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  • Introduction:The Civic Reconstruction of Higher Education and the Future of the Good Society
  • Trygve Throntveit

When I first took over editorship of The Good Society in 2016, I was excited to maintain the journal's reputation as a forum for sophisticated political theory while also expanding its focus to include the major preoccupations of my own career. One of those preoccupations was with my professional location in the field of education, and higher education particularly, during a time of political, social, and cultural crisis. Another was my long-term interest in the complex history, contested consequences, and democratic resources of American social thought. The third and most recent of my guiding preoccupations was a still-emerging field of political theory and practice that put everyday citizens' capacities and relationships at the center of politics, and which eventually gave the journal its subtitle: "A Journal of Civic Studies."

Six years later, I am both gratified and troubled by the contents of this issue. I'm gratified because its contributors have woven my aboriginal obsessions with educational systems, intellectual traditions, and the work of "We the People" into one highly textured tapestry, shot through with diverse theoretical strands—political, educational, even evolutionary. I'm troubled because the challenges we face as scholars, practitioners, and citizens in a society aspiring to democracy appear not less but rather more daunting than when I first took the editorial reins more than half a decade ago.

In short, my preoccupations persist, not merely as worries but as strategies. In the midst of a historic, transnational, trans-ideological crisis of faith in democracy they do not just merit but rudely demand our practical [End Page iv] attention. We who treasure the ideals and privileges of democracy must radically rethink and refashion many of our most important institutions, including the educational institutions that socialize the leaders of our other institutions. We must challenge historically contingent habits of thought and practice that have come to be regarded as logically or naturally determined, while excavating compelling and instructive stories of adaptation and transformation amid change. And among such stories of human agency, we must study and elevate those conveying the capacities of everyday citizens, including government officials and (yes!) scholars, to work productively, across differences, to build and sustain common goods—to do democracy.

Beyond gratified and troubled, therefore, I am above all invigorated by this latest issue of The Good Society. Collectively, its contributors have enhanced my understanding of the democratic purposes and potential of higher education; the range of intellectual and cultural resources available to societies aspiring to democracy and its continual expansion; and the various ways and contexts in which democracy, as a cultural project, is impeded and advanced.

The issue's first section has been long in the making. Back in the late winter of 2018, The Good Society organized a conference on "The Civic Reconstruction of Higher Education." Why focus on "Civic Reconstruction" in a sector more comfortable with "Civic Engagement" or "Public Outreach"? We reasoned that the latter terms, like the structure and practices of American higher education generally, tend to perpetuate a bifurcation of professional and civic life that renders the civic part secondary and, ultimately, discretionary. In most institutions of higher education (IHEs), faculty, administrators, and students have few options and weak incentives to weave civic purpose into their work and learning, or to frame their work and learning in ways that are informed by citizens outside their academic or professional communities.

To foster awareness of and interest in this topic, we invited participants to draft, precirculate, and collectively scrutinize papers analyzing the civic problems and potential of IHEs at levels ranging from their own research and teaching to the whole higher education enterprise. Asserting that forces in higher education produce and reproduce a problematic bifurcation of professional and civic roles, work, identity, and life, we asked potential contributors to address one or more of the following questions: [End Page v]

  1. •. Why does this bifurcation exist?

  2. •. Why/how is it problematic, and what, by contrast, might be its justifications or positive effects?

  3. •. What might be gained by bridging it? What obstacles would have to be overcome in doing so?

  4. •. What historical...