To judge by mainstream media coverage of higher education, universities are overpriced and overly violent.
Less than a year after the Virginia Tech massacre and within one week of each other, two murder-suicides at Louisiana Technical College and Northern Illinois University claimed a total of nine lives.
The "violent" university is back in the limelight.
In recent weeks, the high price of college tuition has also been reported in national media spurred by the actions of elite private schools to eliminate the early-decision option from the application process and Congressional pressure to force wealthy schools to spend more of their endowments on student aid.
With all of the political activism, new inventions, social justice projects and other great accomplishments on college campuses every day, why is it that the media only show up when there's something negative to report? The lack of higher education coverage in our daily media creates a vacuum in which danger and dollar signs are the only images that come to mind when we hear the word "college."
Society asks, "Are campuses models of civil societies or hotbeds of dysfunction?" Without regular, objective reporting, how will the off-campus community ever know?
And according to one key observer, the gap between the town and the gown is widening.
Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, USA Today editorialist Richard Whitmire, the president of the National Education Writers Association, states: "As the Internet continues to drain readers and advertising, newspapers are left with no choice but to cut back on coverage. Many papers have settled on higher education as an expendable beat."
And so, very little good news from college campuses is making the mainstream press. The reporters who inform parents, government officials, alumni and other stakeholders about application issues, tuition costs, supervision, curricula, programs and other trends have little to say lately.
Hillel is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between the campus and the community in meaningful ways. On many campuses, Hillel's executive and governing boards comprise university administrators, students and community leaders at all levels. Through these forums the campus and its community understand one another's goals and expectations. Hillel's challenge is to communicate the relationship beyond the narrow confines of a conference room.
Hillel's upcoming Summit of the University and the Jewish Community will expand the local dialogues to the national level. Internationally renowned academics, journalists, students and Jewish leaders will discuss the many ways that campuses are modeling civic engagement that do not find their way into the local paper, television or radio: student involvement in the current election cycle, service learning, critical issues forums, alternative break trips, the upsurge in study abroad programs, and much more. Not only will these sessions review what has been done, they will provide intellectual fuel to propel civic engagement even further on college campuses.
With the largest class of high school seniors about to graduate and matriculate, more and more people will become focused on the academy. Hillel can and should play a greater role in educating the Jewish community, and the community at large, about the impressive work that is being done on college campuses.