|The agoras of ancient Greece were the heart of public life — quite literally ‘gathering places’ where citizens came together to discuss and debate the issues. These civic squares changed the course of human history, giving birth to democracy and systems of governance that exist across the world to this day, and setting the standard for what it means to be engaged in public life.
Yet in 2020, the civic squares in the United States and around the world are spaces of extreme contestation that endanger the very democratic and participatory essence upon which they were built. Belief in the value and credibility of democratic institutions is at historic lows. Discourse, whether political or otherwise, is weaponized to inflame rather than construct. The very notion of truth is challenged, and facts dismissed as irrelevant. People doubt that governments and governance systems can and will serve their interests and the public interest. The rise of nationalist, authoritarian, and populist movements is raising the question whether the liberal democratic order, and the principles for which they stand, can survive.
2020 in the United States raises the specter of increased polarization, division, and destruction of democratic norms. Independent of the U.S. election and the global impacts it will have, similar dynamics are playing out in places around the world in which our programs operate. These developments strike to the very heart of programs of public policy and public administration. The intransigence of views and the seeming intractability of problems is creating skepticism as to whether practitioners and the field of public affairs and administration are up to the task. In this context, NASPAA member programs must address these issues for the greater good of the communities and the societies in which we live, but also for the very relevance of our programs so that we may thrive. As schools and programs dedicated to public service education, the health and functioning of our civic squares – wherever they may be – is fundamental to what we do.
No civic square has ever been fully inclusive of all people within the society. Our challenge today is not to recreate a civic square of old, but rather to build a new, more inclusive, and resilient civic square.
Our annual meeting will take place in Chicago scarcely three weeks before the U.S. election. At the same time, it takes place on the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement which provides evidence that fundamental changes can be made to political and social systems to advance the public good.
This conference welcomes panels that will delve into how we can and should build a new civic square, and what the role of our programs in that process is.
Track 1: Research and teaching: What is the new civic education?
The highly contested nature of civic space today presents particular challenges and opportunities for programs of public policy and public administration. While the very relevance of our field is being questioned by some, there is little doubt that the skills and knowledge our programs provide is more needed than ever.
· How do we conduct research and teach in a fashion that builds common ground and diminishes polarization and division?
· How do we reclaim a fundamental role for facts and dispassionate analysis at a time when these fundamental building blocks of public policy are questioned by many?
· What are our programs’ approaches to researching and teaching civic knowledge and civic skills?
· What are our programs’ approaches to teaching civic values and norms?
Track 2: Impact and Engagement: What are programs and NASPAA doing in this space?
Our programs’ contribution to the civic square is not limited to the classroom or to publications. In fact, many of our programs have civic engagement programming for students, faculty and staff. Likewise, NASPAA itself has taken on initiatives with the support of our members to collectively try to address some of the central questions around elections.
· How do we further involve students in civic engagement activities, including supporting them to be innovators in the civic sphere?
· How do our programs develop our students’ proficiency to ensure they are prepared to engage diverse constituencies and advance a more inclusive civic square?
· How do scholars and our programs measure civic engagement? Do our scholars and our programs advance or participate in civic health indices in their states and communities?
· In addition to voter registration and election initiatives, are there other topics that NASPAA should address?
· What should a NASPAA badge in civic engagement look like?
Track 3: Inclusion in a New Civic Square
For many, gaining a space and voice in the old civic square was hard fought. Many more – women, people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities – have never been welcomed into the square, intentionally and often forcibly excluded from participating and holding power in the governing processes that affect them. A new civic square, and one that enables and advances good governance, cannot be built on exclusionary foundations. To meet the current challenges, the new civic square must be more inclusive than what we have seen to date.
· How do we ensure that women, who have been excluded from equal participation in most civic squares, gain their rightful place in the crafting and leadership of the new civic square?
· In the U.S., how do we ensure that racial minorities that have suffered historic and ongoing discrimination and marginalization, have equal opportunity not only to participate in, but lead, the new civic square?
· How do we include a range of political and ideological beliefs in the classroom and in our programs in such polarized times?
Track 4: The new civic square globally: What it means around the world
Our schools and programs are situated in communities and countries with very different histories and political contexts. The very definition of civic square is quite different around the world.
· What are some of the common challenges faced by our students and programs around the world, and what are different challenges they face from which we might learn?
· Have programs utilized SDG16 – which calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all the building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels – in building a new civic square? If so, what can others learn from these experiences that could be applied in different contexts?
· What can we do to enrich state and local civic squares at a time when national civic squares are highly contested and divisive? Are there models globally that provide policy and practice lessons?
· Around the world, how do other ethnic, religious, and other minority groups participate in their civic squares and what can we learn from these varied experiences?
In addition to the four tracks on building the new civic square, the 2020 Annual Meeting will provide the opportunity for a significant number of panels on the issue of undergraduate education. Many programs have undergraduate offerings, more are adding them day-by-day, and we seek to accelerate cross-learning about what is working, what the challenges in undergraduate education are, and what NASPAA can do to facilitate the conversation around undergraduate education and undergraduate education itself.
· What are the key components of a successful undergraduate program, and how do such programs differ from graduate programs?
· What are strategies for proposing and launching undergraduate programs?
· Core competencies in undergraduate programs – what to include, what not to include, and the relationship between undergraduate and graduate professional programs in the same unit (e.g. 3-2/4-1 programs)?
· What is the role of experiential education for undergraduate students?