President Richard Warch began the 2002-2003 Convocation Series Thursday with a call to volunteerism and civic involvement.In the Matriculation Address entitled “Liberal Education and Civic Engagement,” Warch called for all Lawrentians to apply their education to the greater social good, and advanced the national rallying cry for volunteerism.
As the current civic focus on volunteerism has grown stronger in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the national academic community has strengthened its commitment to public service, and created a number of mechanisms to facilitate civic involvement.
Lawrence participates in volunteerism through every level, from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest through national organizations, and locally, with innumerable programs such as the recently award-winning LARY (Lawrence Assistance Reaching Youth), LARY was also named, over a decade ago, President George H.W. Bush’s 312th “Point of Light.” Each point of light represented an example of community involvement and volunteerism.
Warch traced how institutionally involved Lawrence is on the matter of service. Among the collegiate volunteer organizations in which Lawrence participates are Campus Cares and Campus Compact, for which Lawrence University was a founding member.
Service should occupy a more noble position in society, Warch argued. He condemned service as a sanction for crime: “[This type of] service is often more punitive than redemptive,” Warch said, and does not fit the image society should have of service.
George W. Bush’ s inaugural address included a strong call for each citizen to commit two years’ worth of life to public service. But Warch took Bush–and Reagan–to task for looking down on the role of government service workers.
Both politicians, in adopting an outsider stance, have condemned “the bureaucracy” as being inefficient, thus reinforcing the perception that federal workers are mere cogs in a larger institutional machine.
In wake of the Enron collapse, Warch recalled the words of New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, who called federal workers “the unsung guardians of our civic religion.”
Other nations, Friedman says, look up to our nation because of the fundamental decency of the government and its bureaucrats.
Warch set out to dispel the lowly perception of government workers by reciting an impressive laundry list of Lawrentians working at home and abroad for the government as well as private charities. Alumni work in such hotbed areas as Pakistan and the US Information Agency in Jerusalem.
Also, Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer alumni have helped operate, among other organizations, WorldVision Canada, an international food bank; helped promote literacy for Hmong students in the Fox Cities area, and created one of the nation’s first AIDS hospices.
“Lawrentians logged 18,000 hours of community service last year…a number which may not do justice to [the work of student volunteers.],” he said. Students have ample opportunity to volunteer and affect both Appleton and their home communities. But the goal should be, he said, to go beyond service and into civic engagement by enacting the core values of liberal education.
Finally, he stressed that exhortation and civics class mentalities are not the effective road to service and responsibility: “Let us not just work to alleviate the effects of poverty, but to understand the causes of it,” he said, adding that government service on all levels is a powerful way to apply a liberal arts education towards the problems of the greater good.
The next convocation will feature anti-nuclear activist William Sloane Coffin, who will speak on “US, Iraq, and Nuclear Weapons.”