The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has selected Weber State University to be part of a nation-wide initiative to study economic inequality and its effects on democracy.

According to AASCU’s website, Weber State and 20 other universities and colleges from around the country were selected to participate in this initiative, which is a joint effort between AASCU’s American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment.

“We believe that those of us in higher education have the responsibility to engage our students and communities in assembling the knowledge and skills to effectively enact change related to the complex issue of growing economic inequality,” stated the website’s introduction for the initiative.

In order to apply for participation in this initiative, an individual from each institution was required to submit an application for membership on an advisory council. This individual will then represent and guide their institution throughout the three-year initiative.

Michael Vaughan, WSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, submitted the application on behalf of WSU and was selected for membership on the initiative’s advisory council.

Vaughan described the efforts of the initiative. “Part of it is education and curriculum development and part of it is research,” said Vaughan. “The third part would be public policy.”

According to Vaughan, many of the specific topics and actions that the initiative will tackle are still in the planning stages, as are the expected results.

However, one possible result of Weber State’s participation in this initiative could be the creation of a research center dedicated to inequality and poverty.

According to a document presented to the Weber State Board of Trustees on March 17, Weber State put in a request for the establishment of a Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality.

According to the document, the center would study the relationships between public policy, economic inequality, economic opportunity and social mobility to prepare undergraduates for lives of informed civic engagement.

“Our participation in the American Democracy Project’s Income Inequality effort could eventually lead to a center, but that has not been approved, and, therefore, does not yet exist,” Vaughan clarified.

Within the trustees meeting, many of the board members seemed enthusiastic about the center’s proposal.  One such member was Nolan Karras. According to Karras, a key factor in eliminating economic inequality is the establishment of a solid middle class, which the proposed center could help achieve by educating the future workforce.

The center was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees and awaits approval from the WSU Board of Regents.

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