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UMBC faculty member heads national collegiate democracy movement

University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life was created last year to encourage students, faculty and staff to become civic agents in their community. Dr. David Hoffman, the director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, was recently named chair of the American Democracy Project’s steering committee.

The American Democracy Project (ADP) is a nationwide collegiate effort “committed to getting students involved in civic life, in communities, in politics, in all the places they can make a difference,” Hoffman said. It is just one of many programs headed by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), an organization of nearly 400 public institutions throughout the United States, Guam, the Bahamas, China and Guyana. 250 of these institutions have joined the ADP network since its launch in 2003. As chair of the steering committee, Hoffman will oversee discussions of the ADP’s current initiatives and make sure all members have the information they need to be successful. 

According to Hoffman, UMBC stood out from the crowd long before the opening of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life nearly a year ago. “UMBC has been a national leader in this [democracy] movement for a decade,” he explained. Hoffman mentioned campus programs such as the BreakingGround grant program and the STRiVE Leadership Retreat that encourage students to take agency on campus.

“The argument that people at UMBC have made is that we don’t just want to be preparing students to participate in the democracy we have; we need to be preparing students to create the kind of democracy we would like to have,” Hoffman said. That is where the Center for Democracy and Civic Life steps in to help create the unique campus climate.

Dr. Romy Hübler, the assistant director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, said that their goal is to help students realize that they “can have agency and can address the issues that make [them] feel… not seen” on this campus. Hoffman works with Hübler as a colleague at both UMBC and the ADP. Though Hoffman chairs the ADP’s steering committee, Hübler serves as the campus liaison for the program. 

Hübler said that “civic life is everywhere” on UMBC’s campus, and the Center helps contribute to that. In addition to the aforementioned STRiVE Leadership Retreat, the Center for Democracy and Civic Life is responsible for campus activities such as Alternative Spring Break and workshops with ResLife staff, among other events. 

According to Hoffman, these examples of the Center’s work demonstrate that UMBC has a lot to offer the ADP network. Overall, “people at UMBC cooperate very well in a way that is unique,” Hoffman said. 

During his term as chair of the steering committee, Hoffman will lead coordination efforts “to make sure member institutions have the resources they need,” he said. It can be “very hard to coordinate work between 250 institutions,” especially as the committee meets in person only once per year at a national conference.

While Hoffman is proud of the Center’s work that catapulted him to this new position, he noted that it was built on a very strong foundation: “[The Center’s] ideas have become highly influential in the network because of the work of a lot of people at UMBC.

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect Hoffman’s opinion about how UMBC contributes to the ADP network. Corrected Sept. 18, 2019. 

Photo: Dr. David Hoffman, the new chair of the American Democracy Project’s steering committee. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hoffman. 

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