The Thriving Cities Lab at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia released a Field Guide for Urban University-Community Partnerships in March. It’s a survey of 100 American urban institutions of higher education and according to co-author Josh Yates, director of the Thriving Cities Lab, Butler University’s Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR) is an exemplary revision of core curriculum.
“As we did the research we tried to pay attention to frontier practices where institutions are doing something innovative that are emblematic of that work in some way,” Yates said by phone. “Not every institution has redesigned its core curriculum like Butler to demonstrate a commitment on that level and not just give lip service, but institutionalize it as a fundamental pillar of their curriculum,” he said.
Butler’s ICR requires all undergraduate students to “[T]ake one course in any part of the University that involves active engagement with the Indianapolis community before graduation.” While Midtown residents may recognize this as part of “The Butler Way” as exemplified in Bulldogs in the Streets or the Butler LAB School, such practices are not as deeply embedded in other institutions of higher learning.
Acknowledging that Butler is not alone in the effort, Yates said it stands out against the competition. “It’s more common now for universities to have a community volunteer requirement, but not in the way it’s been done at Butler. They offer a model for others to follow.”
Yates and his colleague interviewed educators from around the country for the report, including Donald Braid, director of Butler’s Center for Citizenship and Community. In a statement, Braid said he was delighted that Butler was highlighted in the Field Guide. “The ICR is an important part of our core curriculum that engages students in reciprocally beneficial partnerships with communities throughout Indianapolis and thereby helps them develop an appreciation for diversity and foster civic mindedness.”
Yates agrees. “We’re living in a moment in which all of our leading institutions are experiencing a massive deficit of public trust. Yet, these institutions are vital anchors of our communities that create longevity, equity, resilience, and collaboration — all the kinds of things we so definitely need.”
He said the Thriving Cities Lab is interested in the health of the civic infrastructure of cities – including anchor institutions like Butler. “As the health of civic infrastructure grows, so does the strength of our democratic life,” he said, adding. “I think Butler has done something that’s noteworthy and worthwhile.”