In April 2016, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch made a $15 million gift to what was then Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service; the college became the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life in recognition of its mission to prepare all students for a lifetime of effective engagement in civic and democratic life. A substantial portion of the funds will be used to hire professors in the emerging discipline of Civic Studies.
One of the earliest works published on Civic Studies was a Bringing Theory to Practice Civic Monograph entitled Civic Studies: Approaches to the Emerging Field (http://www.bttop.org/resources/publications/civic-studies), coedited by Peter Levine and Karol Edward Sołtan in 2014. The volume helped to inform Tisch College’s strategic plan and the priorities that will be advanced by this major new gift.
Civic Studies looks at any social issue—whether climate change, racism, or the condition of the arts—from the perspective of a citizen. Citizens have limited leverage. They cannot decree a social policy, let alone institute an ideal social system. Therefore, Civic Studies asks, “What should we do?” rather than the more common question, “What should be done?” It takes seriously the strategic questions that confront actual civic actors and the challenges of working together voluntarily.
A citizen combines factual knowledge about what is happening with ethical reasoning about what is right and good. Civic Studies thus unites empirical research with normative research—the social sciences with the humanities. Civic Studies also recognizes the importance of the settings and institutions in which citizens typically have the most impact: voluntary associations, grassroots networks, social movements, and the like. It makes civic life a basic topic of research and translates that research to practice.
Much civic education is experiential, and rightly so. But citizens face challenges and opportunities that can be analyzed and understood in theoretical terms. Civic Studies aims to generate research and practical examples that will make citizens’ work easier and more effective.
Civic Studies is broad and can engage most of the existing academic disciplines. Indeed, it could be a name for the liberal arts—but only if those disciplines were reconceived to emphasize the citizen’s perspective and needs. The intellectually diverse senior faculty who will come to Tufts thanks to the Tisch gift will form the nucleus of an intellectual community devoted to Civic Studies, whose seminal volume is the Civic Monograph of that name. For more information, visit http://activecitizen.tufts.edu/civic-studies/.