bar Negroes from Bowl Game but Will Allow Japs,” the university allowed a small segregated group of black spectators to attend. In the following decade, Duke’s administration moved slowly to admit African-Americans, arguing that its private status exempted it from complying with the 1954 Brown decision. While Durham’s urban renewal divided and devastated parts of the black community, the university acquired more properties and forced the removal of low-income residents to make way for its expansion.
At the same time the university avoided unwanted development and continued to acquire more property. Duke’s actions were no different from those of many successful American universities, but this did not justify the behavior and has left a strain on the collective mind of many African-American people. Further, the university’s growth coincided with the demise of the textile industry that had built Durham, bolstering the view of Duke as the wealthy ivory tower in a struggling working-class town.
Long before today’s traditional undergraduates at Duke were born, the town-gown legacy had been put into motion. Terry Sanford, a politician-turned-university president, managed to assuage some Durham leaders through his own personal initiatives and appeal. Not until the early 1990s, however, did Duke’s administration realize that an intentional good-neighbor policy needed to be implemented to combat the characterization of Duke as “The Plantation” or the “800-Pound Gorilla.”
President Nannerl Keohane’s administration first formalized a town/gown policy through the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. The initiative is representative of many similar projects across the nation aimed at bettering town/gown relations. For example, Yale instituted its Office of New Haven and State Affairs, while Penn developed a Center for Community Partnerships in Philadelphia. While Duke’s program continues to help local neighborhoods surrounding the campus through low-interest loans, involvement in educational and recreational programs and student volunteer efforts (to name just a few), it has failed to address student behavior, a point that has been made by Duke administrators and Durham residents for years. Failure to do so only perpetuates a saga that does not help Duke as it tries to maintain its leadership post in academe.
And now, as the relatively new administration of President Richard Brodhead deals with its first major crisis on a national stage, Duke has a distinct opportunity. Will it expand on what former President Crowell suggested by examining social issues of racism, sexual violence, and class issues by first looking inward? Will it ask if the “dangers” of unruly students are as much of a threat as the danger of an urban locale? Will Duke couple the current discussion with the now-out-of-vogue dialogue of personal virtue, morality and responsibility no matter what class, race or gender a student represents? The institution would be well served to do so. However, indications from Duke professors such as Houston A. Baker, who have criticized the administration’s slow response, suggest a reluctance on the part of the institution to accept the challenge.
Duke is rich and many of its surrounding neighborhoods are poor. Will it expend its vast resources at levels beyond those necessary for positive press releases, and will it intentionally direct its immense amount of intellectual resources toward helping its neighbors? More importantly for the larger academy, is it the responsibility of an elite university to do so, and does this aid or diminish the essential mission of teaching and research? In sum, Duke is an affirmative-action employer. Will it now become more intentional about being an affirmative-action neighbor?
With Duke’s history of strained town-gown relationships, the current scandal already is another devastating setback, regardless of the trial’s outcome. For example, Newsweek quoted one North Carolina Central Student hoping for a prosecution because, “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for the things that happened in the past.” Duke’s Neighborhood Partnership Initiative is a start, but it must do more. If Duke is to make a marked change in its legacy, it would be wise to study its history and heed former president Crowell’s argument that if the institution was ever to achieve what it was capable of, “We shall have to build a town and college both” -- a colossal task to be sure but one that could become a model for other elite institutions to emulate.
Eric Moyen is assistant professor of education at Lee University. His doctoral dissertation at the University of Kentucky examined town-gown relations in Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.
How often have we heard, “People with talent and ideas are America’s greatest resource”? And yet, while colleges and universities have as their primary goal the delivery of top quality academic programs, few take full advantage of the talents that are available to help meet this goal from the retired professionals in their communities.
In most university and college communities there is a growing pool of talented retired or transitioning individuals who would like nothing more than to make a difference by using their knowledge and experience to improve their communities and institutions while continuing the process of their own personal development.
Added to this resource is the emerging wave of boomers who will be not retiring in the traditional way. They will be reinventing themselves as they enter new careers and develop new active roles of service. These will be professionals from a wide variety of fields (education, health, government, the arts, business and nonprofit executives, scientists, engineers, and retired military etc.) who have the energy, interest and ability to continue as active contributing members of society for a longer period of time than any preceding generation. With each year thousands of highly trained individuals are added to this growing but under-utilized pool of talent.
Unfortunately, few colleges and universities have made any formal attempt to develop a successful working relationship between the institution and this exciting and capable source of talent. Relationships have been more a matter of chance than conscious planning.
Most of these focus on the use of retired faculty living in the area or local professionals to serve as part-time faculty to meet a very specific and unmet instructional need. For many retired individuals, this form of relationship is inappropriate, of little interest, or impractical since they may be available for periods of time that do not mesh with the academic calendar. The question then becomes how to best take advantage of more diverse individuals to improve the quality of our institution?
There are a wide range of possible options for involving transitioning or full-time retired persons in the day to day operation of every institution. The alternatives have the potential not only of being extremely beneficial to a college or university and to the community, but at the same time can significantly improve the personal well-being of those who are offering their services. The institution, the community, and the volunteer can all gain from this relationship.
Using the Talent
In addition to teaching a course for credit, other services that these individuals can provide are:
Professional Expertise: Building on their backgrounds, they can serve as guest lecturers, members of panels or as special advisers to students working on team projects In addition, they can be tutors for students who enter courses with special needs or mentors to those students who would like assistance as they address advanced topics in greater depth. The challenge here for faculty is finding the right person or persons with the right set of competencies who will be able to mesh into the instructional sequence that is planned.
Life Experiences: One area of possible service that is often overlooked is the ability for these individuals to bring to the classroom a perspective that may have little or nothing to do with their professional fields of expertise. For example, in every community there are individuals who have lived through the depression of the early 1930’s, served in the military in WWII or the wars that followed, individuals who have lived through the Holocaust or other major genocides, people who have had to face religious or racial intolerance, were active in the Civil Rights Movement, have lived through the challenges of moving to the United States from another country, or have spent parts of their careers working overseas. In each instance, their participation can add a unique dimension to any class studying these periods or subjects. Bringing experts in music, art, or theater into a discussion of a particular period of time or social movement or inviting natives of other countries to discuss the culture and attitudes of different societies can add a texture to a discussion that is otherwise impossible. The key, once again, is the creative use of these various talents within the context of courses and programs.
In nontraditional settings: As more institutions view the out-of-classroom environment as a vital element of the academic and learning experience, these individuals can be used as guest resident counselors, club advisers, program consultants, discussion leaders, etc. Not only can they add a vital element of reality that is so often missing in such activities but, in many cases, they may be available to students at times and in places when most faculty are not.
Adding another dimension: There is one additional use of these citizens that, while rarely taken advantage of, can be of significant benefit to the entire institution. Recent research on how people think has shown that as people mature they become what has been called “transformative” or “critical” thinkers, willing and able to question assumptions, beliefs and traditions. With their extensive backgrounds, these individuals have the potential of adding a unique element to a classroom and the campus. These mature and experienced people can help both students and institutional leaders make plans for the future and address new and often unique challenges.
There are a number of existing programs that can provide details on various approaches. As institutions and communities are different, so are the options. Every program reflects the unique culture of the sponsoring institution; they are not cut from any cookie cutter.
The Elderhostel Institute Network is a central office providing information and resources for Institutes for Learning in Retirement (ILR) in the United States, Canada and Bermuda. Elderhostel and Olli programs (the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes) provide a core of talented retired individuals. In many other countries these programs are known as Universities of the Third Age (U3A). See this Web site for a complete listing:
In the U.S. there are four interesting programs that reflect this diversity:
The Plato Society, at the University of California at Los Angeles, is a good example of an active program in a complex multipurpose university, with excellent outreach in the community.
The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement is part of an extensive research program in adult learning issues. The outreach and variety of programs it offers has become a major force in drawing early retirees to this region of the country.
The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College is one of the earliest and most comprehensive programs in the U.S. In a single day, members are advising students, participating in formal on-campus class activities, or attending peer led sessions for members on drama, studio arts computer technology, science and society, the classics, magic, music, current events, and offering a public forum on “The Politics of Identity in a Global Context." Members with scientific backgrounds have, at the request of government officials, conducted a major study of water resources in the region while others played a key role in designing a leadership training program for implementing change for school districts that was funded by a major community foundation in the area. In the course of a year, 28 forums and lecture series in archeology and musicology were given by members for the general public. Members served on many nonprofit boards and government agencies and played an active role in Elderhostel programs offered at the institution. An annual publication includes creative research and writings by members. Working with Eckerd College, the academy also serves as the sponsor and source of coaches for the college’s student award winning participation in the annual national Ethics Bowl. Members have been requested to serve in about 100 class rooms as either “faculty colleagues” or “resource” persons. In addition, one member, a retired diplomat, funded an endowed scholarship in International Affairs and the members contributed about $750,000 to renovate the building in which they meet, which was once the college president’s home.
Civic Ventures provides a portal through which active seniors can make a difference in society. While not necessarily related to a college or university, many of the Civic Ventures approaches can easily be applied to other programs.
The first challenge that institutions face is establishing a process to locate the individuals with the needed talents and willingness to participate; educate faculty and administrators about the potential use of this group; and make the match between needs and opportunities.
Most significantly, this relationship between the college or university and the community cannot be left to chance. It needs to be planned, communicated and perceived as an integral element in the mission of the institution. Fortunately, the costs involved are modest and the benefits will far outweigh the time, energy and the dollars required. Some key suggestions:
The initial first step is establishing an office to facilitate the program. While, in time, it has the potential of bringing financial resources to the institution, the program should be located in the office of academic affairs and not under development. Avoid any hint of second class academic status in the initial design. It is vital that priorities be placed in three distinct areas: 1) the immediate and long term needs of the institution; 2) the intellectual needs of the volunteers; and 3) the future needs of the community.
Provide some appropriate title (Fellows) with academic privileges such as access to library, research facilities and parking. While most volunteers would not expect to be paid for their services, some formal program of recognition and appreciation should be established.
Draw up an initial list of potential recruits from distinguished prospective professionals in fields that are related to your institution’s curriculum, strengths and needs and to other fields that are of importance to the well-being of the community. It is important that this group be as diversified as possible and not dominated by any one profession or group.
Get faculty, administrative and community involvement from the beginning. Establish a high quality advisory board with representatives from all three categories.
Provide adequate space for meetings and for growth. The space can serve multiple purposes, but transitioning professionals require a “place” as a surrogate office where they can work, meet and network with colleagues, etc. Since parking will be essential, a location near but not necessarily on-campus is most important.
Provide funding and staff for the initial year or two. If the group is successfully meeting the needs of its members it will become self-sufficient in a relatively short period of time.
Create some simple, but formal, organizational structure through Bylaws that will give the group an identity, and related through the office of Academic Affairs. Normally the group itself will be involved in this process during the first year of organization.
This program, if developed with care, has the potential of generating far more benefits to the institution, the individual volunteers and to the community than is immediately apparent. For example, in addition to their instructionally related functions, such a group might serve as:
Ambassadors of the school in the community (volunteers are more credible than paid employees).
A core think-tank, with sub-groups, on a wide variety of issues, and commissioned by community groups for special studies and tasks.
A source of potential research colleagues and collaborators for faculty.
The resource bank for speakers, consultants, etc.
The energy source and place from which professionals develop their own talents, form new professional relationships and spin off new enterprises.
A special “advisory” group for senior institutional officers and sounding board for testing new ideas, evaluation and planning.
A talent bank from which the community can draw pro bono professional services to benefit the non profit infrastructure and municipal government.
A Final Word of Caution
Working with talented and dedicated people is always challenging and rewarding for everyone involved. Therefore it is crucial in programs of this type that both the faculty members and resource persons keep their focus on the objectives of improving the quality of the academic experience for students, the wellbeing of the community and health of the institution. If this primary goal is not clearly articulated from the beginning, some some faculty and administrators may perceive this relationship as an attempt by experienced “outsiders” to take over the classroom or program. The potential for significant impact and a delightful personal experience for faculty, students, administrators and the resource persons is there. They key is to keep focusing on the mission of working together toward a common goal.
Robert M. Diamond and Merle F. Allshouse
Merle F. Allshouse was director of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College from 1994-2002. He has been president of Bloomfield College, vice president of the University of Colorado Foundation, and a professor of philosophy and religion and associate academic dean at Dickinson College. He is a Fellow of the Florida Studies Program at the University of South Florida. Robert M. Diamond is president of the National Academy for Academic Leadership and professor emeritus at Syracuse University. His publications include Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula. He has held joint administrative and faculty positions at Syracuse University, SUNY Fredonia, the University of Miami and San Jose State University.
The 2008 elections have created some bizarre situations, particularly in Iowa, home of the first votes during the caucuses on January 3. After years of struggles to get more college students to vote and engage in politics, it is strange (and disappointing) to watch Democratic candidates suddenly declaring that students shouldn’t vote.
The debate over student voting was sparked when Barack Obama’s campaign gave out 50,000 fliers on college campuses declaring, "If you are not from Iowa, you can come back for the Iowa caucus and caucus in your college neighborhood." Since Obama has the strongest support of any candidate among college students, and many out-of-state students in Iowa come from his home state of Illinois, this was no surprise. But the reaction may have startled Obama, who worked in the field of voting rights as a lawyer and a law professor at the University of Chicago.
Hillary Clinton proclaimed, "This is a process for Iowans. This needs to be all about Iowa, and people who live here, people who pay taxes here.” Apparently that doesn’t include the out-of-state students who pay higher tuition in Iowa, not to mention the various taxes on their books, supplies, and pizza, and the income taxes on their salaries.
A Clinton spokeswoman went even further, “We are not systematically trying to manipulate the Iowa caucuses with out-of-state people. We don't have literature recruiting out-of-state college students.”
It wasn’t only the Clinton campaign that complained. Chris Dodd’s Iowa director, Julie Andreeff Jensen, said in a statement: “I was deeply disappointed to read today about the Obama campaign's attempt to recruit thousands of out-of-state residents to come to Iowa for the caucuses.... That may be the way politics is played in Chicago, but not in Iowa." Even Dodd’s wife claimed about voters, “They really resent it when candidates try to sign up people who are not really from Iowa.”
But encouraging young people to vote is only something to resent if you think students shouldn’t be voting. Actually, pretty much everything about the Iowa campaigning has a manipulative feel to it, including the Clinton campaign’s efforts to oppose the Obama campaign’s recruiting of students. After all, Hillary Clinton polls badly among college students, so she has few votes to lose. Instead, her campaign is skillfully appealing to the most xenophobic prejudice of older Iowa residents: the fear of people from Illinois.
This Illiniphobia is generated from many sources, from Big Ten rivalries to traditional border state snobbery, accentuated by the fear of big, bad Chicago and all its evil, urban influences. And not coincidentally, this fear goes along nicely with Clinton’s race against the junior senator from Illinois, Chicagoan Barack Obama.
Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen wrote a blog post called “The Illinois Caucus” that denounced Obama’s efforts. According to Yepsen, “While it’s legal for college students to register to vote in Iowa to do that, this raises the question of whether it’s fair, or politically smart” since it “risks offending long-time Iowa residents.” Yepsen proclaimed: “We have to respect the integrity of this caucus system.” But part of the integrity of the process is encouraging everyone who lives in Iowa to vote, even if they’re a college student from out of state.
As Rock the Vote tells students, “As a college student, you have the right to vote from the residence that you consider ‘home,’ including your campus residence.” Here’s the law nationwide: Anyone can register to vote where they live. College students typically “live” in two places, their campus address where they spend most of the year, and the home address of their parents. Students can choose where they wish to register. There’s nothing illegal at all so long as you don’t vote twice in the same election. College students from other states are “outsiders” only in the sense of their hometown. There is no fraud here, nor any danger of fraud.
This is a fundamental issue of voting rights that should be core for all people, even if you think the students in Iowa may not vote for your favored candidate. Ever since 18 year olds have been allowed to vote, in some college towns, officials have worked hard to try to stop students from voting, fearing that these students might, if organized, wield enormous influence. After all, no one would dare to express the fear that “too many” African-Americans or Latinos might vote in the election.
Mike Connery of Future Majority called this opposition to voting by college students "advocating voter disenfranchisement." Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "Barack Obama doesn't believe that we should disenfranchise Iowans who meet all the requirements for caucus participation simply because they're in college... We should be encouraging young people to participate in the political process - not looking for ways to shut them out."
Rock the Vote cites many examples of attempts to attack student voting rights. In 2004 near Prairie View A&M (a historically black university located in a majority white county in Texas), District Attorney Oliver Kitzman publicly declared, “it’s not right for any college student to vote where they do not have permanent residency,” and threatened to prosecute students who tried to register to vote. In 2004, after several students at the College of William & Mary ran for city council in Williamsburg, Virginia, the local register declared four students did not live in town and could not run for office or vote there. In February 2007, a state representative in Maine even proposed a bill to ban students from voting where they go to college.
As a New York Timeseditorial pointed out, “Political campaigns and elected officials have used a variety of tactics over the years to keep students from voting. There are often too few voting machines, so lines stretch for hours. Sometimes, students are falsely told that they will lose financial aid, health care or even car insurance if they vote while attending school.”
I've seen those long lines. On Election Day in November 2004 at Illinois State University, I witnessed enormous lines of students snaking through the student center, waiting for up to three hours after the polls closed for the opportunity to vote. The president of the university issued a statement praising this tremendous outpouring of student civic interest. I saw something much different: a fundamental injustice that threatened voting rights. After all, in the areas where students mixed with non-students, such as my home, the wait to vote was about 15 minutes. In some places with almost no students, the wait was negligible. Yet the Republican county officials hadn’t planned for a large student vote (which happened to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats).
Long lines to vote aren’t merely a terrible inconvenience; they threaten the ability of many people to vote. For students who have to go to class or go to work, a three-hour wait isn’t always possible. And even the most civic-minded person would have to think twice before standing for hours just to cast a vote. Local governments in college towns are rarely responsive to student needs for the simple reason that students usually don’t vote in local elections, and they like to keep it that way. If you encourage students to vote for president, they might get used to the idea of democracy and start to want local representation, too.
College officials could do a lot more to assure the right of students to vote because they have influence in the community. They must work to ensure that adequate supplies and facilities are available for precincts on and near campus, so that students don’t have to wait in longer lines than everybody else. In Iowa, where the caucus will occur during winter break, Grinnell College students coming to caucus will sleep on a gym floor, while the University of Northern Iowa is planning to keep open some of its dormitories to accommodate students.
Of course, civic engagement must mean much more than mere voting. The understanding of democracy among college students must focus on much more than just the first Tuesday in November. For the next year, all colleges should create a civic engagement program to encourage students to participate not merely in elections but in the broader scope of public activity, such as debating what policies are best for the country, and which candidates are the best to elect to federal, state, and local offices.
But the quest to promote civic engagement by college students must begin with access to the ballot box.