Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a hidden gem among institutions working to reform civic education at the university level. President Jenna A. Robinson says it was founded “to renew and fulfill the promise of higher education in North Carolina and the nation.”
The Center’s namesake is former North Carolina governor James G. Martin, an influential voice in education policy who taught at Davidson College for 12 years before serving six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Martin Center is the “only public policy organization that focuses on state and local solutions to the critical issues of higher education,” Robinson notes. Realizing after graduate school that “working in public policy was my calling,” she joined in 2007 and became president in 2015.
The Martin Center’s mission is to increase the freedom of students to express a diverse range of ideas on college campuses, promote mutual respect for civic institutions that support economic freedom, help elevate students’ literacy and overall knowledge, and ensure that colleges and universities spend money wisely.
One way that the Center accomplishes these aims, Robinson says, is by advocating that institutions of higher education “return to a general education curriculum that includes American history as well as the other building blocks of a liberal arts education.”
Robinson contends that Americans generally “do not know their history, understand their own culture, or appreciate the institutions and traditions that are uniquely American.” In fact, she points out, students at many universities can graduate without ever taking a course in American history. Reform is needed, she says, “from elementary school through higher education” to impart the civic literacy required of American citizens.
Motivated by ideas of limited government, freedom of association, property rights, and the belief that competition often produces excellence, the Martin Center “conducts studies in areas such as governance, curriculum, financing, access, accountability, faculty research, and administrative policies”; “explores ways to increase the accountability of trustees, administrators, faculty, and students”; and “engages in the broader dialogue about how to improve higher education around the nation.”
The Center’s resources include regular articles from professors and scholars (submissions can be made here), weekly newsletters, events such as lectures and Q&A discussions, the “Higher Education Moment” video series (part of the Center’s YouTube channel), important policy briefs such as a recent report investigating the rise of activist professors, and past issues of Governance, a quarterly journal that examines best practices in higher education.
The Martin Center has featured articles detailing the rise of critical race theory in classrooms and a Q&A feature on the neglected but important Teaching History for Freedom program, part of the American Higher Education Act, which was reauthorized in 2008. In another illuminating article, doctoral student Sumantra Maitra examines two cases of problematic content in history education: the widespread adoption of a curriculum derived from the New York Times’s 1619 Project and the elimination of the Western Art History course at Yale University.
For individuals in Raleigh and surrounding areas, the Martin Center hosts an on-site library featuring over 500 books, essays, and other works that staff are constantly working to expand. Visitors are required to call ahead to make an appointment prior to a visit.
For undergraduate, graduate, and law students, the Center offers internships during the spring, summer, and fall. Interns can apply either to be a research assistant or a digital media specialist and will gain valuable experience about higher education policy in the course of writing op-eds, conducting research, or working on digital marketing.
Through the Martin Center’s efforts, parents, students, trustees, and alumni can better understand how colleges and universities should use their funds; free thought and expression on campuses can be safeguarded; and state and local governments can gain needed oversight.
By advancing education policies that serve all American students, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is working to ensure that all Americans receive an education worthy of our country’s highest ideals.
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.