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Big Ten Policy Schools Announce Democracy in 21st Century Initiative

News Type College News

The John Glenn College of Public Affairs is working with other Big Ten public policy schools to launch Democracy in the 21st Century, an effort to develop educational programming that promotes civic education and engagement.

Driven by the Big Ten Network of Public Affairs Deans and Directors, this initiative harnesses the diverse assets of the Big Ten community to develop programming for students, faculty, staff and local communities to promote engagement with current issues and challenges facing democracy.

Deans Trevor Brown of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University; Michael Barr of the Gerald R. Ford School at the University of Michigan; and Robert Orr of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland lead the collaboration. 

“One of the hallmarks of the Big Ten is that our passionate competition in athletic events sparks collaboration in our academic pursuits,” Brown said. “The Big Ten Democracy in the 21st Century initiative is a great example of how faculty and students from across the conference — which stretches from the eastern seaboard to the Great Plains — can work together on societally important issues, notably the foundations of our democratic system.”

A Big Ten Democracy in the 21st Century Working Group of faculty, staff and students from across the conference has focused its efforts on five themes that will unfold across this academic year: voting, the federal judiciary in the 21st century, civics education, challenges to democracies globally, and democracy and climate change.

This programming includes panels with national experts, many drawn from the Big Ten schools themselves; cross-conference, student-led Dinners for Democracy; and a Big Ten student virtual policy simulation on voting, led by Elisabeth Gerber of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. The collaboration will culminate in an in-person conference hosted by the University of Maryland in fall 2022.

Recognizing the need to bring students with diverse perspectives together, a key feature of the collaboration is the Big Ten Dinners for Democracy series. Designed by the University of Michigan’s Turn up Turnout, Dinners for Democracy are non-partisan learning opportunities that cover issues important to student voters with student-led presentations and facilitated dialogue. A committee of students from across the Big Ten is designing this engagement opportunity.

The first Big Ten Dinner for Democracy was held Nov. 17 and involved 100 students from University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

Democracy in the 21st Century grew out of the Big Ten policy school network, and the collaboration represents the breadth and reach of collective planning.

The United States and countries across the globe are facing historic challenges to their democratic systems — from voting access and misinformation to the impact of global environmental pressures and systemic racism. Efforts to make progress must move forward in a deeply polarized political climate.

Universities are poised to address this challenge. Democracy in the 21st Century answers this call with this collaboration that seeks to bring students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives together to address today’s challenges to our democratic systems.