On June 16, 1995, Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan signed into law Senate Bill 340 which gave Southwest Missouri State University a statewide mission in public affairs.
The Statewide Mission
The United States of America, a pluralist gathering of races and cultures, banded together not by blood or religion, by territory or tradition, but by a political idea, is a nation formed by its dedication to a set of civic principles. These principles embedded in our fundamental national documents make it clear that American citizens are expected to fulfill civic responsibilities by competent participation in public affairs. The obligations of civic participation are not unique to Americans but are incumbent on all those who are fortunate enough to live in democratic republics.
A leading American political thinker and statesman, Thomas Jefferson, contended that the status of "citizen" called for every member of the community to become involved in the business of society. The university has a special responsibility to educate students about social goals, public purposes and values, and the ethics of citizenship as well as to encourage students to have a personal sense of responsibility for the global society.
Good citizenship takes place at several different levels. Students are members of multiple communities - the university, the neighborhood, the city, and the state, as well as the nation. Students also are citizens in a larger philosophical sense. As members of the human species, students belong to a moral community composed of all human beings. The members of the SMSU campus community affirm their citizenship in the larger world community by ensuring that differences of nationality, ethnicity, or social-economic class do not become barriers between us. Helping students to become responsible citizens at all these different levels takes time and deliberate effort on the part of all educators.
Public affairs in higher education is not restricted to politics, humanities, or the social sciences. It is present in all areas of life that require knowledge, participation, civic skills, and the willingness to work for the common good. Public affairs involves educating persons to become responsible citizens and leaders. The university should define the skills of responsible citizenship and ensure that the entire experience of higher education develops these skills.
In order to educate for public life, the university must foster a community where all individuals are called upon to act and to respond to public affairs issues and to develop a sense of public spiritedness, as well as tolerance and understanding of multicultural concerns. Students are exposed to a common core of knowledge through the General Education Program in order to promote the general welfare of community, state, nation, and globe. This common core imparts historical and comparative perspectives on public affairs - e.g., problems of order, justice, liberty, equality, stability, and avoidance of civil and international strife. Capstone courses allow the student to investigate in depth a particular social problem or issue of his or her choice.
Education in public affairs should be a recognizable, achievable, and measurable goal. Public affairs, while not a curriculum, must be present and expressed through all academic disciplines. Students are taught how to communicate effectively in the public sphere through the arts, through logic, and through the written and spoken word. They are exposed to ethical and global issues; political, environmental, and technological concerns; and issues of human diversity. Teachers are prepared for community public and private schools, underscoring the importance of educated persons for a flourishing civic society. Scientific and social research are used to promote a healthy citizenry which is vital to stable and productive societies. Students are educated to participate in our democratic society as fully involved and informed citizens; and science and the environment are studied to promote the Environmentally Responsible Growth of the Ozarks (ERGO). Being exposed to these issues in public affairs will help develop the student's capacity to analyze and resolve contemporary problems in the metropolitan area, in the nation, and in the international community.
Public affairs education takes place not only in the public space of the classroom, but also outside the academy. Internships, field experiences, practicums, cooperative projects, government service, volunteer programs, and residential life programs which stimulate the development of leaders all contribute to inculcating in students a sense of individual and community responsibility.
Community outreach programs through public affairs research centers, adult continuing education, distance learning courses, public broadcasting, and telecommunication linkages with other metropolitan universities will utilize faculty expertise and skills to address state and community problems. SMSU's commitment to its statewide mission also is reflected in campus lectures on public issues in which the community is invited to participate. The challenge presented by a focus on public affairs, however, is not just about what kind of curriculum, community service or public forums should be in place. It is about discovering solutions to the problems that all citizens face as members of a democratic society in a world shared by many.
Selected University assets to support the statewide public affairs mission
- Virtually every academic department on campus provides students with opportunities for internships and practicums. In some cases, internships are required for the degree.
- The Institute for School Improvement has successfully established several coalitions and conducts a number of worthwhile programs and projects, including literacy programs, the Storefront School, Project Access for autistic children, Founder's Park, the Discovery Center, the Into the Streets volunteer project, and the Campus Outreach Opportunity League.
- The university provides community service and outreach through a number of specialized centers and institutes, including the Center for Archaeological Research, the Center for Social Sciences and Public Policy Research, the Ozarks Studies Institute, the Bureau of Economic Research, the Center for Business and Economic Development, the Center for Industrial Productivity, the Center for Resource Planning and Management, the Center for Scientific Research and Service, the Center for Assessment and Instructional Support, the Center for Gerontological Studies, the Center for Research and Service, the Institute for School Improvement, the Management Development Institute, the Small Business Development Center, the Southwest Area Health Education Center, and the State Fruit Experiment Station.
- The College of Continuing Education and the Extended University operates an Evening College and provides adult student services to both traditional and non-traditional students. In addition, it offers several credit and non-credit courses through a media-based instruction program. The general public is offered a wide range of non-credit learning opportunities in the non-credit and conference program and through off-campus and special credit programs. The Center for Continuing and Professional Education is one of several special public service and community education projects carried out under the auspices of the Office of Continuing Education.
- In the sciences, established faculty research programs explore environmental issues facing the public and contribute to understanding of these issues from local to global scales, with a special emphasis on the Ozarks area.
- In telecommunications, SMSU offers telecable courses in a number of disciplines. Through BearNet and its subnets, GrizzNet and VineNet, distance learning and public service opportunities are provided throughout the region.
- The campus radio station, KSMU, provides extensive public affairs, news, news analysis, and information programs from the community and National Public Radio via a network covering southwest Missouri. KSMU also provides cultural programming which would not otherwise be heard in the region.
- The Missouri Legislative Internship Program allows students from various academic disciplines the opportunity to see government at work by assisting a legislator or state administrator. This program is sponsored each spring in Jefferson City when the Missouri General Assembly is in session.
- SMSU offers a variety of regular public affairs and information programs via telecable. Among these is the weekly Common Purpose show. These programs feature faculty, students, and community and governmental leaders discussing issues and events of importance to SMSU, Springfield, the region, the state, the nation, and the globe.
- Mandatory General Education courses now include Introduction to University Life, which explores issues of ethics and citizenship along with acquainting students to the campus, and Public Affairs Issues for the 21st Century, a required capstone course. Electives through the Citizenship and Service Learning Program link community service with classroom pedagogy. All three - the Introduction to University Life course, the capstone courses, and the Citizenship and Service Learning Program - were recognized in the 1999 Templeton Guide: Colleges that Encourage Character Development.
- The number of service learning courses has grown from 17 courses in the fall of 1997 to 67 courses in fall 1999.
- The Student Community Action Team (SCAT) has rapidly matured into a strong program which places dozens of students with community service agencies - among them the United Way of the Ozarks and the Boys and Girls Club - for extensive intensive service. It was awarded an AmeriCorps grant in 1999.
- The Public Affairs Convocation Program has sponsored presentations to the campus community and the general community by speakers whose work manifests public affairs in significant ways. Speakers have included Cardinal Bernard Law, sociologist and author Robert Bellah, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, former NEH Director Lynne Cheney, author Harry Boyte, Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller, U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, poet Miller Williams, Census 2000 Director Kenneth Prewitt, and Nobel Prize winners F.W. deKlerk and Elie Wiesel.
- Kentwood Hall is the public affairs residence hall as it regularly concentrates public affairs conversations, experiences and opportunities for its residents. Other residence halls, some of which have their own focused themes, provide public affairs activities and events for their students.
- The Public Affairs Grants Program has supported a number of important events, sometimes tied with curricula and sometimes not. Sponsored events have included a lecture series on terrorism with some of the United States' leading experts on the topic, a presentation by Dr. Thomas Likona on character education, a traveling exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a training program for area college students and others to prepare returns for international and non-English-speaking taxpayers, and a seminar on sustainable growth.
- The number of reported public service time volunteered by students, faculty, and staff has grown from 69,850 hours in 1996-97 to 106,541 hours in 1998-99. Many of these volunteers were matched through the Campus Volunteer Center, a clearinghouse for many community agencies.
- The SMSU Journal of Public Affairs (ISSN 1096-5602) is an interdisciplinary journal which addresses public affairs issues in the broadest sense in academe, the professional world, and personal experience. It is published annually by SMSU.