CCJ In your opinion, how have college campuses
changed since the opening of Northwestern
Connecticut Community College?
Nader College campuses have changed since 1965.
They are more open to minorities and women.
There are more community colleges for students
to attend without long travel time. However,
there are far more distractions for students,
limiting meeting and doing more together in
person, including the ever-present cell phone and
text-messaging. There are more course offerings.
But low graduation rates persist.
But the intervening decades generally have not
worked to reduce the “town/gown” gaps, especially in
the civic sphere where knowledge nourishes action.
CCJ Beyond academics, what do you see as the role
of community colleges?
Nader In an era of community breakdowns—
signaled by too few people showing up at town
meetings, at the polls or running for or monitoring their own governments—the community college is a natural institution to reverse this slide.
It can provide a critical convocation function
regarding recurring injustices or inadequate ser-
vices. It can publicize best practices from other
colleges and communities for local governments
and the citizenry. It can contribute to community
well-being with its students learning by doing
under faculty supervision
As this book describes, that was a key role
my brother, Shaf, envisioned and he saw it as a
constant work in progress inviting many minds,
backgrounds, experiences and enthusiasms.
Importantly, he saw critical civil motivation as
an attitude that could be developed through
CCJ How can community colleges better
incorporate civic engagement and service
learning into their curricula?
Nader This is my favorite subject whenever I speak
at community colleges around the country or to
conferences of community college students.
First, the administration and its board of
trustees must establish clearly the dual purpose
of community colleges to be vocational training and civic training. This balanced education
provides students with a greater chance for both
making a better living and assuming their civic
responsibilities, so crucial to a just, democratic
society. Not knowing about the history of insti-tution-building arising from struggles for a just
society leaves a hollowness in their education
that spells powerlessness. This gap will harm
them in the years ahead as evidenced by today’s
plight of so many Americans suffering from a
weakening democratic society.
Second, the dual policy leads to a required
first-year orientation about basic citizen skills and
engagements. For example, all students should
learn the simple task of using the state and federal
freedom of information acts. Information is the
currency of democracy.
Third, civic advocacy should be a major. The
nonprofit/civil society sector is enormous and
provides millions of jobs in the areas of charitable and justice activities. Tens of thousands
of civic organizations would welcome students
who have been taught and have experienced civic
advocacy. Isn’t that type of practical experience
what community colleges sometimes offer their
Fourth, existing courses can include civic
skills. For example, in their chemistry, physics