Purdue pres advocates novel concept: Grads should know the Constitution

But not everyone was fully on board with the idea.

Purdue University president Mitch Daniels proposed to faculty that students should have to pass a civic literacy test to graduate.

An Indiana university’s president is suggesting that his faculty come up with a civic literacy test to implement as a graduation requirement.

Purdue University president and former Republican Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels made the proposal during a meeting of the university senate, which consists largely of faculty members, according to the Journal & Courier. Daniels stated that the purpose of the test would be to ensure that Purdue graduates have a fundamental knowledge of America and its government.

“We would like to be able [to] certify that in addition to the other positive accomplishments here at Purdue, you are leaving with this fundamental understanding,” the president said at the meeting. “I think it would be becoming of our institution. And I think it would be a worthy contribution to our individual students.”

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Faculty members were open to the idea, according to Natalie Carroll, a Purdue professor, and university senate chairwoman. Others seemed unsure that a test would be the best way to encourage civic literacy.

“My question is, to what extent do you think these students will actually learn from taking a 10-minute, multiple-choice exam?” Purdue Fort Wayne professor Chris Erickson asked Daniels, according to the Journal & Courier. “These kinds of questions and ideas should be taken in classes, where faculty are [sic] teaching these ideas. Just requiring what seems to be a multiple-choice exam, I don’t see how that moves us in the right direction.”

English professor Robyn Malo, who teaches at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, remarked, “is a test the best way to ensure prolonged civic engagement over the course of a lifetime? I’d have to brainstorm, I don’t know what other ways there are.”

According to the Journal & Courier, questions on the test could include “What is the supreme law of the land?,” “The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?, “How many amendments does the Constitution have?” and more.

The university senate chairwoman suggested that the senate still did not have information pertaining to what would be considered a passing grade on the potential test, how students who did not pass the test would be handled, and how many times students could take the test to obtain a passing score.

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Lee Breece, a student at Purdue, told Campus Reform that overall, the test would be helpful, but said he isn’t quite sure how much it will help the problem at hand.

“I think that having a test vs. having no test will certainly result in an increase of knowledge about government and its functions, but to what end,” Breece said. “I like the idea of promoting civic awareness, but there a lot of question marks with having to [do so].”

While Breece said that he’s generally supportive of the measure by Daniels, he’d like to see the issue resolved earlier.

“It makes sense to educate and ensure high school students are prepared as they get ready to vote for the first time,” said Breece.

Purdue spokesman Tim Doty told Campus Reform in a statement Tuesday, “if there is one thing that all Americans should be able to agree on, it’s that the current education system is failing to adequately equip many young people, even college graduates, with a basic knowledge of U.S. history and government.” 

”The least we can do as a university is expect our graduates to prove they know as much as a newly naturalized citizen. Whether that takes the form of a brief test required for graduation or something more robust will be up to the faculty who have responsibility over such questions,” Doty added.

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