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Sociology in the News

UT Sociology Department One of Twenty-Two Institutions that Integrate Civic Responsibility by Design in Majors

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) selected 22 departments from institutions across the country that are providing models for how to make civic learning and democratic engagement an expectation for all students who major in that discipline.

Not only did the UT Department of Sociology make the list, it was also one of nine departments selected as a featured case study in of Peer Review, AAC&U’s quarterly publication on emerging trends and key debates in undergraduate education. The issue, “Civic Learning in the Major by Design,” will be published in January 2018. Out of each of the nine programs, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is also the only research-intensive university to make the list. 

“This recognition aligns with our mission as a land-grant institution to make a real impact on the community surrounding us,” says Jon Shefner, professor and head of the sociology department. 

Supported by a grant from the Endeavor Foundation, this initiative aims to limit the civic-free zones of too many departments by providing guidance to colleges and universities as they tackle one of their most resistant, yet fertile, areas of civic learning by bringing it squarely into where students invest most of their academic attention: their majors. 

Caryn McTighe Musil, senior scholar and director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives and director of the Civic Learning in the Major by Design project, was impressed by the creativity and variety of ways that the selected departments used a civic lens to enhance the design of the major. 

“These civic-rich departmental designs seek to increase students’ comprehension of their discipline’s investigations, enhance voice and agency, offer hands-on practice in collaboratively addressing challenging public problems, and introduce students to moral, ethical, and civic responsibility issues that are likely to be part of their professional lives,” McTighe Musil says.

The grant from the Endeavor Foundation will also support national dissemination of some of the exemplary models through (1) a session at AAC&U’s 2018 Annual Meeting January 24–26 in Washington, DC; (2) a webinar in March 2018 for departments wanting to learn more about how to craft civic departmental designs; and (3) seed grants to support departments in their efforts to incorporate public questions, consequences, issues, and pedagogies into their major requirements.

The nine institutions and departments selected as featured case studies in Peer Review include:

  • Bates College (Maine): Environmental Studies
  • James Madison University (Virginia): Nursing and Social Work
  • Lehigh University (Pennsylvania): English
  • Providence College (Rhode Island): Public and Community Service
  • Saint Mary’s College of California (California): Justice, Community, and Leadership
  • Texas Woman’s University (Texas): Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • University of Puget Sound (Washington): African American Studies
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Tennessee): Sociology
  • Willamette University (Oregon): Civic Communication and the Media

The thirteen institutions whose departmental designs will be featured on AAC&U’s website include:

  • Clark University (Massachusetts): Community, Youth, and Education
  • California State University–Monterey Bay (California): Human Communication
  • Emory & Henry College (Virginia): Civic Innovation
  • Fort Hays State University (Kansas): Leadership Studies
  • Gustavus Adolphus College (Minnesota): Communication Studies
  • Illinois State University (Illinois): School of Communication
  • Middlebury College (Vermont): Environmental Studies
  • Syracuse University (New York): Program on Citizenship and Civic Engagement
  • Texas Lutheran University (Texas): Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship
  • University of Maine at Machias (Maine): Psychology and Communication Studies
  • University of Miami (Florida): Public Health
  • Weber State University (Utah): Social Work
  • Wittenberg University (Ohio): Environmental Science and Geology

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