Havel Civil Society Symposium Embarks on Yearlong Examination of 'Public Work' in the Twin Cities

The Havel Civil Society Symposium, a partnership between the University of St. Thomas and House of Hope Presbyterian Church in cooperation with the Minnesota Czech and Slovak communities, continues an evolution that has been underway since its founding 12 years ago.

The symposium, established in 1999 to encourage discussion on the rights and responsibilities of citizens, originally brought to the Twin Cities prominent speakers for keynote public lectures. They included Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, who gave the inaugural address, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum.

More recently, the symposium hosted noted speakers who participated in a week of lectures, classroom visits and panel discussions that were held at St. Thomas, House of Hope and at Czech and Slovak locations in Minnesota.

The 2011 Havel Symposium will feature a yearlong scholar-in-residence program that explores the concept of civil society in the Twin Cities through numerous workshops and training sessions that will be held throughout the academic year.

Dr. Harry Boyte

This year’s Havel scholar is author and professor Harry Boyte, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and director of Augsburg College’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship, which promotes active citizenship and public work by people of all ages.

Boyte also is director of the American Commonwealth Project, a higher education initiative by a variety of groups in partnership with the Department of Education to strengthen the public purposes and democracy mission of colleges and universities.

Dinner and discussion Nov. 3

The symposium will host a dinner and discussion with Boyte that will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Rogge-Leyden Room of Murray-Herrick Campus Center on the university’s St. Paul campus.

Boyte will give a short talk on “Constructive Politics at Public Work: The Meaning of Citizenship in the 21st Century.”  Reservations for the free dinner and discussion are required and can be made by calling (651) 962-5727 or by sending an e-mail to ccigielski@stthomas.edu.

The goal of the Havel Symposium

The goal of this year’s Havel Civil Society Symposium is to examine the concept of public work in the metro area – ranked the most civically engaged community in the nation by the National Conference on Citizenship – to see if the Twin Cities has the potential to help lead the nation in the process of civic revitalization.

Working with internal and external groups, the symposium will explore innovative ways to revitalize citizenship; renew the public purpose of schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions; reconnect citizens and government; and reinvigorate a sense of the commonwealth.

Through workshops and training sessions to be conducted at both the House of Hope and St. Thomas, the symposium will acquaint audiences with the public-work framework of citizenship developed by Augsburg’s Center for Democracy and Citizenship, a concept that has gained national and international recognition for its theoretical innovations and practical contributions.

As defined and practiced by Boyte and the CDC, public work is a sustained effort by a mix of people intended to create a lasting public good. It also stresses the public dimensions and civic skills of work of all kinds and avoids exhortations about what people should do and instead implements a process that can engage and deepen the civic capacities of individuals, professions, disciplines and whole institutions.

This year’s symposium also will explore the creation of frameworks that would enable colleges, universities, congregations and other civic institutions to “think and act outwardly” as a means of improving civic health.

For more information and updates

Updates on Havel Symposium events can be found at the House of Hope website and the symposium website of the St. Thomas Center for Intercultural Learning and Community Engagement. Information also is available from Dr. Steve Hoffman of St. Thomas’ Department of Political Science at (651) 962-5723.

Harry Boyte Biography

In addition to his work at Augsburg and the Humphrey Institute, Boyte is founder of Public Achievement, a theory-based practice of citizen organizing to do public work for the common good that is used in schools, universities, and communities across the United States and in more than two dozen countries.

For several months each year, Boyte resides in South Africa, where he works with colleagues to analyze models of citizen democracy across Africa. Working with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, he co-directed Lessons from the Field, an indepth look at what has happened to South African democracy since the election of President Nelson Mandela in 1994.

Boyte served as national coordinator of the New Citizenship (1993 to 1995), a broad nonpartisan effort to bridge the citizen-government gap. He presented New Citizenship findings to President Clinton, Vice President Gore and other administration leaders at a 1995 Camp David seminar on the future of democracy, a presentation that helped to shape Clinton's "New Covenant" State of the Union that year.

Boyte has served as a senior adviser to the National Commission on Civic Renewal, and as national associate of the Kettering Foundation. He has worked with a variety of foundations, nonprofit, educational, neighborhood and citizen organizations concerned with community development, citizenship education, and civic renewal. In the 1960s, Boyte worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a field secretary with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the southern civil rights movement.

Boyte is author or co-author of a number of books, including The Citizen Solution: How You Can Make a Difference (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008); Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work, with Nan Kari (Temple University Press, 1996); and Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America, with Sara M. Evans (Harper & Row, 1986; University of Chicago, 1992).

His writings have appeared in more than 70 publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, Political Theory, Public Administration Review, Policy Review, Dissent, and PS: Political Science and Politics. His political commentary has appeared on CBS Morning and Evening News and National Public Radio.

Boyte holds a doctorate in political and social thought from the Union Institute.