College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Dr. Bill Benet is an educator/researcher/activist who developed the Polarities of Democracy theory at the University of Toronto. He has over 50 years’ experience in government, nonprofit management, and business. Beginning with the Civil Rights Movement in 1960, he has been a lifelong activist for social justice. Following three years in the US Army (1965-1968), he served 28 years in the Monroe County Legislature as an elected representative from Rochester, New York, including five years as Majority Leader.
Dr. Benet received his Ph.D. in Adult Education and Community Development from the University of Toronto in 2006, with a specialization in Workplace Learning and Change. He has been a contributing faculty member at Walden University’s School of Public Policy and Administration since 2008, where he primarily serves as a Dissertation Committee Chair for students using the Polarities of Democracy as the theoretical framework for their dissertations. In addition, Dr. Benet serves as President and Senior Fellow for the Center for Democratic Values and as Executive Director for the Graduation Pledge Alliance (an alliance of over 200 colleges and universities where graduates sign a Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility).
Dr. Benet’s primary research interests are in using the Polarities of Democracy as a theoretical framework for positive social change through the democratization of workplaces and society. The Polarities of Democracy theory addresses the social and environmental challenges that we face on a local, national, and global level. Dr. Benet uses the Polarities of Democracy to promote participatory practices that allow citizens, workers, families, organizations, and communities to unleash their creativity and strengthen their capacity for research and social change initiatives. The Polarities of Democracy theory is being used around the world as a guide to build healthy, sustainable, and just communities. As of July 2018 the Polarities of Democracy has been used as the theoretical framework for six completed PhD studies at Walden University, with an additional three studies having been approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and approximately 20 studies in the pre-IRB stage.
Dr. Benet is now in his fourth career. He came to academia following careers in nonprofit management, government, and business.
His nonprofit experience (1972-2008) included 25 years of senior level leadership positions with direct responsibility for planning, managing, promoting, and teaching adult education classes and programs designed to bring about social change. These positions encompassed a spectrum of organizations including Genesee Ecumenical Ministries, the Citizens Alliance to Prevent Drug Abuse, the Rochester Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and the Rochester-Toronto Community/University Partnership Project.
In the governmental arena, through his years both as an elected official and social justice activist, Dr. Benet has been an outspoken champion for progressive issues such as human rights, peace and justice issues, economic equality, and the environment. His governmental accomplishments include adoption of living wage legislation, gay rights advancements, support for a nuclear freeze, disinvestment from South Africa during the anti-apartheid movement, and enactment of a countywide comprehensive development plan designed to protect the environment. In 2016 he was an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention representing Bernie Sanders.
In the business sector, Dr. Benet co-managed (with his father) a family concession business for sixteen years. In 1984, following the death of his father (a lifelong “carny” who had run away from home at 17 to join the Ringling Bros. Circus), he turned this family owned business into a nonprofit, volunteer operated, social enterprise fund-raiser (the Joe Benet Memorial Kazoo Fest) which has generated over $2,000,000 for Camp Good Days and Special Times (a camp for children with cancer).
As noted above, Dr. Benet’s academic work focuses on his Polarities of Democracy theory, which is designed to strengthen the democratization of workplaces and society in the areas of freedom and authority, justice and due process, diversity and equality, human rights and communal obligations, and participation and representation. For further information, please contact Dr. Benet directly.