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Dr. Adam Bush

Co-founder and Provost of College Unbound
Adam Bush

How is it the role of the school to allow a student to dictate where they want to go that isn’t about the accumulation of these classes leading to a major but about, ‘This is the work I want to do in the world'? How is the school in service of that goal? It’s not project based learning, it’s ‘whole student learning.’ That’s a really important switch for undergraduate higher-education and adult learners, but really for higher-education as a whole. To me, that’s an asset and equity-based approach towards higher-education.

Dr. Adam Bush

Key Interview Takeaways

Higher-ed is grappling with [the fact that] we’ve been deaf to our ideals. What does it mean to work in solidarity to our communities who are marginalized and the most challenged by racial, economic, and gender issues that impact them and us? And what does it mean to build institutions that don’t further inscribe those injustices, but dismantle them? Too often in building institutions, you’re inscribing institution in that structure that it came to be.

Every school is a public institution and needs to act like that for the public good. I think too often schools are acting for their own safety and security. So there’s a reframing of, ‘What does it mean to be a school that centers on the public good, where each level of the school each person is able to be their full self in that space?'

None of these issues are siloed. Of course while we’re dealing with this COVID moment, there’s uprisings and demands for racial justice. Of course there’s call for interventions in climate change. These things are happening at the same time on purpose because they are linked and you can follow strands between them that layer on top of each other. It’s about grappling with being on top of one another and how we deal with the damage we’ve caused and see higher ed as a space for reflection, for organizing, for action, for demands of justice.


Adam Bush is the co-founder and Provost of College Unbound; a degree completion college working both inside and outside carceral spaces of Rhode Island to ensure all adult learners are valued as scholar-practitioners, and have access to a Bachelor’s degree pathway. Dr. Bush has always loved to see how things work and take them apart. His work and practice has always revolved around improvisation, learning, collective action, and imagination. Dr. Bush has directed Imagining America’s Publicly Active Graduate Education fellowship program from 2010-2012, and sat on Imagining America’s National Advisory Board (2010-2019). He has sat on the Strategic Planning Committee of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans and is on the Steering Committee of the Great Colleges for the New Majority Network. He was also the director of experiential education for the Big Picture Company, where he designed and led oral history travel programs for public high schools around issues of race, music, migration and human rights, working to bring civic engagement to the forefront of liberal arts curricula.

Notably, he is the 2011 recipient of the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award for Commitment to Academic and Civic Responsibility from the AAC&U, and the 2015 recipient of the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement from the AASCU’s American Democracy Project. He has received his PhD from USC’s Department of American Studies and Ethnicity for his dissertation “Passing Notes in Class” which examined the origins of early jazz programs and the student and teacher-activist musicians that led to that institutionalization. His Building People’s Histories: Graduate Student Pedagogy, Undergraduate Education, and Collaboration with Community Partners has been published in the Journal of American History. Notably, his Catalyst Paper, Full Participation: Building the Architecture for Diversity and Public Engagement in Higher Education, offers a framework to integrate projects and people working under the umbrella of equity, diversity, and inclusion with those working under the umbrella of community, public, and civic engagement addressing the access and success of traditionally underserved students. Prior, he earned a BA from Columbia University and began his doctoral studies at UC Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness program. As quoted in a USC News article A Leader With His Eyes on the Future Dr. Bush explains his innovative approach: “Through all of this work, what I’m really interested in is full participation that calls for a fundamental reorientation of higher education toward addressing equity and opportunity in deeper, systemic, more complex and more transformative ways.”