Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday formally asked California's state colleges and universities to make community service a graduation requirement, noting that it seems a modest request for students who benefit from a taxpayer-subsidized education to give something back to the community.
In letters to higher-education leaders, Davis urged the University of California, California State University and community colleges to help "our students to understand, as generations before them did, the importance of contributing to their community."
"A service ethic should be taught and reinforced as a lasting value in California," Davis said.
Davis dispatched Gary Hart, his education secretary, to deliver the message in person to the UC Board of Regents on Thursday and lend some urgency to a faculty review of his proposal.
Hart also sketched a few new details of the governor's idea, suggesting that the public service requirements be "consistent" among California's three systems of higher education and that they be limited to students working toward a four-year bachelor's degree.
For the most part, he left the proposal vague, deferring to the faculty, which traditionally has the role of arranging curricula and setting graduation requirements.
Davis' idea was warmly received by the regents. Sherry L. Lansing, a recent Davis appointee to the board, noted that a community service requirement at her stepson's high school had a tremendous influence on the teenager.
"I'd be lying if I said that he was looking forward to the 120 hours of community service," she said. But over the months, she said, she noticed that he seemed to benefit as much as those he served.
Regent Velma Montoya raised a concern about adding to the burden of poor students, who are working their way through college.
Is is right, she asked, to charge students to participate in public service? "I'm hoping that they don't have to work at McDonald's to pay for a course on community service," she said.
Such community service programs are flourishing on college campuses in California and across the nation. Many of the programs are tied to classwork, to give students practical, hands-on experiences related to their studies.
But only a few campuses, such as Cal State Monterey Bay, make such service mandatory.
Davis' proposal for compulsory volunteerism has kicked up some controversy since he unveiled it in April.
Some college officials wonder how they can possibly coordinate significant, meaningful volunteer jobs for the more than 1 million students attending the state's public colleges and universities.
They also worry that such a graduation requirement will slow the progress of students at a time when universities want students to graduate more quickly to make room for a 500,000-student surge in enrollment over the next half dozen years.
Furthermore, a recent study by the American Psychological Society found that students who are forced to volunteer--especially those who are not willing or ready--will probably be put off from volunteering later in life.
Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) said he and other lawmakers are solidly behind Davis' proposal.