Dr. Stuart Langton has written a report on the highlights of his tenure as Lincoln Filene Center director during the 1980’s. This was a highly prolific period for the Center that saw the stabilization of the New England Environmental Network and first rate research on citizen participation done in conjunction with Tufts’ Department of Political Science.
May 4, 2004
1. What was your affiliation with the Lincoln Filene Center and over what time period?
I was the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University from 1978 – 89 and Executive Director of the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs from 1980 – 89.
2. What was your definition of citizenship education and how has it changed over the years?
Citizenship education is the development of knowledge, values, and skills to understand and participate in the civic life of the community, nation, and world. The spheres of citizenship education are economic, political, and social. I have not changed my conception of citizenship education although my priorities of matters of importance have changed from time to time given changes in our nation and world order. For example, today I believe issues of global citizenship are of particular importance.
3. What was the Center’s mission/purpose during your tenure?
The mission of the Center during my tenure was to advance the practices of civic education and citizen participation within the culture of the times. The Center’s efforts during this time were built around five critical questions that constituted what we called the New Civic Agenda: How do we constructively involve citizens in government? How can we include those who are excluded from community life? How can we develop civic values and practices among youth? How do we create mediating forums to increase consensus? How can we get non-profit, government and business institutions to be more responsive to community need and improve cooperation between them?
4. What were the highlights of the Center’s work during your tenure and why were these activities important?
The major goals, accomplishments, and highlights during my tenure are as follows:
To become a nationally significant and influential institution in regard to the issue of citizen participation: To achieve this goal we sought to provide intellectual and programmatic leadership in defining and analyzing the role, practices, and challenges of citizen participation in our society. In 1978 the Center achieved national recognition by sponsoring the National Conference on Citizen Participation in Washington, D.C. attended by 800 people and co-sponsored by nine national groups including Common Cause, the National League of Women Voters, the United Way of America, and the Urban League. We published a book, Citizen Participation in America, prior to the conference and a book of proceeding, Citizen Participation Perspectives, following the event. The conference and books were important in creating greater understanding of the phenomenon of citizen participation; it’s diversity, challenges and importance in American life. As a result of these activities the Center was able to develop a national network of scholars, public mangers, policy makers, and civic leaders to collaborate with over the next decade.
Following the 1978 conference the Center published a magazine, Citizen Participation, for six years, sponsored an annual Citizen Participation summer institute, and sponsored another national conference in Washington in 1984. In addition, the Center undertook research projects about the relevance of cable television as a vehicle for citizen participation. In 1985 the Center received a major grant from the Ford Foundation to undertake a national study of citizen participation strategies and practices. This eventuated in several publications including a book, The Rebirth of Urban Democracy, by Center fellows Jeff Berry, Kent Portney, and Ken Thomson. As a result of these many activities, the Center worked with Tufts faculty in creating a new graduate program in public administration and citizen participation.
During the 1980s the Filene Center had a close working relationship with the National Municipal League (now the National Civic League). The League was a co-sponsor of several Center activities and I regularly published articles in the National Civic Review and chaired their All America Cities program. In 1987 the Center and the League jointly sponsored the National Conference on Civic Renewal in Boston, which was co-sponsored by 28 national organizations as diverse as the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the NAACP. In preparation for this event, three joint issues of Citizen Participation and The National Civic Review were published addressing the issue of civic renewal in American communities. An important outcome of this event was the development of a tool to measure the civic health of communities called the "civic index." Communities throughout the nation have used the civic index as an evaluation and planning tool.
To address issues of citizen education and participation in regard to the environment and the environmental movement: Because of the strong interest in environmental matters in the 1970s and at Tufts, the Center decided to focus on how to strengthen the quality of citizen participation within the environmental movement in New England. A substantial grant from the U.S. Office of Education to study "networking" made it possible to promote collaboration among environmental leaders and organizations and to build better connections with government and the business community. In 1978 a comprehensive survey was conducted to identify major attitudes, interests, and learning needs among environmental leaders. Following this research the Center established work groups in each of the New England states to address learning interests and needs among environmental leaders in each state and then helped to organize training seminars. In 1979 the Center sponsored the first New England Environmental Conference attended by several hundred people. Within five years this annual event would attract 100 co-sponsors and 1,200 participants. Major New England political leaders including many New England governors, U.S. Senators, and Congressmen along with many other national leaders spoke at these well publicized annual meetings. In 1984 a book was published, Environmental Leadership, describing the development of the New England Environmental Network and the many issues it addressed.
Other environmental citizenship activities undertaken at the Center during the 1980s included sponsorship of the New England Environmental Conference for College Students, several courses annually on critical environmental issues, an annual summer Environmental Leadership Training Institute, and co-sponsorship of several international conferences including, Globescope II, a forum on global environmental issues held at Tufts.
A little known fact is that during the 1980s the Filene Center organized regular meetings between environmental leaders and the New England regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss issues of mutual concern. These meetings, over time, were important in changing the relationship between the EPA and environmentalists in New England from adversarial to collaborative.
The overall importance of these many efforts was to help the environmental movement in New England to become as effective, inclusive, and constructive as anywhere in the United States.
To continue to support citizenship education in public education: As a former history and civics teacher, I came to the Filene Center with a strong appreciation for its excellent work in the areas of citizenship education and social studies. While this was not our major priority, both Frank Duehay and I were committed to keeping this tradition alive at the Center by continuing to provide courses in economic, global, and legal education. This was consistent with our belief that citizenship education in elementary and secondary schools is critical in preparing people for civic involvement. Through the dedicated leadership of some very talented instructors (Dick Brown, Paul Molloy, and George Watson) the Center continued to provide a dozen courses and workshops a year for teachers in these areas. Other related activities included serving as the secretariat for the Economic Education Council of Massachusetts, publishing a workbook for teachers on global education, Massachusetts and the World, and undertaking a demonstration project to engage high school students in community service.
To promote the values of community service and the role of non-profit community based institutions: Because volunteer community service is an important type of citizen participation and non-profit groups are critical to promoting such activity, the Center developed many programs during the 1980s concerned with volunteerism and the non-profit sector. For example, the Center sponsored the New England Conference on Non-Profit Leadership and Management in 1983, then conducted a survey of learning needs and interests among leaders of non-profit institutions throughout New England, and consequently established the Non-Profit Leadership Institute that was to sponsor over three dozen training seminars in the next five years and also develop a certification program for non-profit managers.
To support research on volunteering and the non-profit sector, the Center became the Secretariat for the oldest organization of researchers on these topics, the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars, which published the Journal of Voluntary Action Research. In addition, the Center undertook some selective research in Massachusetts to guide its development of programs. This included a study of volunteer needs, opportunities, and challenges regarding volunteering in Eastern Massachusetts. A study was also conducted among corporate public affairs officers in Massachusetts to identify their interests, priorities, and needs. The Center organized six training programs to promote greater and more effective corporate involvement as a result of this research.
In 1987 the Filene Center was asked to help organize and assist a community service initiative, Challenge to Leadership, involving major local leaders including the Cardinal and other religious leaders, the Governor, the Senate President and House Speaker, the Mayor of Boston, newspaper publishers, bank and university presidents, and others. The Center organized annual conferences for several years for 350 major area leaders in which one or several areas of community need were selected for attention. For the next year, the Center helped to organize work groups of conference participants and their appointees to develop a plan and take action on the areas of need. Through Challenge to Leadership, cooperation between local leaders was advanced considerably, and many project activities led to or supported important change including a substantial increase in volunteering in Greater Boston, a reduction in the juvenile crime rate in the region, improvement in economic development strategies and practices in Massachusetts, and the passage of educational reform legislation in Massachusetts.
5. What were the effects of being an independent entity from the University?
The Filene Center was never a completely independent entity from Tufts University. The Center building was constructed for Tufts, although the Civic Education Foundation was to provide oversight and support in concert with the University. Staff members were employed through Tufts, Tufts provided financial and other administrative services, and the University appointed the Lincoln Filene Professor. So, in reality, the Center was always quasi-independent. The value of this arrangement was that the Center could attract support through its Board – the Civic Education Foundation, control it’s destiny, resist possible untoward pressures from the University, and enjoy the benefits of being within a university. By the late 1970s and early 1980s this quasi-independent status became vulnerable because of changing priorities, values, practices, and leadership within Tufts University- not unlike many other academic institutions at the time. Consequently, the quasi-independent model of an earlier era was not sustainable as the organizational culture of Tufts became more corporate in its design and behavior.
In retrospect, the Filene Center and Tufts owe a great deal of gratitude to the hundreds of dedicated people who served on the Board of the Civic Education Foundation for the last five decades. They built the institution and provided it with support and guidance. Indeed, I was very grateful to so many of the members of the Foundation who helped to make my tenure at the Filene Center an exciting and fulfilling experience. .
6. How did being a university based center effect your work?
Being at Tufts University provided great opportunities for the Filene Center. In fact, we would not have been able to accomplish all that we did without the support of several dozen faculty members and over one hundred students annually who worked in Center programs. Further, the good reputation of Tufts was an asset for the Center. On the other hand, the administration of the University during my tenure was uneven and limited in leadership experience. This eventually led to program duplication and uncertainty within the University about institutional priorities and, in this regard, being based at the University neutralized some of the advantages. On balance, having been a consultant to many organizations that needed to change, I always believed that with appropriate institutional leadership and a productive organizational climate within the University, the Filene Center was very well positioned for continued growth.
7. What were some of the things that the Center did prior to your time?
As a former high school teacher and a student of Philosophy of Education, I was more acquainted with the intellectual contributions of the Center as reflected in its materials and the writings of former directors. For example, I was inspired by the post World War II vision and passion of John Mahoney regarding the importance of civic education as a foundation for democracy. Franklin Patterson’s writings gave me insight into the potential of the high school as a strong source of nourishment for democratic capacity and practice. The writings of John Gibson were rich in lessons for the social studies and were helpful in seeing how to use issues in helping students to develop democratic sentiments and capacity. As a person who has long cared about issues of civil rights, I also found the work of the Center on inter-group relations to be particularly helpful.
8. Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
Yes. The success of the Filene Center over time and during my tenure has been as a result of many dedicated and talented people. For example, Frank Duehay, my predecessor was bold and courageous in renewing the agenda of the Filene Center in the late 1970s. Bruce Harriman, a very influential business leader in Boston as President of the Civic Education Foundation was extraordinarily valuable in helping us to achieve focus, balance, and support for our programs during the 1980s. Ken Thomson came to the Center as a volunteer in 1978 and was so invaluable I hired him as our Director of Citizen Participation Programs and he did a terrific job for 10 years. The Environmental Citizenship Program would not have been such an incredible success were it not for my late colleague, Nancy Anderson, who was beyond peer in her commitment to environmental values and the nurturing of students. Fred Miller did a superior job in advancing the Non Profit leadership programs of the Center drawing upon his experiences as Assistant Director of the Boys Clubs of America. Richard Walker, our Associate Director, now Vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was very effective in helping the Center to relate to the Boston community. And this is just a sample of the scores of people who made the Center the institution that it became in the late 1970s and 1980s. As I have said to them, "Never have so few achieved so much with so little."
I do wish the Filene Center well in its next incarnation as a school of public service for Tufts University. It seems hardly possible to me that it was 18 years ago that we proposed such a school for Tufts. I congratulate all who have finally made this possible and look forward to the good works that I am sure will result.