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Group photo at Maxwell's 100th celebration

From the Dean: An Enduring Commitment to Citizenship

June 12, 2024

David M. Van Slyke

David M. Van Slyke

In the early 1920s, the United States faced dramatic social, economic and political change. In the wake of World War I, cities grew exponentially with the rise in factory jobs. Women went to work in record numbers and had recently secured the right to vote. Nationality quotas limited the number of immigrants allowed into the country. Black Americans sought stable employment, better living conditions and political participation. Prohibition and anti-communist sentiment fueled social tensions.

At Syracuse University, alumnus and trustee George H. Maxwell envisioned a new school focused on examining citizenship, promoting democracy and instilling what he called “intelligent patriotism.” With his gift of $500,000 to form the School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, our story began.

Amid celebrations and initiatives marking our 100th anniversary, I’ve reflected on the significance of Maxwell’s vision and his philanthropic investment. His focus on engaged citizenship recognized the integral role of civil discourse and mutual understanding in a healthy democracy. He understood that effective democratic governance relies not only on a capable central government and intergovernmental agreements, but also on the engagement of individuals and organizations across sectors.

Maxwell’s founding principles are front and center today. As I write this, we are in the midst of a highly contentious national election. We continue to grapple with misinformation, polarization and a general distrust of the media and government. Conflicts around the world threaten to destabilize democratic institutions and hard-fought norms of freedom, liberty and equality. As much as ever, we need engaged citizens who are willing to support the rights of others to have ideas different than their own, who are willing to have difficult conversations with a shared goal of seeking common ground and compromise, and who seek evidence-based solutions.

From our beginning, grounded in the social sciences, public affairs and policy, and international affairs, the Maxwell School has been at the forefront of studying, teaching and shaping national and world affairs by preparing our students—regardless of their professional aspirations—to consider their public impact. This edition spotlights numerous examples of this, from the new Carnegie-Maxwell Policy Planning Lab to a Tenth Decade project that promotes a reciprocal learning relationship between the University community and the peoples of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

At the heart of this edition are centennial stories that reflect our enduring commitment to citizenship and highlight Maxwell trailblazers. Among them, you’ll find a map with a sampling of submissions from a continuing campaign that asks alumni around the world to tell us what they Ever Strive for—that is, what motivates them to make the world better.

Here are a few of the ideals that I ever strive for as I have the honor of being the Maxwell School’s dean during such a significant milestone:

  • to foster an inclusive and diverse learning and working environment in which we treat others with dignity, respect and compassion;
  • to ensure graduates develop the skills of collaboration and conflict resolution to promote opportunities for dialogue and combat polarization;
  • to challenge students to question prevailing ideas and use evidence to consider alternative ways of understanding phenomena in all their complexity, and to share their findings with simplicity, humility and an orientation toward constructive action.

As you read this edition, I hope you will share in my sense of pride for what has been achieved in the 100 years since our founding. Join me in looking to the future with hope and optimism for what the next century holds.

Cursive signature of Dean David Van Slyke

David M. Van Slyke
Dean, Maxwell School
Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government Policy

Published in the Spring 2024 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

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