Civic Education and the University of California

Janet Napolitano

University of California President


Public service lies at the heart of the University of California’s mission. We uphold this mission through the education of Californians and the creation of new knowledge, at our medical centers and through our agriculture and natural resources operations. And we uphold it with a steadfast commitment to shepherding the next generation of informed and engaged citizens.

A university campus offers students the opportunity to stretch their horizons and open their minds, in and out of the classroom. College is often the first time many students interact with people from different backgrounds, and confront ideas and viewpoints that conflict with what they believe. Students learn from each other, learn how to disagree, learn how to fight for what they believe, and even learn how to change their minds when the marketplace of ideas presents better options. These are invaluable tools that help UC students build the foundation for a lifetime of engaged citizenship in our democracy.

But in an era of increased political polarization, growing distrust of established institutions, and increasing tensions between free speech rights and civil discourse, our accepted understandings of American values such as free speech and civic engagement are being newly scrutinized. And while American college campuses have, at times, been the epicenter of these conflicts, universities are also uniquely equipped to grapple with free expression and civic engagement issues, offer real-world solutions, and serve as a model for others.

This is what led the University of California to launch the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement in Washington, D.C. last month. The mission of this center is to move the public conversation on First Amendment issues – in theory and practice – to thoughtful dialogue and meaningful action.

A key component of the center is the fellows program that draws from leading public policy thinkers, legal scholars, social scientists, journalists, and others of different backgrounds, experiences, and views. Through research, projects, and hands-on work, selected fellows further freedom of expression, engage with UC students, and help develop new approaches for educating students about the critical role of the First Amendment in American democracy.

We are now accepting applications for the fellowship program until January 12, 2018. We encourage those who are passionate about channeling their expertise into advancing knowledge and discourse of the First Amendment and civic engagement to apply. You can find more information here: https://freespeechcenter.universityofcalifornia.edu/

This fellowship program goes hand-in-hand with other important efforts to prepare California’s next generation of informed citizens and leaders. I applaud California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye and other state leaders for their commitment to such programs. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (a two-time UC Davis grad, I am proud to add!) and the Power of Democracy Steering Committee are demonstrating the ability of the judiciary, alongside educators, to effect positive change. Efforts like these will surely make a positive difference for the future of our nation. Together, we can work to ensure a stronger and more vibrant democracy here in California and around the nation.

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