The independent news organization of Duke University

Letter to the editor

Dear Editorial Board:

I awoke this morning to your thoughtful editorial “To Engage or Disengage.”

This piece adds another important voice to the chorus of voices across higher education in the United States reflecting critically on the civic engagement movement and on the strengths and challenges of DukeEngage and programs like it. I applaud your efforts to push Duke University and Duke students to provide meaningful and ongoing service. To the extent that DukeEngage teaches and encourages students to thoughtfully reflect on this work, The Chronicle is modeling and embracing one of the core elements of our pedagogy.

At a recent national conference on civic engagement, I was struck by how many of my colleagues who have been doing this work for a long time described this work as messy. Messy indeed. When we take learning outside of the classroom, when we truly embrace our community partners as co-educators, and when we bring our resources to bear on some of the world’s most pressing problems, we are bound to confront ethical dilemmas. We do not shy away from the difficult and messy conversations that ensue; instead, we embrace them and recognize that they contribute to the deep and profound learning that takes place when our students serve communities here in the United States and abroad.

For the record, I do not agree with how the editorial describes DukeEngage, though this is not the place for me to describe how The Chronicle's fears about what we do and how we do it are in part unfounded. For now, I feel great pride that we are all on a campus that is having honest and impassioned conversations about how best to deploy knowledge in the service of society. I hope that this editorial and people’s responses to it further elevate this crucial conversation.

Eric Mlyn, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice Provost for Civic Engagement
Peter Lange Executive Director, DukeEngage
Lecturer, Sanford School of Public Policy

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