Democratic Accountability in Higher Education Community Engagement

Caroline Lee, Lafayette College

This article describes contemporary college and university community engagement initiatives as a complex multi-level response to market pressures in higher education. Democracy initiatives in the U.S. academic field encompass a range of civic activities in communities near and far, but the forces driving their production are decidedly non-local and top-down. The mission of democratic accountability pursued by institutions involves extensive efforts to authenticate civic empowerment for national actors in the field. A socio-economic perspective on community engagement in higher education shifts attention from the authentic grassroots transformations that are its putative focus to the larger processes driving this activity and its outcomes—in this case, the pursuit of elite legitimacy through increasingly elaborate self-assessment strategies. Ironically, this endless loop—and its demands that engagement be ever more democratic and all-encompassing, in its practice and in its evaluation— are accomplishing a number of field-wide transformations that are anything but grassroots in nature.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 242. Interrogating the Intersections between Higher Education and Civil Society