English Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2016

Publication Source

Michigan Journal Of Community Service-Learning


Edward Zlotkowski’s (1995) article “Does Service-Learning Have a Future?” challenges the academy to integrate community-engaged learning into the curriculum. As Zlotkowski suggests, students, staff, and faculty ought to engender a culture of civic action and ethical accountability enhanced by rigorous coursework, but this goal necessitates resources: administrators must invest in service-learning to reap its full benefits. Issues arise, however, when one considers this investment in light of the academy’s corporatization. Nussbaum (2010) has noted, for instance, how colleges and universities increasingly emphasize vocational training and professional readiness at the expense of humanist inquiry and civic responsibility. The academy’s corporatization, she argues, threatens to erode the skills at the heart of democratic citizenship. Williams (2012) likewise censures this market-driven academy “with research progressively governed more by corporations that fund and benefit from it, with faculty downsized and casualized, and with students reconstituted as consumers subject to escalating tuition and record levels of debt” (p. 25). He insists that students, staff, and faculty must engage critically with these unsettling trends in higher education—an appeal, I argue, service-learning educators in particular must heed.

As higher education, deeply influenced by neoliberalism’s pressures to marketize, adopts the structure and value systems of big business, it risks placing private interest before public concern. This danger, even more acute twenty-one years after the publication of Zlotkowski’s article, underscores the need for a reassessment of the institutional means by which service-learning happens. “Perhaps,” Zlotkowski (2015) wonders in his framing essay for the Future Directions Project, “there is a fundamental mismatch at the heart of our work that we have not wanted to recognize” (p. 84). Higher education may not prove the best location, after all, from which to effect progressive democratic change. In what follows, I stay the course with this provocation and argue that service-learning and community engagement (SLCE) educators must teach their partnerships—the specific histories, missions, and stakeholders involved—and thereby contextualize SLCE within the often problematic forces at work within and upon higher education. I thus call on the movement to interrogate, pedagogically, the motivations behind institutional “commitments” to SLCE and to account, ethically, for the economic and social privilege animating this service.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mjcsloa.3239521.0023.112

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Michigan Publishing





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