During the annual meeting of the American Democracy Project recently in Utah, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities presented one of its highest awards to Dr. Larry Gould, the provost of Fort Hays State University.
Gould won the William M. Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement, which AASCU gives for exemplary leadership in advancing the civic learning of undergraduates through programs and activities that encourage greater knowledge, skills, experiences and reflection about the role of citizens in a democracy.
The Plater Award is the first national award established specifically to recognize chief academic officers for their leadership in higher education. The award is designed to recognize the critical role of the chief academic officer in advancing the civic mission of the campus through curricular reform, public advocacy, accountability for institutional citizenship, faculty development and recruitment, and partnerships with community organizations.
"I think it's just rewards for Larry Gould's career of commitment that he wins the Plater Award," said Dr. Chapman Rackaway, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and campus coordinator for FHSU's American Democracy Project. "I've seen just how deep Larry's devotion to developing a lifetime of engagement is over my five years at Fort Hays State, and I know that there are few academic leaders out there who both value and support the efforts of the American Democracy Project like Larry does. He's been a mentor to me and countless other faculty members at FHSU, and I can't think of anyone more worthy of this honor."
The Plater Award includes an engraved commemorative plaque to acknowledge the national recognition and a check for $1,000. Gould immediately donated his check to FHSU's ADP efforts.
"Although I'm honored to be recognized by AASCU, the Plater Award is a reflection of one of the most important principles of leadership. Jim Collins, in his modern day classic work, 'From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't,' expresses the principle best. Jim believes that organizations achieve success and move to greatness when you get the 'right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus.' We've done this at Fort Hays State University with the American Democracy Project and many of our other innovative ventures. This award is a reflection of the applicability of this principle and the fact that we've found people who make things happen. This personal recognition is a tribute to all those people at the university who drive change and success," Gould said.
The William M. Plater Award for Leadership in Civic Engagement was established in 2006 by AASCU in collaboration with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in appreciation for the leadership of William M. Plater, who served as the chief academic officer of IUPUI from 1987 through 2006. During his term, Plater oversaw the development of civic engagement as an integral part of the campus mission and as a defining characteristic of its graduates, thus helping IUPUI win recognition among peers as a national leader. Previous recipients were Plater in 2006 and Barbara G. Burch, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, in 2007.
"I was delighted that the William Plater Selection Committee chose Larry Gould for this prestigious honor. Larry has been an incredible source of ideas and innovation for the American Democracy Project," said Dr. George Mehaffy, vice president of AASCU. "As a result of his work and that of many others, Fort Hays State University, which he so ably represents, has become a national leader in the effort to create new models for how universities can prepare undergraduates to become informed, engaged citizens for our democracy."
To be successful, a democratic republic -- the form of government of the United States of America -- requires an informed electorate and citizens who are willing to participate in the system of self-governance. Officials at AASCU and at The New York Times were concerned that America's younger generation might be losing its appreciation for democracy, and therefore also losing the desire to be involved. As a result, AASCU and the Times launched the American Democracy Project.
Gould heard about the ADP at a national AASCU meeting and knew immediately that it would be a perfect fit at FHSU. The ADP has spread to more than 200 campuses across the nation. Its mission is to inspire today's students to be tomorrow's active citizens by providing opportunities to become involved through civic volunteerism, voter registration, positive motivation and access to community leaders. Students, and their professors, are encouraged to integrate real-life lessons into classroom learning and reinforce the idea of an active citizenry as essential to continuing the democratic experiment in America.
Gould, who was a professor of political science at FHSU before becoming the chief academic officer, knew that for the ADP to reach its full potential, it would have to be introduced slowly and carefully, in keeping with the manner in which FHSU adopted the Academic Quality Improvement Project. AQIP is an accreditation process offered by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools that is designed to support, encourage and recognize institutions for their continuous improvement efforts and accomplishments, rather than following the old model of accreditation in which universities undergo a lengthy review process every 10 years that basically determines that they have not fallen below certain minimum performance standards.
To launch ADP, Gould began by forming a vision team of students, faculty and administrators who spent a year discussing, debating and imagining how this renewed commitment to democracy could become an ingrained part of the culture of FHSU. Those efforts were successful, and the ADP has grown to include a large variety of events and activities, including voter registration drives, ongoing service-learning activities, the weekly Democracy Matters public affairs show on KFHS-TV, the annual observation of Constitution Week, and the popular weekly lunchtime Times Talk series, in which faculty, staff, students and the community gather to discuss topics from The New York Times. ADP also sponsors public forums on current events periodically on the FHSU campus.
The project has become so much a part of life at FHSU that the university requested and received permission from the Kansas Board of Regents to add the role of ADP to the university's mission statement, which now reads: "Fort Hays State University, a regional university principally serving western Kansas, is dedicated to providing instruction within a computerized environment in the arts and sciences, business, education, the health and life sciences, and agriculture. Graduates are provided a foundation for entry into graduate school, for employment requiring well-developed analytical and communication skills, and for lives of ethical and civic responsibility to better understand global complexities and an American society of increasing diversity."
Noting that civic engagement efforts continue to expand at FHSU, Gould said the university was applying for the new Community Engagement elective classification offered by the Carnegie Foundation. The new classification involves collecting additional data beyond the secondary national data sources that are available currently. The new data will help in analysis of the collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.