The Democracy Commitment

March 9, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I want to let you know about an important initiative, The Democracy Commitment, that De Anza College is spearheading with several other community colleges nationwide. The coalition will enable members to share our own work in civic engagement, collaborate on key projects, and build a national presence for community colleges in democratic and community-based work.

Presidents, on behalf of their colleges, are joining the founders group daily; our list currently includes leaders of several California community colleges, as well as Maricopa and Miami Dade colleges. The presidents of Delta College and Moraine Valley College, who recently visited the district as representatives of the League for Innovation, have joined as well.

I am pleased that the De Anza Academic Senate last week adopted a resolution ( in support of The Democracy Commitment and will take a resolution forward to the statewide Senate for its adoption next month. The leadership of our Academic Senate has national implications, as faculty leaders in New York, Arizona and elsewhere are planning their own initiatives to support the project.

De Anza is hosting The Democracy Commitment website on our Institute for Community and Civic Engagement page. The New York Times will sponsor a major event announcing the initiative this fall, and we will participate in the June conference of the American Democracy Project (, on which our initiative is modeled.

The Democracy Commitment is based upon the idea that our students must have an education in democratic practice. Nothing could be more important in the current budget climate, in which student advocacy is so very critical.

De Anza College has developed a well-deserved reputation for the vision and activism of our student leadership. Indeed, 250 De Anza students are traveling to Sacramento on Monday to advocate for education, and over the years our students have provided vital support for other statewide actions. We might therefore proudly say that our students are better prepared than most to play a public role in the democratic process. But there is a growing sense across the country that community colleges must do a more thoughtful and intentional job of teaching democracy across the curriculum, supporting both professional and civic capacity, and joining superior discipline-based education to broad learning outcomes. It is appropriate that De Anza takes a national leadership role in this work, as it reflects our college mission, institutional core competencies and strategic goals.

I was reminded exactly how special De Anza's work is when, last week, we hosted the national steering committee of the Community Learning Partnership ( CLP is a national coalition of groups working to develop the next generation of young leaders in poor communities, where community-based non-profits work collaboratively with community colleges to develop curricula and programs to support young leaders. De Anza is one of five primary participants in the partnership, along with teams from Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis and Hartford. We have received important support in this work from the federal Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and several private foundations.

Representatives from the four other sites spent three days last week on the De Anza campus, and devoted one full afternoon to a meeting with our students to learn what colleges can do to support their development as thoughtful and passionate organizers. More than 25 of our students participated, from DASB, LEAD, and the environmental club WISE37. It was a deeply moving conversation, and our students made a lasting impression on our visitors. Students spoke eloquently about faculty and staff who had reached out to them, providing emotional and personal support on top of the intellectual and academic support at the core of the college. They spoke about the importance of each other, the wealth of clubs and organizations, and a campus culture that celebrates diversity and passion. One of our national colleagues told me, "There is something happening here we have never seen on another campus. How can we replicate it elsewhere?"

I urge you to read the national declaration, available on our website, that animates The Democracy Commitment. Please let me know of any comments or advice you may have as De Anza joins with fellow colleges across the United States in advancing the work of democracy. Thank you.

Brian Murphy

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