In MSNBC appearance, Daniels discusses higher education's role in saving democracy

Universities are 'absolutely critical' to bolstering democracy around the world, Johns Hopkins University president says during discussion of his new book, 'What Universities Owe Democracy'

Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels was a guest Wednesday morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where he discussed the critical role universities must play in the survival of democracy.

While providing an overview of his new book, What Universities Owe Democracy, Daniels said universities should be considered alongside the courts, elected representatives, and the media as the guardians of democracy, both in the United States and around the world.

"We see country by country outside of the United States backsliding from democracy to authoritarianism," Daniels said. "We see [the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6], we understand the degree of polarization, extremism, misrepresentation of fact—all of these things are imperiling our democracy. The university is also to my mind an absolutely critical site for how we bolster and make democracy stronger … starting first and foremost with the growing of an incredible diversity of race, religion, geography, and socioeconomic status that is represented in our student bodies."

Daniels went on to talk about how institutions of higher education often find themselves at the center of the so-called culture wars, facing questions surrounding a core value of democracy: the freedom of speech.

"There is a dogmatism that we are seeing both on left and right in our institutions," Daniels said. But in those differences, Daniels said he sees opportunity: "If we can really educate students on how to engage across difference—understanding the importance of debate, creating a sense of civic friendship, that you don't have to agree but you agree to try to work on something collaborative to make the country or the university better—I think that these are habits that are essential at this moment in time."

In addition to his appearance on MSNBC, several major news outlets have recently published op-ed pieces on this topic by Daniels, including The Atlantic and the Washington Post.

What Universities Owe Democracy has been made open access, available for digital download at no cost on the JHU Press website. All proceeds from sales of the book will be returned to Johns Hopkins University Press to fulfill its mission of advancing and disseminating knowledge to the world.