Bard College

Addressing the Crisis of Democracy Through Global Higher Education Networks Highly Ranked

Higher education

Bard College will strengthen democratic life through education, by bringing graduate and undergraduate instruction to traditional and nontraditional populations through its national and international networks.

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Lead Organization

Bard College

Annandale on Hudson, New York, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

There is a clear connection between the practice of liberal education and the conduct of democracy. Recent disinvestment in education and anti-liberal forces coincide with an erosion of democratic norms in the United States and internationally. The challenges of college access among underrepresented populations and a dwindling faith in the kind of education necessary for democratic life are helping drive the global frenzy of anti-democratic sentiment. Bard College seeks to address the urgent challenges of democracy and education through innovative practice and advocacy that recognizes the importance of the arts in expression and dissent, and creates the first global, independent, sustainable undergraduate and graduate educational network. The future of democracy requires redefining higher education for the 21st century. Bard’s record of success in the West Bank, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, China, and urban centers in the US demonstrates the broader potential of this approach to transform lives and communities.

Problem Statement

Higher education has a mission to act in defense of free and open societies, but many university systems are increasingly failing to produce effective leaders and citizens. Illiberal governments that deprioritize education yield a citizenry with few tools for social critique, analysis, and engagement. This promotes intolerance, injustice, a self-fulfilling mistrust of education, and the erosion of civic discourse whereby people can resolve problems through compromise. Poverty and political repression worsen these problems, social media creates silos and echo chambers, and radical inequality of wealth causes displacement. We believe liberal arts education at the secondary and university levels can reverse these trends, by restoring confidence in language, reason, and rules of evidence. However, liberal education has, to a great extent, promoted those who have already reached the highest rungs of income, opportunity, and empowerment. The premise of this proposal is to ask, what if those with the greatest stake in realizing structural and social transformation in their communities had access to genuine and robust liberal education? What if elite education was available to non-elites, at a wide and global scale and in the corners of civic life where it could be most transformative? This solution must reach young people in bankrupt public school systems, the incarcerated, people displaced through migration, and people seeking change in repressive societies. It must place liberal education and the arts at the heart of social change through a worldwide, linked graduate and undergraduate network.

Solution Overview

Bard, together with its collaborator the Central European University, will instill across its growing international network a common currency of curricula by which faculty and students can engage in critical thinking and debate that considers key societal challenges. This global liberal arts network will be the first university system not defined by a single national government; it will operate across borders and be independent of the state. The network will be characterized by student-centered teaching, and facilitated in real time by technology and interpersonal connections across the network. Program expansion to new populations will indicate progress, and college completion rates will demonstrate success. Nationally and internationally, Bard’s graduate teacher training programs will have a follow-on impact on hundreds of thousands of students. Bard will expand its existing rigorous liberal arts education programs to locations where it is stunted or lacking. Through the 100&Change grant, Bard will identify key populations for expansion, and develop resources and capacity to support local institutions in collaborating on and implementing such expansions. The Bard network will work with both traditional and nontraditional partners – including libraries and community agencies – as key venues for delivering education programs. Bard will also seek to work with government stakeholders to advocate for better funding for prison and secondary education. The impact is global in scope yet intensive and personal for each student, whether in a US prison or a refugee camp abroad, in terms of improved critical thinking and communication skills that enable civic participation.

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Project Funders

  • Foundation to Promote Open Society 2011 - 2018
  • Ford Foundation 2013 - 2019
  • Carnegie Foundation 2012 - 2019

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