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The Role of the University in ivil iscourse



Mount Aloysius College Thirteenth President

Thomas P. Foley

Inauguration Symposium September 16, 2011

The University can be an incubator for democracy -

a place where all the skills are taught and all the behaviors are modeled that are essential to a democracy, so that when students become “citizens� they will have the tools they need to make democracy, and their lives, work.

President Thomas P. Foley State of College Address January 11, 2011

Š Mount Aloysius College, 2012 Library of Congress Control Number: 2012935172

Table of Contents Panelists’ Biographies


President Foley’s Opening Remarks


Proceedings of the Symposium


Question and Answer Session


President Foley’s Closing Remarks


Selected Readings




Panelists’ Biographies John E. Murray, PhD

John E. Murray Jr., PhD, served thirteen years as Duquesne University’s first lay president before assuming his current duties as Chancellor of the University and Professor of Law. During his tenure, Duquesne added two new schools—the School of Health Sciences and the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. Dozens of academic programs were also added and the student population nearly doubled. A respected legal scholar and author of over twenty books, Murray served for eleven years as editor of the prestigious Journal of Legal Education. In addition to his renowned Murray on Contracts and Cases and Materials on Contracts, he has written numerous treatises, classroom books, and teaching manuals; his writings have been cited by courts across the country. He has also contributed numerous articles and op-ed pieces to the national and local press. Murray was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to the City of Pittsburgh Oversight Committee, which he chaired until July 2006. He has also served on numerous Allegheny County committees. He has been honored for his service by numerous organizations, including the National Conference for Community and Justice, the American Red Cross, the United Way, Junior Achievement, and the B’nai B’rith.

Sondra Myers

Sondra Myers is the Senior Fellow for International, Civic and Cultural Projects at the University of Scranton. In November 2008, Myers launched The National Conversation on Prosperity and the Public Good in Rwanda, a project to foster civic participation and public discussion of issues and ideas that strengthen democracy. From 2001 to 2005 Myers served as a senior associate at the University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative, organizing and coordinating meetings of the group’s International Roundtables in Washington and Berlin. Prior to that, Myers directed the President’s Millennium Seminars: The University for a New Democratic Era, a project of The George Washington University. Since 1996, Ms. Myers has presented programs on democracy in Prague, Cracow, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Kigali and Nairobi. In addition she has organized and moderated symposia on culture and public policy for academic institutions and cultural organizations around the country. She is the co-executive producer of The Courage to Care, a documentary film about rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, nominated for an Academy Award in 1986. Myers has edited numerous works, including The Pluralist Paradigm: Democracy and Religion in the 21st Century (2006) and The New Rwanda: Prosperity and the Public Good (2008).


Honorable D. Brooks Smith

The Honorable D. Brooks Smith has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit since September of 2002. Formerly, Judge Smith was the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Judge Smith served as District Attorney of Blair County, Pennsylvania from 1983-84, and he later became a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of that county. He is an adjunct professor at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law where he teaches a course on class actions. He has served as a trustee of both Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and Mount Aloysius College. Judge Smith is a member of the American Law Institute, and he has served by appointment of the Chief Justice of the United States on two U.S. Judicial Conference Committees. Judge Smith has assisted the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Justice, USAID, and other organizations in rule of law efforts in Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine. Judge Smith is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College and the Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

David M. Shribman

David M. Shribman is the Executive Editor & Vice President of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He came to Pittsburgh from The Boston Globe where he was assistant managing editor, columnist, and Washington bureau chief. He joined The Globe after serving as national political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, he covered Congress and national politics for The New York Times and was a member of the national staff of The Washington Star. Mr. Shribman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1995. His column, “My Point,” is syndicated nationally. Mr. Shribman was a regular panelist on PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” and a frequent analyst for BBC radio.He has lectured at universities and colleges around the country. Mr. Shribman is an emeritus member of the Board of Trustees of Dartmouth College and is a member of the selection committee for the Profiles in Courage Award given by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. His I Remember My Teacher, a tribute to the nation’s great educators, was published in April 2002. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and did graduate work at Cambridge University, England, as a James Reynolds Scholar.


From left: Ms. Sondra Myers, The Honorable D. Brooks Smith, Dr. John Murray, Jr., David M. Shribman and President Thomas P. Foley

Proceedings of a Symposium conducted during the Inauguration of Thomas P. Foley as Thirteenth President of Mount Aloysius College September 16, 2011

As aired on The Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Opening Remarks: President Tom Foley

Good morning. I am Tom Foley and I am officially in my second year as President of Mount Aloysius College; I think that makes me a sophomore. Let me welcome you to one hundred and ten year old Alumni Hall. That’s right, one hundred and ten years old. That is original stained glass you see in the windows. Those are the original balustrades up above. It is the original flooring— all of it refurbished just in the past year. This hall has been home to dance troupes from New York City, scores of sopranos and concert violinists, hundreds of dances and proms, a couple dozen volleyball and basketball teams, and even a few badminton players. We found some shuttlecocks up in the balustrades. We think that Sr. Benedict Joseph, sitting right over there, who has spent fifty-six years of her life here as a student, Professor of Chemistry, and Dean of Women, hit them there.

I’m delighted to welcome you to our second inaugural symposium, entitled The Role of the University in Civil Discourse. I have two very brief functions here today. One, to answer quickly the question, why this topic? And secondly, to introduce you to our moderator.

“Democracy, at its best, is a conversation, a civil conversation about the laws that govern and the values that define.” Thomas P. Foley


First assignment, why civil discourse? The notion of civil discourse traces back to the Roman concept of societas civili, which was the belief that one’s conduct towards others in the public realm should always seek to promote the good of the city, of the state, the good of the whole. The idea then was that democracy, at its best, is a conversation, a civil conversation about the laws that govern and the values that define.

Mount Aloysius College continues a focus begun last year on the simple issue of civil discourse—simple perhaps, but one that undergirds all the debates that we engage in here on our campus and beyond.

This focus began in response to the shootings in Tucson—where a Congresswoman, a nine year old girl, a federal judge, a social worker, a great grandmother, a retired construction worker turned church volunteer, and a woman celebrating fifty-five years of marriage to her high school sweetheart were all gunned down in front of a supermarket during a “Congress on the Corner” event.

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

There followed a furious and occasionally uncivil debate over who, if anyone, contributed to the actions of the madman who shot them, contributed by their exhortations, their rhetoric, their characterizations in blogs, tweets, public speeches, campaign fliers, and other postings. Whatever the conclusion to that on-going debate, at the end of the day, these people were shot for expressing their political views—in some cases just for choosing to listen to someone else’s political views—in a public marketplace. That sounds like something that you might hear about in the Middle East, or maybe in a country in sub-Saharan Africa that didn’t exist when many of us were born, or maybe in Belfast a generation ago. But it all happened right here in the United States. And we move so fast sometimes—twenty-four hour news cycles—that we are onto the next issue, the next tragedy, the next disaster, before we have had time to sift for the meaning in the last.

As noted, “civility” derives from the same root as the word “city.” Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both characterized America as “a shining city upon a hill,” a simile right out of the Book of Matthew. Cities have grown exponentially, yet civility doesn’t seem to have kept pace. We are bombarded on our airwaves and by daily blogs with diatribes that portray those who have different ideas as lacking any redeeming virtues. One commentator put it this way: There has never been a more pervasive level of intellectual dishonesty in society. A political opponent never has a thought worth considering. It is not enough to dismiss the opponent's ideas. Anyone on the other side must also be characterized as the epitome of evil. If the argument continues to fail, a variety of ad hominem labels are available to end the discussion without any resolution except hate. Confidence in government at all levels is abysmally low for good reason.

“Civility” derives from the same root as the word “city.” Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both characterized America as “a shining city upon a hill,” a simile right out of the Book of Matthew.” Thomas P. Foley

I am not sure about all the conclusions in those lines from panelist and former Duquesne President Dr. John Murray, but I am confident that Dr. Murray would agree with President Obama’s challenge after Tucson. He called on Americans to… ...expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.


“Critical thinking, the ability to listen, to analyze, to form ideas and to communicate them—these are all skills fundamental to education and to democracy. For many, the university is where we learn these skills.” Thomas P. Foley

“There’s been, if not a decline, certainly a dramatic change in what we regard as civil behavior by any definition and across communication channels. And I mean both traditional and social media.” Thomas P. Foley


I believe there is a role that we in education play in the march toward a more civil society. Critical thinking, the ability to listen, to analyze, to form ideas and to communicate them—these are all skills fundamental to education and to democracy. For many, the university is where we learn these skills… s s s s s

by providing a safe, respectful environment that allows opinions to be shared. by creating an atmosphere where the holder of an opinion can feel safe. by teaching critical thinking skills. by encouraging the dispassionate consideration of issues. by, in effect, giving students a nurturing environment to test their democratic skills.

Mount Aloysius College is like an incubator for democracy where all the skills are taught, and all the behaviors are modeled so that when students become “citizens,” they will have the tools needed to make democracy work. Each of our panelists has written powerfully on a different aspect of civil discourse. Civil discourse in academia and in life. Civil discourse in public life. Civil discourse in a global environment. And civil discourse in an internet age. And as far as I can tell, they’re fairly united in their views in at least three respects.

First, that the notion of what constitutes civil discourse has become immeasurably more complex than when the Romans first sought to define it. Second, that there’s been, if not a decline, certainly a dramatic change in what we regard as civil behavior by any definition and across communication channels. And I mean both traditional and social media. And thirdly, that higher education, the university in our title, has a role to play in both defining civil discourse, the first issue, and in improving it, the second issue. And I’m very anxious, for one, to hear this conversation. So let’s get to it.

Let me introduce our moderator. Sondra Myers has focused on two themes in her professional life: the integration of culture into public policy, and the strengthening of democracy and the culture of interdependence worldwide. She has lectured at dozens of colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. She is the editor of a number of books on the intersection of democracy, religion, culture and prosperity,

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

and is currently the Senior Fellow for International, Civic and Cultural Projects at the University of Scranton. Sondra is a past chair of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the past president of the National Federation of States Humanities Councils, and a recipient of the Connecticut College Medal, which is the highest honor bestowed on an alum of her college. She served seven years as the cultural advisor to Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey, which is where I first met her, during which time she convened a wide-ranging series of seminars on matters of public policy, culture, and education. She holds honorary degrees from our sister school, Misericordia University and from the University of Scranton. Sondra Myers.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

It speaks volumes that Tom Foley has chosen civility and civil discourse as the focus of his inauguration as president of Mount Aloysius College.

Civility in this instance is not about good manners, though they are important. In the context of our discussion, civility is a necessary ingredient in a pluralistic democratic society. Civility and civic discourse are defining features in a society of others—of people from any number of cultures, countries and ethnicities who believe profoundly that government must be of, for, and by the people. We are neither a family nor a tribe. We must be carefully taught to go beyond tribalism—even beyond family values, beyond provincialism, beyond xenophobia.

It is something of a higher calling to be an American citizen. Our master, our ruler, if you will, is the law, the Constitution and what Yale Law professor Akhil Amar calls the Unwritten Constitution—those laws, customs and iconic leaders and events that articulate the hopes and dreams and the progress of our society and that help us to be all that we might be.

We know by experience that this nation is still an experiment. Every day we wonder if we really can live together civically, creatively and compassionately. I think we Americans need to understand better how important that is to us individually and collectively, and why we must not take for granted that this is business as usual around the world. I hope that our discussion will be an incentive for all of us to think about this matter more

“Every day we wonder if we really can live together civically, creatively and compassionately.” Sondra Myers


deeply and to recognize it as important to the very existence of our nation.

“The most important office in our democracy is that of private citizen.” Justice Louis Brandeis

Knowing how important this idea is to President Foley, I feel confident that students at Mount Aloysius College will know when they leave here that whatever else they have studied, whatever profession or career path they have chosen, they are first and foremost citizens of their communities, of the United States, if that is the case, and of the world. As the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed, “the most important office in our democracy is that of private citizen.” Let that be etched in the minds of students, faculty and administrators at Mount Aloysius, and even perhaps engraved on one of your fine buildings.

And let me propose another thought, one that comes to me frequently as I travel in the developing world. And that is that in the realm of rights and responsibilities, the most precious right an individual can have is the right to be responsible for the public good. It’s a very rare privilege in this world. We Americans can’t begin to know how rare it is. But we should think about that. Today our main task is to ponder what higher education in general and Mount Aloysius College in particular can and will do in its curriculum and in its co-curricular and extracurricular programs to foster a civil society in this institution that will stand as a microcosm of a just and democratic society and to prepare its students for the civic life.

“The real test of our universities lies in who our students become.” Sondra Myers

It’s a big order, but to paraphrase a compelling thought from a distinguished Jesuit educator, the real test of our universities lies in who our students become. That said, let me introduce the distinguished members of the panel to you and proceed with the symposium. After we on the panel have engaged in discussion, we will invite the audience to join the discussion, and we look forward to your questions and comments.

Dr. John Murray is Chancellor and Professor of Law at Duquesne University. Mr. David Shribman is Executive Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And the Honorable D. Brooks Smith is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.


Ms. Sondra Myers:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

We’ll begin with Mr. Shribman. In recent times, our politics has been deluged with examples of the blame game, which could be regarded as not only uncivil, but unproductive. Presumably democracy, no matter how contentious a system it is, is meant to come up with decisions that benefit the people. In your view, do we need to rescue our politics from its uncivil descent into the blame game? Is it possible, and is it even desirable?

Mr. David Shribman:

I’m not sure that the blame game was invented in our time. In my time covering Congress and the White House in Washington, there was plenty of blame given, and in truth plenty of blame deserved. But I was thinking just this week when we’re talking about Social Security about the difference in Washington and the difference in the debate even when compared with two very contentious times, 1935, which was the middle of the New Deal period and still the back end of the depression, and 1965, which was the backwash from the Kennedy administration, Kennedy assassination and the beginning of the Great Society.

In 1935, the President proposed and Congress passed the Social Security Act, which had bipartisan support. I believe two dozen or more Republicans voted for the Social Security Act. The very Social Security that Governor Rick Perry of Texas spoke about recently as being a Ponzi scheme. In 1965, there was robust bipartisan support for Medicare, which was the most dramatic extension of government into the lives of people in our time. When we look at the Obama Health Plan—which is said to be the third step in that progression, Social Security, Medicare, Obama Care—not one Republican in either the House or the Senate voted for that bill. Now, I’m not chastising Republicans or celebrating Democrats. I’m a member of neither party. But I do think that is a signal change. But as we look at that change, let’s remember one other thing which I think is at the heart of our civility crisis now. In the ’30s and in the ’60s, and up until the ’80s, we did not have what political scientists for several generations in this country have dearly wanted us to have. And that was parties of ideological purity. And people sat in the academy and elsewhere and said, oh, the thing that’s wrong with American democracy is that our parties aren’t pure. We have liberal Democrats and conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans and conservative Republicans.


“The fault may not be in ourselves but in our parties.... I personally regret the passing of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats and feel that we’re poorer for it.” David Shribman

Well, we got what everybody was wishing for. And I think the result, when you have a party that’s a conservative party, which the Republican Party now quite obviously is, and a liberal party, which the Democratic Party is unquestionably, that you are going to have a less civil discourse. And I think the fault may not be in ourselves but in our parties and in the way they are structured, and I personally regret the passing of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats and feel that we’re poorer for it, and that is one of the reasons for the lack civility in our civic discourse.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

Would you elaborate on that a little bit?

Mr. David Shribman:

Well, in the old day, which is to say, when we were young—you know, I have this theory that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what really matters is when you were young. Think about that.

But the Democratic Party is a very good example in which there was a southern rump of the Democratic Party that was deeply conservative, that still retained states’ rights identity and fumes of the Civil War. It was racist or nearly racist, but it was a very powerful part of the Democratic Party until, really, the Johnson years. And it was very difficult for liberal legislation to be passed by Democratic presidents because they were opposed by the members of their own party. But they had as allies liberal Republicans. And I don’t think, for example, that there was any more vicious a fight than there was between President Roosevelt, in, I think, the ’38 election, and the conservatives that he tried to purge from his own party.

President Johnson knew that he could not pass the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 without Republican votes. In fact, I believe the percentage of votes that supported the Civil Rights Bills in the Senate was higher in the Republican Party than it was in the Democratic Party. That promoted a sense of civility. And even though we were talking about the most uncivil acts in American history, it promoted a sense of civility and bipartisanship that we don’t have today. The most conservative member of the Democratic Party is more liberal than the most liberal member of the Republican Party today. That was not true as recently as twenty-five years ago. 8

Ms. Sondra Myers:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Dr. Murray, in your opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of January 18, 2011 you spoke of the need for civility and the need for virtue in our citizens. Yet we know that all people, educated or not, are not virtuous, and none of us are virtuous all the time. What can we in higher education do in an increasingly interdependent world to graduate students who have a strong sense of virtue and at the same time a strong sense of respect for those whose views of virtue might be different from their own?

Dr. John Murray:

I think that when you are eighteen years old, the most important conversation that you can have is about the eternal questions. Who am I? How shall I live? What is my purpose? And you can talk about this in high philosophical terms, but you can also talk about it in terms of the practical realities from day to day.

I think that we have not remembered what we should have learned from Aristotle or from Augustine or from Thomas Aquinas, or all three. I think that when we talk about the virtuous life, we’re talking about the cardinal virtues. We’re talking about prudence and justice. The judge can tell you how difficult it is to define justice as we all know it. But nonetheless, we recognize it as a virtue. We are also talking about moderation—we used to call it temperance—as well as fortitude and courage—real courage, not false courage, not macho courage.

And then, of course, there are the supernatural virtues of faith, and hope and love. That sounds rather ephemeral today, but it is important to apply these concepts to everything we do in life. The only life worth living, I think, is the virtuous life. We’ve forgotten that.

When this country was founded, notwithstanding incredible debates among our Founding Fathers with some name calling that would rival some of the name calling of today, they all agreed upon one concept. And the concept was very simply this, we cannot have a republic unless we have a virtuous citizenry. When Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention, someone said to him, “Mr. Franklin, what do we have? Do we have a monarchy? Do we have a republic?” He answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Which, I think, says it all.

“When Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention, someone said to him, “Mr. Franklin, what do we have? Do we have a monarchy? Do we have a republic?” He answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Dr. John Murray


“We used to talk about civic virtue. We used to have important discussions—even arguments—where you advocate your position and at the same time not resort to ad hominem comments, not resort to name calling, not take the position that I hate the other party because they don’t agree with me.” Dr. John Murray

We can also recall Madison’s statement that you cannot have the society that we desire unless you depend upon virtuous citizens because they are now the boss. They are in charge. It’s not the monarch who’s in charge any longer. We used to talk about civic virtue. We used to have important discussions—even arguments—where you advocate your position and at the same time not resort to ad hominem comments, not resort to name calling, not take the position that I hate the other party because they don’t agree with me. I think these strong ideological positions that David’s referring to today are a manifestation of the fact that we don’t understand the virtuous life.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

I agree. I think that the public and civic aspect of life is so important to our democracy because we live in a pluralistic society. We must go beyond family values. One of the simplest iterations of that I have heard was that of the founder of the Salvation Army in the early twentieth century, he was in England at Christmastime and was very poor and wanted to send a message to all his constituents. He could only afford one word for that message, and the word that he chose was others.

It really speaks to the civic life and civic virtue because in our pluralistic society we must have a respectful and constructive and compassionate relationship with others. And we know many more “others” in the world today than we knew then. But that story has inspired me.

“How do we uphold our commitment to free speech and still shield the most vulnerable among us?” Sondra Myers


And now I’ll turn to Judge Smith. Let me ask you two questions today that you have asked yourself, as they reflect the complexities and dilemmas that the law poses. How do we uphold our commitment to free speech and still shield the most vulnerable among us? Should those of us upholding these rights be concerned that our decisions may appear to be condoning uncivil words and actions? Not easy questions.

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

As a judge, I find myself in a position quite frequently of addressing the assertion of constitutional rights. And as a rights-based democratic society, there is a very significant dose, a healthy dose, of individualism in that. We celebrate individuality in our culture, and it’s certainly ingrained in our Constitution. I’ve found myself in the position, as a member of an appellate court, where I have had to make decisions, vote on cases on a three-judge

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

panel where we are determining the constitutionality of such things as university speech codes, which of course are often a subject of controversy on the campus itself, and which have provided to many courts some very difficult and profound questions of constitutional proportion.

And I’ve recently had to deal with several cases involving the assertion of constitutional rights of public school students who have chosen, and I emphasize chosen, to say some very uncivil things about teachers and principals on and through such media as Facebook. What do we do about extremely uncivil expressions by students when they have been uttered in places which are not on or a part of the school campus, and are not projected onto the school campus but which, as we all know, given the ubiquitous nature of electronic communication, are available to everyone?

My conclusion and the very brief, and perhaps, to some of you, pessimistic message that I have to convey after thinking about this in anticipation of this program is: don’t look for a great deal of help from the courts. We are here as the protectors of individual rights. We are here as the protectors of a very robust free speech jurisprudence in this country. And it means that we have accepted from the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the First Amend-ment—and I think that it is not an accident that that amendment has primacy in its adoption—that individuals would be free to say things that often were not particularly hospitable to particular audiences.

Now, courts are grappling today; courts are trying to figure out how we address the ubiquitous nature of electronic communication that I referred to earlier, the ability to spread messages quickly and to huge audiences, and the fact that this is all being done without regulation.

And courts are called upon from time to time, as they were in the cases that I briefly referenced, because school districts chose to discipline students through a formal disciplinary process, which is the use of the power of the state to try to control what students had said. And our court in several cases stated quite clearly that this constituted a violation of those students’ First Amendment rights.

“Courts are grappling today; courts are trying to figure out how we address the ubiquitous nature of electronic communication... the ability to spread messages quickly and to huge audiences, and the fact that this is all being done without regulation.” Judge D. Brooks Smith


“The courts are not some deus ex machina that is brought onto the stage at the point of emergency and which can provide great wisdom to solve every human problem.” “Discourse can be made more civil...If it’s going to happen is going to happen here on campus.” Judge D. Brooks Smith

So, courts have been looked to more and more in the last several generations to solve our problems. But we are not some brooding omnipresence in the sky that is able to come down and solve all your problems. The courts are not some deus ex machina that is brought onto the stage at the point of emergency and which can provide great wisdom to solve every human problem.

And so don’t expect in an age of increasing incivility to see the courts be able to prescribe a means by which discourse can be made more civil, more hospitable to every audience. If it’s going to happen anywhere, and god knows it has not been happening for some time now in the political arena, it is going to happen here—on the campus. It is through instruction. It is through the kind of tension, the rubbing of elbows with your fellows and with those who maybe don’t share a great deal in common with you, that you develop an understanding and appreciation of others’ views. The culture of the campus, the culture of the university can, I think, contribute to that in ways that courts will fail woefully at accomplishing.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

How about the culture of the media, Mr. Shribman? Do you find that is a factor here? “And we are now going into a period of more contention and with a democratization of the press.” David Shribman

Mr. David Shribman:

Well, the culture and character of the media has changed substantially as it always does. As Dr. Murray mentioned earlier, we used to have a highly partisan press. And then we got into a period beginning really around the end of the Depression and beginning of World War II, of a professionalized press that was less partisan and less biased. And we are now going into a period of more contention and with a democratization of the press. None of you students have ever read a newspaper, but newspapers used to be, and to a great extent still seek to be, fair, if not, objective. And we have a whole new crop of media that don’t ascribe to that notion at all and act rather as elements of advocacy.

If I could, I would like to amplify something that Dr. Murray said which I thought was quite profound?

Ms. Sondra Myers: Of course.


Mr. David Shribman:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

I hope that you listened carefully to what Dr. Murray said because I agree that the years between eighteen and twenty-two are the only times that you will have the leisure and the discipline—the combination of the two— to be able to examine the great questions. And I think one of the great questions that our time is presenting us with, and one that presents itself from time to time is: what is the nature and character of compromise?

Now, I’ve been wrestling with this question myself recently. Should politicians compromise? President Kennedy wrote a book before he was president called Profiles in Courage, which I highly recommend to all of you. It’s an enduring book. And it talks about people with great courage. And half of those people compromised with their foes, and half of those people stood up to their foes and said I will not compromise. And it makes me wonder whether Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, who compromised, would today be reviled figures. Is it a virtue to compromise, or is it a virtue to hold firm to your principals? Did Webster do the country a disservice by shepherding through the Compromise of 1850? He was reviled for it at his death in 1853.

Should we compromise on the budget? Should the Democrats compromise on spending, and should the Republicans compromise on taxes? And can they be true to themselves by not being true to their country, or the other way around? And I’m wondering whether it’s possible for you to wrestle with this question, as we as a larger civic society are, of what is the nature and virtue of compromise. And should compromise be celebrated or should it be reviled? And are there times when there are compromises that must be made, and are there times when there are compromises that must not be made? Did Clay and Webster make compromises on the ultimate moral issue facing this country, which was slavery? And in fact, were Garrison and the abolitionists more pure?

And I think this is a question that’s very difficult. It’s a good final exam question for a nineteenth century American history course. And it’s a good final exam question for all of us as we examine the nature of our polity.

“Is it a virtue to compromise, or is it a virtue to hold firm to your principals? Should compromise be celebrated or should it be reviled?” David Shribman


Judge D. Brooks Smith:

As a judge, I’m not permitted to have an opinion on politics. And given current events, most of the time I would prefer not to have an opinion of a political nature. But my response to your inquiry would be that, of course, compromise is a virtue. Of course compromise is a good thing.

Mr. David Shribman:

I could argue whether we should compromise on abortion? Should we compromise on slavery? Should we compromise on taxes? Where is the line? How do you make that decision?

Ms. Sondra Myers:

We might not have had a Constitution if we didn’t compromise on slavery.

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

But it does seem to me as a distant observer that the current political order has a very significant element of “no compromise,” and the view that this position of “no compromise” is a virtue. It is impossible for me to imagine participation, especially as a decision maker, in a pluralistic society without the notion of compromise being a very significant aspect of one’s means of doing business.

Mr. David Shribman:

But if I could ask our moderator, should we have compromised—should they have compromised at Munich in 1938? Should there have been a compromise of the Holocaust? I mean, these are very hard questions.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

They are. There is nothing absolute about compromise, the nature of it or the occasion for it. Some compromises are morally reprehensible and have deadly results. And some are pragmatic solutions to tough problems. Politics is almost defined by compromise but obviously not by the deadly, immoral kind.

Mr. David Shribman: Right.


Ms. Sondra Myers:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

What worries me about the present situation in our nation is that what poses as politics is really a non-politics, an absolutism that does not lead to solutions but to stagnation.

Mr. David Shribman:

There is a wonderful story involving Tip O’Neill calling in a young congressman before a vote on some issue. And he says to young Congressman Murray, John, I really need your vote on this. And Congressman Murray, still starry eyed, looks up at the Speaker and says, well, Mr. Speaker, you know, I’m with you when you’re right. And the Speaker says, John, when I’m right, I don’t need you.

“What worries me about the present situation in our nation is that what poses as politics is really a nonpolitics, an absolutism that does not lead to solutions but to stagnation.” Sondra Myers

Ms. Sondra Myers:

Dr. Murray, would you like to say something about this?

Dr. John Murray:

When I think of compromise, I think of a concept called agreement. I teach contract law. And I think we make agreements with each other all the time, some of which are legally enforceable, but many agreements are not legally enforceable. I think there’s compromise between friends, between spouses. There are compromises in families. There are compromises that are made daily. I think the question is from whence does the compromise arise? Does it arise out of rational thought? Does it arise out a sense of let’s try to solve this problem together. I have a solution; you have a solution, et cetera.

There are different solutions. If both solutions are within the Aristotelian zone of reasonableness, then there isn’t much argument. But the fact of the matter is that we don’t care about rational thought anymore. It’s not a question of solving the problem. It’s a question of winning. I’m going to win the argument regardless.

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

What if the compromise is about money? What if the compromise is primarily about nothing more than money? I remember reading, when I was a student, a wonderful little book by a British political scientist by the name of Bernard Crick who recounted the story of a citizen asking

“We don’t care about rational thought anymore. It’s not a question of solving the problem. It’s a question of winning.” Dr. John Murray


Abraham Lincoln why he looked so sad and so wise. And his response was, because I’ve learned I can’t have everything I want in life. And this story was offered to suggest that in that recognition is the beginning of all wisdom in life and how we go about living life.

Now, if our major questions which call for compromise are about nothing but money and people’s focus is largely one of green eyeshades and we still can’t reach compromise, that suggests to me that we have reached a point where as a civil society, we’re not agreeing on much of anything.

Dr. John Murray:

I think that’s right. There are certain kinds of questions, however, going back to Munich for an example, was Chamberlain right in trying to compromise at that time? Was Chamberlain doing the right thing? It seems to me you’ve got to be talking about what values are there. If you’re talking about money, that’s one thing. If you’re talking about tyranny, first of all, you have to be able to recognize it. And secondly, I don’t think there is any compromise with tyranny. So as we say in the law, Judge, it always depends upon all of the surrounding circumstances. “The most important right we have in a to have responsibility for the public good.” Sondra Myers

Ms. Sondra Myers:

You mentioned that it’s about winning, Dr. Murray. Well, what is winning? If you’re in a pluralistic democracy, if you presumably care about or are obliged to care about the public good, what is winning? You know, I think that today we have opposing sides thinking about what winning is. Do some people see extending health care to more citizens as a loss? Well, for many it’s definitely a win, and it is sad, tragically sad, when we can’t compromise on things, if we consider that we are responsible for the public good. We have private rights that we cherish and which we should cherish. But as I said earlier, I think that the most important right we have in a society, if we care about society, is to have responsibility for the public good.

Mr. David Shribman:


I want to go back to something Judge Smith said. If we’re fighting about money, then you can compromise pretty easily. But what if one side thinks the fight about money is really a proxy for a fight about freedom, and the other side thinks the fight about money is really a proxy for a fight about compassion and responsibility? And

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

that’s where we are now. I think we are in one of the most fundamental junctures of our history when we are— and it’s not the first time that we have been there and we’ll be there again—when we are examining the clash between compassion and freedom, responsibility and individuality.

The 1912 election was about that. That’s what the 1932 election was about. The 1980 election was about that. The 2008 election was about that. We fight about this all the time because this is the ultimate American question: responsibility versus individuality, compassion versus freedom. These are eternal values, which in the classroom and sometimes in symposia, are easy to define and defend. But in the arena, as President Teddy Roosevelt said, these get muddled and each side believes that their winning is good for America because their idea is better than the other guy’s idea. And we’re at one of those clashes right now. It’s a fundamental clash. Historically, you’re watching something very important, this clash between freedom and responsibility.

“This is the ultimate American question: responsibility versus individuality.” David Shribman

Ms. Sondra Myers:

Dr. Murray: Would you like to say something? And then we’re going to open the discussion up to the audience.

Dr. John Murray:

Yes, I’d like to say something about freedom. I think freedom is a sacred gift. I think we take it for granted as Americans. And in many ways, it really is the most wonderful gift we can have. But we also forget that freedom is a means and not an end. But the question is this: freedom to do what? The individual isn’t going to know freedom to do what—to make prudent choices— unless you really have a sense of responsibility, unless you really have some sense of what Madison called the virtuous life.


Question and Answer Session Ms. Sondra Myers:

Audience, please join us now; what do you think about compromise, and what do you think about freedom? And do you have questions for us?

Audience Member: In the context of your earlier comments concerning free speech and the uncivil but protected speech of some students, do you believe that the courts will continue to see an influx of cases relating to social media like Facebook and Myspace? How will the courts balance the free speech rights of those using social media against the rights of the victims of ugly attacks who in some cases have been driven to suicide? Given that free speech is not an absolute, how do you see the courts responding to these kinds of cases going forward?

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

The nature of the question really goes to the extent to which the courts must adapt to changes in technology and whether we can anticipate increased litigation resulting from the use of social media and the expansion of electronic media generally. And we have already seen that.

And a point I did not make earlier and which probably bears stating is that the courts are called upon and must respond appropriately where they’re presented with cases involving behavior that is clearly unlawful, that is clearly criminal. One of the great horrors, and I would not use that word lightly, one of the great horrors for me post-internet has been to see the considerable extent of activity that goes on, on the internet, involving child porn and to see, as I have seen on criminal dockets, the prosecutions of people who have done just completely inhumane things, things that in my life experience are sometimes just completely unimaginable.


Courts have responded, the prosecutorial arm of governments have responded, mostly at the federal level because it implicates interstate commerce, but state governments and state prosecutorial arms have done so as well. So, to the extent that I have indicated that you not look to the courts for help, I’m certainly not talking about that kind of activity, which is clearly criminal and which is appropriately sanctioned and which we deal with on an ongoing basis.

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

The difficulties arise in those cases that fall within the areas of uncivil, but nonetheless perfectly legitimate discourse which is and must be constitutionally accepted. We are a society that believes in a robust free speech doctrine and jurisprudence. And people often expect courts to be able to sort those cases out, but it’s difficult to do that without finding yourself in the business of regulating speech. And that is something that government should not be doing. So the law moves slowly, just as the church often moves very slowly. We make changes residually. One asks: is the explosion of electronic media something that ought to change the law exponentially? I think the answer is no. I think most of our basic principles, at least our constitutional principles, will remain as they are, and we’ll find a way to adapt and handle these things. But in the end, most of that is going to be dealt with through the democratic process and the political process. Don’t look to the courts to set down rules that regulate speech.

Audience Member: My question is this: did we ask the wrong question? Is our discourse really not that uncivil? Prior to the Civil War, a southern congressman literally beat up a senator on the floor of the United States Senate. That was clearly not civil. There was a Civil War. In the ‘40s and in the ’50s, this great period of compromise, the House Un-American Activities Committee was ruining careers simply as a consequence of some perceived affiliation or identification with Communism, in a country where that ideology really had no chance of ever succeeding.

Is the discourse that we see right now simply a reflection of the fact that we live in a very competitive political environment where there are equal numbers really on both sides of the aisle, and that we are talking about fundamentally contentious issues? For example, the issue that Mr. Shribman raised about whether healthcare is a right or whether it is a commodity? Aren’t these just difficult issues to debate, and ought we not just to debate them and not worry so much about good manners?

“Is the explosion of electronic media something that ought to change the law exponentially?” Judge D. Brooks Smith

“ Did we ask the wrong question? Is our discourse really not that uncivil... Aren’t these just difficult issues to debate, and ought we not just to debate them and not worry so much about good manners?” Audience Member

Mr. David Shribman:

You look back on the caning of Senator Sumner of Massachusetts, and that was, we can agree, a distinctly uncivil act, like the spitting of Congressman Lyon in the


House in the nineteenth century. Those are acts of violence seen in hockey rinks and on street corners but rarely in the civic arena. We are now examining—and we always do this. The Goldwater-Johnson election was about fundamental questions. You know, the Bush-Gore election, before it got to the court, was about nothing. I think the 2012 election will be about something quite substantial.

Democracy is messy. Now, we’ve talked about the Civil War a couple times, and I think we all agree that Lincoln was a great leader, that Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves. And in his second inaugural, he wondered whether all of the blood that had been drawn by the lash would have to be answered by blood drawn by the sword. Lincoln’s a great hero to us. But not withstanding that, he was a civil libertarian disaster. Right?

President Wilson had all this great rhetoric about freedom and the Fourteen Points and “open covenants openly arrived at,” and his civil liberties record was repugnant. And his civil rights record was even worse.

“This is a messy, messy, messy system because we deal in this country with big, big, big questions. And maybe that’s the answer about civility.” David Shribman


And so I think we have to realize that presidents are human. They have lots of faults and frailties. And every period that reflects those presidents is full of contradiction and contention. We think of the Kennedy period of 1961 to 1963 as a thousand days of idealism, and yet the president resisted Martin Luther King at every step, until he could basically resist him no more. And so this is a messy, messy, messy system because we deal in this country with big, big, big questions. And maybe that’s the answer about civility. Maybe there are periods of incivility, as long as they don’t become Charles Sumner moments, when things have to get a little bit nasty. I don’t much like it—I don’t like it at all—but we are wrestling with big questions that were not wrestled with between 1933 and 1945 in Germany. They were not wrestled with between 1917 and 1989 in the Soviet Union. They were not wrestled—you can go through every tyranny in history. We wrestle with big issues mostly in a civil way. And there’s flaring of incivility. And I know I’m getting off the script here because we’re supposed to be deploring incivility, and I do deplore it. But maybe sometimes you have to have a little bit of it.

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

David, I’d like to ask you a follow-up question which is suggested both by the profound historical contexts that you’ve been able to offer, but also by the previous question which suggested that maybe we were discussing the wrong question. We’ve been talking about uncivil discourse to a great extent, and I look back to some history that I know from when I was a college student. I happened to do an internship for then Minority Leader of the United States Senate, Hugh Scott. At that time, Hugh Scott, the Republican Minority Leader, and Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Majority Leader, liked each other and were friends. And they shared some mutual interests. They both liked Chinese art for example. But they had a regular practice, a weekly practice, and I think it was Tuesday afternoons. They would get together at the end of the day, the two Leaders, and sit and have a drink. And they would talk. We’ve been talking about uncivil discourse. But there is another question that I think we might also be discussing, and that is the extent to which we’re simply just not talking. Can anyone imagine Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid getting together for a drink at the end of the day? And is it because of them, or is it because of us, because their bases just won’t allow it?

Mr. David Shribman:

I want to answer that briefly, if I can. As you know, that story about Hugh Scott and Mike Mansfield has a House analog. Bob Michael and Tip O’Neill. But I would argue that for all the surface conviviality and the talk about Ming Dynasty vases in the Senate and golf in the House, that the Republicans in that period were held in servile slavery by the Democrats. And from 1954 to 1994, in the House, and with some exceptions in the Senate, the Democrats ruled with tyranny and cruelty over the Republicans. And while there was a surface comity, it was a profound political tyranny. And I know I’m supposed to be the editor of the liberal newspaper, but I covered that period, and it was a period where Republican amendments were given no chance, and in the House, not even a vote. And it was a period where, if you ticked off the Democratic leadership in the House, they turned off your air conditioning. And so there was surface civility, but it was profound servility, I think.

“And while there was a surface comity, it was a profound political tyranny.” David Shribman


Ms. Sondra Myers:

Is it politics if one party proclaims without question that they promise not to cooperate or collaborate or compromise? It seems to be more about the end of politics than a civility question.

Mr. David Shribman:

But you know, Judge Smith is right about a fundamental thing, and that is that the two sides don’t even talk to each other now. I was stunned in my last years covering Washington, that Speaker Gingrich and Congress-man Gephardt, who was the House Minority Leader, never once had a meal together. And that can’t be good.

Dr. John Murray:

To reduce this to something I tried to say earlier, it seems to me that one of the problems is the philosophy of our time. And the great ethicist, Alasdair McIntyre, talks about the philosophy of the late twentieth and now twenty-first century, which is Emotivism. I spent some time in Philadelphia not too many years ago, and at that time they had a couple of radio programs involving psychologists. You would call them with your question, and the psychologist would give you an answer. And I remember one question was from a woman who called in and said, “I haven’t spoken to my mother in three years, and I wonder if I should send her a Mother’s Day card.” And the psychologist answered, “How do you feel about that? Whatever makes you comfortable you should do.” That was an extremely good illustration of Emotivism. Emotivism has nothing to do with rational argument, rational thought. It has nothing to do with the question should we have universal healthcare? Should we have healthcare for people who can’t afford healthcare? If the answer to that is no, then I have no understanding of that answer. So it’s not a question of whether we should have it. It’s a question of how do we get there from here. And we have been spinning our wheels in that area because somebody has to win the game instead of talking about how to get it done.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

But it’s really about society winning the game.

Dr. John Murray: 22

That’s right

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Audience Member: In the context of contemporary debates and healthcare ethics, one thing that I repeat over and over when teaching ethics is that reasonable people can disagree. But I think this presupposes that reasonable people have respect for one another. And I wonder if anyone would like to comment on how current ideologies might be precluding the possibility of reasonable people disagreeing.

Dr. John Murray:

Very briefly I would say, and ask my colleagues to tell me if I am wrong, that the most virtuous statement that a politician could make at this time would be to say that we have an obligation to look out for each other. And if we don’t believe that, then this democracy isn’t worth anything.

Mr. David Shribman:

I remember when I was a student with President Foley at Dartmouth College in the ’70s, the president of Dartmouth at the time was a Hungarian refugee named John Kemeny. And he used to close Convocation, which occurs next week at Dartmouth, with the same comment. He would say that the question is not: am I my brother’s keeper? The question is: are you your brother’s brother? And that’s a very profound question, and I think that it gets to the heart of what we’re saying. The goal shouldn’t be winning the debate, it should be winning for America, or for the world. And I think that we’ve lost sight of that. And you do that sometimes in times of high contention, but it is the main game here, and I think Dr. Murray is right.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

If that public good, if others—our brothers and sisters—aren’t our responsibility, then what kind of society are we? Martin Luther King once said, in one of his less eloquent speeches, “we’re not asking them to love us; we’re just asking them to get off our backs.” Well, he wanted more than just getting them off their backs; people don’t always love each other, but they have a civic obligation in a pluralistic democratic society. And if that doesn’t operate, if that’s not in the equation, then there are no standards of civility. This, it seems to me, is the ultimate civility—to understand that we are responsible for the public good.

“I repeat over and over when teaching ethics... that reasonable people can disagree. But I think this presupposes that reasonable people have respect for one another.” Audience Member

“The goal shouldn’t be winning the debate, it should be winning for America, or for the world.” David Shribman

“This, it seems to me, is the ultimate civility—to understand that we are responsible for the public good.” Sondra Myers


Audience Member: How do you bridge the gap between family and civil discourse? I believe it all starts with your family life, and if you can’t bridge that gap with family, then how are you going to propose that children go out and be better citizens when there is no one to instruct them and say where the line is drawn in terms of civil discourse. The judge spoke about the law protecting your speech. How do you bridge the gap between the two?

Ms. Sondra Myers:

“What can Mount Aloysius College, or any other college or university do, not only to encourage civic discourse and the upholding of civility as a necessary component in a democratic society?” Sondra Myers


I don’t know that it’s a gap. I sometimes boldly say that I don’t care about your family values; I care about how you treat others who aren’t your family or friends. When we’re talking about civil behavior, civil discourse, civility, civil society, we are not talking about family values. It doesn’t preclude or dismiss family values. But I think this is a conversation about how we get along as a society, about what kind of society we are, and what kind of society we aspire to be. And that is the realm where we deal with civil behavior rather than family behavior.

We’re getting close to our ending time, and I would like to ask one more question of the panel and ask you either to respond to it or have your own last word, whatever it may be. The question is this: what can higher education do? What can Mount Aloysius College, or any other college or university do, not only to encourage civic discourse and the upholding of civility as a necessary component in a democratic society, but also in awakening students and giving them the will as well as the skills to be citizens of the world and of their own communities when they leave here?

Mr. David Shribman:

I think that’s actually the easiest question of all. And the answer is—and I know you do this at this college—to examine the central questions that Dr. Murray spoke about. You are here not only to be trained, but to be educated. And to be educated means, as was said in the nineteenth century, to be exposed to the best that has been said and thought. And the best that has been said and thought almost always engages the central questions. What is freedom? What is an individual? As Dr. Murray said: Who am I? What is my purpose here? You should examine all those questions. And given that I have ten more years of college tuition to pay for my own children, I would also urge you to read a good newspaper every day.

Dr. John Murray:

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

I’d like to talk about the great conversation that should occur for all of us at all times, but particularly in the college years. I think it’s a wonderful time to talk about something that’s very important. You go to school, hopefully, to be able to do something with the rest of your life that you enjoy doing and to make a living at the same time and to take care of yourself and your family. But I hope you also go to college for something that’s even more important, an education for life.

And again, the conversation does involve the eternal questions, the great questions because I think in the end that’s what every one of us has to face. The reality is that we have to do this from the individual. Hopefully we can attract others to a point of view to be open to ideas, to be open to the great challenges of life. But again, what is the purpose of all this? Why are we here? If you believe that everything is simply a matter of opinion, then there is no vice because there is no virtue. There can’t be anything wrong if you can’t decide what is right. You can’t have justice if you don’t recognize manifest injustice when you see it. So, my feeling is that every college and every university has this obligation.

The courts can’t do it for us. You know the old story about if you don’t like something, make it a law. That answer doesn’t work. It has to come from family. It has to come from you as an individual. And in the end, I believe in education not only for the mind, but for the heart and the soul.

Judge D. Brooks Smith:

Mr. Shribman and Dr. Murray have provided responses on a much loftier philosophical level than I am about to offer. They have suggested—and I agree completely—that this is an opportunity for you students in these several years to engage in self-examination and inquiries that you’ve not engaged in heretofore and to ask yourselves questions of being, questions of an ontological nature, questions of an ethical nature. I would be a little bit more nuts and bolts in my suggestion. That is hardly original and hardly lofty, but I think necessary just the same. After about twenty-seven years in public life as a judge and prior to that as a district attorney, I am often appalled by how little our citizenry knows about the basic institutional, definitional structures of our government,

“If you believe that everything is simply a matter of opinion, then there is no vice because there is no virtue. There can’t be anything wrong if you can’t decide what is right. You can’t have justice if you don’t recognize manifest injustice when you see it.” “In the end, I believe in education not only for the mind, but for the heart and the soul.” Dr. John Murray


the levels of our government and the responsibilities of the branches of our government. I know responsible citizens, citizens whom I would say are educated citizens in many respects, who think that I work for the Attorney General of the United States, rather than as a member of a wholly independent branch of government. So while Mr. Shribman asked you to read a newspaper, and I think that’s great advice, I will selfishly ask you to learn a little bit about the judiciary and its role in securing rights and its role vis-à-vis the two political branches of government because they’re very different, not only in what they do, but in how they do it.

“We are having a very important discussion about who we are, who we will be as a citizenry what your role is going to be in that citizenry, and about what you will derive from your experience at Mount Aloysius that will shape you as a part of that citizenry.” Judge D. Brooks Smith


With one final comment, I want to thank your president, Tom Foley. Sondra said at the outset that it speaks volumes about him that he selected this topic for a symposium. And I thought those very words, that very expression, as I drove up here. It does, indeed, speak volumes that we are having a symposium here that is not about him, on his inauguration as president of this institution. But we are having a very important discussion about who we are, who we will be as a citizenry, what your role is going to be in that citizenry, and about what you will derive from your experience at Mount Aloysius that will shape you as a part of that citizenry. Thank you.

Ms. Sondra Myers:

I would like to thank our audience today and close by saying that with President Foley’s commitment to promoting civility and civil society and with the many initiatives already underway here, I have every confidence that Mount Aloysius College will serve as a model for other institutions of higher education looking to engage their students on these important topics. I hope that you will continue to explore and to model the ways that higher education, administration and faculty, can integrate the notion of civic-ness into the curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular life of the university. In doing so, Mount Aloysius and other institutions of higher learning can foster an understanding of the civic role that awaits our students and can both teach students the skills and inspire in them the will to succeed at that most important office in our democracy—private citizen. Thank you.

Closing Remarks: President Tom Foley

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Just three quick closing thoughts.

First of all, thank you to this panel. I think we all recognize the extraordinary and at the same time intimate level of the conversation that we just heard. We talked about the notion of privacy, the right of free speech versus the right not to be violated by harmful speech. That’s a complex topic.

We talked about freedom—the freedom, for example, not to have to listen to the blaring music of the person that lives next door—versus responsibility. And is it a government responsibility, is it a non-profit responsibility, is it a school responsibility, is it our responsibility? Again, not a simple topic.

We talked about the notion and the nature of compromise. What is it? When is it appropriate? Where are the no-go zones on compromise? And I think most importantly, we talked about the primacy of fundamental virtues.

It is not an accident that we chose this topic or the topic that we began these seminars with yesterday, which was The Role of the University in the Social Fabric. In our mission statement, we say that we want to “synthesize faith with learning.” We want to “develop competence with compassion” so that we can “use our gifts in the service of others.” And these topics on civil discourse and on the social fabric speak directly to what is the mission of our institution.

Second, to Sondra’s very important challenge to us about what it means to be a citizen—we have begun the journey here at Mount Aloysius College with a series of initiatives. Today we know we have a ways to go. And we know how important it is that we keep going.

Our initiatives include: Student Orientation—the New Student Orientation program featured a theater group performing skits involving civil discourse issues in the college context, 27

including classroom interaction, roommate interaction and the use of social media. The skits were followed by small group discussions.

Inauguration Symposium: The Role of the University in Civil Discourse—as part of inauguration weekend, the College is hosting (and Pennsylvania Cable Network will televise it statewide) this symposium surveying the state of civil discourse and the role that the “University” can play in promoting it.

Cultural Literacy Seminar (Freshman Experience Class)—a segment of this year’s course (required of all 600 freshman and transfer students) is devoted to the topic of civil discourse. Along with readings and discussions, all students are required to attend or view the Civil Discourse Symposium described above.

Honors Society Colloquium—this year’s Honors Society Colloquium featured six Mount Aloysius College professors examining the notion of civil discourse from the perspective of such diverse fields as psychology, literature, technology and religion.

Honors Program Lectures—Fall and Spring Honors Program Lectures center on critical thinking and modeling civil discourse while considering the tensions between “Energy and the Environment” (former Chief Counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources) and “Immigration and Citizenship” (an immigration attorney who founded the human rights and humanitarian aid organization, Lamp for Haiti).

Annual Moral Choices Lecture—Kathleen Hall Jamison, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the country’s premier commentators and writers on public speech will deliver the fifth annual lecture on the topic of civil discourse in public life. She is also founder of FactCheck and FlackCheck.


The Role of the University in Civil Discourse Third, I want to finish with a reference to comments that began and concluded this conversation—with Sondra’s story about the Salvation Army and the “one word” and with David Shribman’s quote from a Hungarian émigré. What was the one word? Others. And what did the former Dartmouth College president (and Hungarian émigré), John Kemeny tell students at every convocation. He told them, The question is not: are you my brother’s keeper? The question is: are you your brother’s brother?

So, thanks to each of you for the profound conversation that you have shared with us this day. And thanks to all of you for being such an engaged audience. Thank you.


Editor’s Note:

The following four goals inspired the creation of this monograph:

1. To provide a written transcript of the high-level discussion that took place at Mount Aloysius College during our Symposium on The Role of the University in Civil Discourse for use by other institutions.

2. To excerpt critical commentary on key topics discussed—each of which, on its own, could generate a lecture or a class discussion. See lift-out quotes in the outer columns of each page.

3. Provide sample readings for further classroom and group discussion.

4. Provide a bibliography of advanced readings and curricular resources.



The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Selected Readings The Civility Wars David Shribman


In Pursuit of Civility The Problem Runs Deeper Than Politics: We Need Virtue Dr. John E. Murray, Jr.


Civility and the America Spirit Jim Leach


Rudeness is a Neurotoxin Douglas Fields


Can We Talk? A Conversation About Civility and Democracy in America Dr. Amy Gutmann


Tree of Failure David Brooks


The Civil Classroom in the Age of the Net P. M. Forni


The Courage to Listen, the Courage to Speak Honorable D. Brooks Smith


Bibliography of Resources




The Civility Wars

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

By David Shribman, Executive Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Here’s how lacking in civility we are today: We have spent the past two weeks debating what civility is, and why the people we don’t like don’t have it. Look up the meaning of the word “civility” and you will find that it is rooted in the notion of being part of a city. In our urban age, that should make civility fairly common. But because we know that common sense isn’t, we also know that civility isn’t exactly overflowing, even in a nation that considers itself, after the Book of Matthew (as adapted by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who both seized on the simile), as a city upon a hill.

Pulitzer Prize-winner David Shribman briefly sketches examples of incivility in the American political tradition and argues that the current polarization of our political parties makes civil discourse harder to achieve.

Let’s first stipulate that politics as practiced since the United States became a nation has been largely nonviolent—but seldom confectionery or kind. There was the vicious campaign of 1800, the derision directed at Abraham Lincoln, the slur-filled struggle between James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland in 1884, the bitter battle between Al Gore and George W. Bush a decade ago. No doubt the presence of struggle and battle in the last sentence struck you as being completely unremarkable, which helps prove my point. We’re used to martial references in our politics. The word campaign originally meant a military operation. U.S. politics ain’t beanbag (the credit for that insight goes to the great Peter Finley Dunne). It ain’t kind, either.

Prized virtue And yet pugilists (there I go again, as Reagan would say) on both sides prize civility, claim it for their own, deny its presence in their opponents and salute random acts of it, which in some ways only underlines how rare civility is.

For a generation, commentators, myself included, have celebrated the wonderful relationships cultivated by former Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., first with longtime minority leader Bob Michel and then with Reagan. The mythology is that O’Neill loved to share a lazy afternoon on the golf links with Michel and an early-evening pop with Reagan. The work-hard, playhard narrative is that they fought like animals during the day and relaxed like pals after hours.

These myths didn’t arise from nothing. There were in fact golf outings and the clinking of glasses—and staff relationships that have no equal today. Last week Chris Matthews, a former O’Neill aide, celebrated the speaker-


president relationship and quoted Reagan as saying, “The speaker says that here in Washington we’re all friends after six.”

I’m not sure that means very much. Being chummy in private, where it doesn’t matter, but churlish in public, where it does, is no recipe for civility in public affairs. In truth, the Democrats of that period ran a tyrannical House, where Republican privileges and prerogatives were severely limited. For all the time he spent on the fairways with O’Neill, Michel was always a supplicant, not a political equal—until Michel had a semblance of a working majority because so many conservative Southern Democrats, known as Boll Weevils, were voting with the Republicans on tax and budget matters. And it is beyond contention that O’Neill and his allies mounted a ferocious offensive against Reagan in the 1982 midterm congressional elections, portraying the president as a cruel enemy of the aged and an unfeeling plutocrat ready to break faith with the American promise of Social Security. Reagan’s forces returned the attacks in kind, focusing on O’Neill’s portly profile and his liberal spending record. Lucky for the speaker, earmarks weren't earmarked for extinction in his time, or else there would be no billion-dollar warren of new tunnels under Boston today.

Civility more elusive The problem with the civility serenades we are hearing in the wake of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson is that they are blatantly political in a way that makes a mockery of civility itself. Still, it is true that inter-party civility might be harder to achieve today than it was in the recent past.

As the Boll Weevil example suggests, as recently as a quarter-century ago there were large groups of political figures with affinity for the views of the opposing party. It was easier, for example, for Lyndon B. Johnson to win the support of Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader in the Senate, for civil rights legislation than it was to attract Southern Democratic votes. In fact, a larger percentage of GOP senators than Democratic senators voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Dirksen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield had an easier time displaying civility in 1964 than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, do today.

And for all his problems with Republican lawmakers who opposed the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt was far less than civil with Sens. Walter George, Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith and Millard Tydings, Democrats he brutally sought to defeat in primaries. 34

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A moving target Civility can be a sometime thing. No two figures inspire more partisan controversy than former Sens. Robert J. Dole, whose sharp remarks as the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate in 1976 still rankle Democrats, and George S. McGovern, whose 1972 Democratic presidential campaign remains a target of Republican bromides today. And yet Dole and McGovern, both from agricultural states, teamed up to support food-stamp legislation and were jointly honored in 2008 with the World Food Prize for their efforts to battle hunger among the world's poor. That is civility with a civilizing touch. Civility is a noble concept, but it sometimes is confused with mushiness. Barry Goldwater, who was salty but civil, once derided fellow Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who was the epitome of civility, as a dime-store New Dealer. In the political life that followed his military career, Eisenhower accepted many of the tenets of the two Democratic presidents who preceded him, which made it all the easier for his rivals to think him civil. Indeed, in the past several years, liberals have celebrated conservatives who come to their side, if only for an issue or two, while conservatives have saluted liberals who wander into their political wheelhouse from time to time. But there is a difference between civility and complicity. We need not insist on the latter in our search for the former. Copyright, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission. _______________________________________________

In Pursuit of Civility - The Problem Runs Deeper than Politics; We Need Virtue

By John E. Murray Jr., Chancellor and Professor of Law, Duquesne University

The Tucson tragedy inspired myriad calls for civility, culminating in the eloquence of the president of the United States. A dialogue of civility is always welcome, but why must we witness the slaughter of the innocent before we speak of civility?

There are too many days when our airwaves and blogs are filled with recriminations that portray whoever disagrees as lacking any redeeming virtue. There has never been a more pervasive level of intellectual dishonesty in society. A political opponent never has a thought worth considering. It is not enough to dismiss the opponent’s ideas. Anyone on the other side must also be characterized as the epitome of evil. If the argument continues to

Duquesne University Chancellor and Professor of Law, John Murray, argues that an educated and virtuous citizenry is an essential prerequisite for civil discourse. This implies a citizenry that has an understanding of the fundamental concepts of justice, prudence, hope, and love.


fail, a variety of ad hominem labels are available to end the discussion without any resolution except hate. Confidence in government at all levels is abysmally low for good reason. Much of our daily language is angry. The “f” word is not limited to the streets, as evidenced by its use at the highest levels of government. It is not only the lamest excuse for a severely limited vocabulary. The “f” word is uncivil. It implies violence which is necessary to support an otherwise irrational argument. It pervades much of our entertainment which is crude and shocking.

Box office receipts drive the production of films based on shock and fear which are noteworthy only because of their special effects. Such films, however, have no soul. There is no story that inspires. Our music is loud and violent. Heavy metal “music” is an oxymoron. The past is not prologue in our society because so few have any genuine awareness of the past. In this digital age where information about virtually anything is at one’s fingertips, interviews by late-night comedians display what is often considered a highly exaggerated ignorance of ordinary facts among ordinary people. The tragedy is that the display is not exaggerated. It is not simply an absence of factual knowledge of history. There is not even a sense of history, which dooms any society to repeated mistakes. While the magnificent gift of freedom is taken for granted, the worst offense is the failure to confront the ultimate question: freedom to do what? The unexamined life is not worth living because it has no purpose. Civility requires an examination of life to discern its purpose.

The reason we must await a genuine tragedy to speak of civility is clear. Civility requires an awareness of the virtuous life which is absent from our society. We do not teach the virtuous life because virtue or morality is only a matter of opinion. Jared Lee Loughner had his opinions. His pursuit of happiness created lifetimes of unhappiness for innumerable people.

Many asked about Mr. Loughner’s political views and whether he was involved with a right or left cause. No one, however, asked whether he ever heard of the virtuous life. When he went to school or “on line” or watched television or films, did he learn anything about prudence? Did he have even a glimmer of understanding of the virtue of justice? Did he have any notion of fortitude—not macho courage with guns, but real courage in assisting others.

Was Jared Lee Loughner ever inspired to have faith in himself, faith in others or faith in God? Did he understand the critical importance of hope and 36

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the evil of despair? Most important, did he have any awareness of what it is to love a neighbor as you love yourself, or even a bit more, as exemplified by the Tucson heroes who sacrificed themselves for the sake of others? We still have heroes who are defined by their actions in pursuit of the virtuous life.

Education in the virtuous life does not guarantee a life worth living, but it is the essential basis for a meaningful life. If we believe that the virtuous life is only a matter of opinion, however, we will never understand the critical importance of civility. If virtue is a matter of opinion, there is no vice. If morality is a matter of opinion, there is no truth, because truth becomes a matter of opinion. It is, therefore, impossible to agree on any definition of “civility” since civility necessarily becomes a matter of opinion. Civility then exists only in the eye of the beholder and will cater to the beholder’s felt needs, including perverted needs as perceived by someone like Jared Lee Loughner. Our forefathers did not view the virtuous life as a matter of opinion. They were adamant in their belief that the success or failure of this noble experiment in democracy which we now call the United States of America depends entirely upon a virtuous citizenry. That dimension of our national origin is the ultimate inconvenient truth that has been continuously ignored.

As we contemplate economic and international crises and pursue efforts to meet these challenges, the most insidious challenge is not being addressed. We need an educated and virtuous citizenry to assure civility and success for ourselves and our children.

Civility is not a matter of opinion. Its presence or absence is manifested in our language and in our actions toward others. Civility requires a basic understanding of justice, prudence, hope and love.

Education in civility begins in the family, but discussion of the virtuous life must continue in education from kindergarten through the highest levels of education. That discussion must be a pervasive part of our culture.

We can recognize manifest injustice when we see it. We can distinguish hope from despair. We can recognize love and the absence of love in hate.

The virtuous life is not a matter of opinion. It is recognizable and it is essential. If we have virtuous and educated citizens, we will not only survive, we will prevail—not through violence, but as exemplars who prove that serving others and carrying their burdens is the only life worth living.

Copyright, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, January 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.


Civility and the American Spirit

By Jim Leach, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jim Leach notes that our incivility has made the bonds of citizenship increasingly fragile. He holds that the problem is not argumentation, but rather debate filled with the vocabulary of animus and a failure to listen. He also shares his “two-minute courses in American governance,” (political science, literature, psychology, physics, etc.) to explore the ways in which current social realities undermine efforts to achieve a more civil discourse.

It is a privilege to celebrate the Fourth of July at Chautauqua. This is the day of the year to take stock, to remind ourselves of what each of us has in common, what we owe prior generations, what lessons can be gleaned from our history, and what obligations that history requires we embrace in these fractious times.

In the 235 years since our founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to establish a union based on the precept that all men are created equal, Fourth of July addresses have been a barometer of our nation’s evolving challenges—from independence to emancipation to reconstruction to globalism; from women’s suffrage to civil rights; from public works and public welfare to concerns for governmental over-reaching; from reasons that propel us to war to concerns that cause us to secure peace. This year is the sesquicentennial of the first battles of a Civil War in which 620,000 soldiers lost their lives marching to the drums of two contrasting senses of patriotism.

Nine years before the attack on Fort Sumter, Frederick Douglass chose the Fourth of July to remind our young country that the “inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence” bequeathed by our founders was not shared by millions of enslaved Americans.

Four score and ten years after Douglas’s stirring oration—five months and three days before Pearl Harbor—Franklin Delano Roosevelt soberly warned that America could not survive as an “oasis of liberty” surrounded by a “desert of dictatorship.” Without 400,000 American patriots giving the ultimate sacrifice, most of Europe might today be under the totalitarian jackboot of the Third Reich and much of Asia could still be subject to Japanese imperialism.

As we take stock this Fourth of July, Americans face new challenges, some of our own making. We are at war in two Islamic countries and are dropping bombs in four others. Unemployment is disturbingly high. Income disparity is widening. Management of debt at various levels of government and in the family home has become the largest issue for many citizens. As a 38

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consequence, bonds of citizenship are increasingly fragile. Polarization between the political parties has deepened. So has the public’s distrust of the entire political establishment. With tensions exacerbated by an epidemic of incivility in public speech and manners, the country is fragmenting into political factions that are difficult to reconcile.

History never provides precise parallels between one age and another, especially in this fast-changing world. Nonetheless, to the degree that human nature and human relationships are relative constants, experience indicates that all social organizations, from athletic teams to businesses to military units, operate better when there is mutual respect and a recognition that all parties rely on each other.

The goal of all organizations should be to have the whole become greater than the sum of its parts. A legislative body is no exception. When members of a group can’t work together, whether because of arcane rules or fashionable partisanship, weaknesses come to the fore. That is why there is such a difference between trust and distrust; the common good and shattered dreams. It is why words—the utterances of man—matter so much. In coming months, our citizens and their representatives will have to make significant decisions about some of the most divisive issues of our time: levels of taxation and spending, social justice, energy policy, the future of the environment, public vs. corporate interests, and—above all—war and peace. These are subjects upon which unanimity is impossible. But social discord of a nature that could massively disserve citizen interests at home and our national interests abroad is not inevitable.

We can achieve social concord and still hold very different views if we simply unite in seeking common ground. Seldom, after all, is there only one proper path determinable and configurable by one individual or one political party. Public decision-making does not lend itself to certitude.

To be certain about something, a person generally knows a great deal or very little. The first condition is preferable to the second, but imperfect judgment characterizes the human condition. The best and brightest are not immune from great mistakes. That is why humility is such a valued character trait, and why civility is such an important part of a civilized society.

Civility is not simply or principally about manners; it doesn’t mean that spirited advocacy is to be avoided. Indeed, argumentation is a social good; without it there is a tendency to dogmatism, or even tyranny.

Likewise, it is not necessarily inconsistent for citizens to hold very different views and, at the same time, to share a unity of purpose. The


tradition of civil discourse symbolized by the New England town hall and the Virginia House of Burgesses was considered by our founders to be the key to holding government accountable.

Whether our unity breaks down in this era of heightened partisanship will depend less on the degree of differences than on the way we talk to one another and our capacity for mature, productive and responsible debate.

When historians eventually review the past several decades, the increasingly hostile and ad hominem tone of national politics will, I suspect, be much commented upon. It will not be viewed as near as polarizing as that which led to the Civil War. But as understandable as citizen angst may be today, the anger and name-calling that plague our political dialogues will be seen as unnecessarily damaging to our social cohesion. We undercut an essential component of democracy when citizens and public figures label each other “fascist” and “communist” in manifest disregard of what these words mean, and in implicit disrespect of the sacrifices that millions of Americans made to thwart totalitarian states tied to these creeds.

Citizenship is hard because it is both a privilege and a responsibility. If all men are created equal, it follows that all have something to contribute to a public dialogue. Every citizen has a right not only to speak but to be heard.

The same, by analogy, is true of other nations. How we lead—or fail to lead—in an ever more interdependent global community will be directly related to how we comprehend our own history, values, and diversity of experiences, and how deeply we come to understand other peoples and their societies. If we don’t try to understand and respect others, how can we expect them to respect us, our values and our way of life?

As we engage with terrorists half way around the Earth and look back at a century hallmarked by the first world wars in history and mankind’s vilest Holocaust; as we look at the senseless brutality of Pol Pot’s Cambodia and tribal animosities in Rwanda; and as we review the sporadic hate crimes in our own country, it is self-evident that suspicion, sometimes even fear, of the different is a weakness of the human condition.

One might ask what problem is there with a bit of public hyperbole. Plenty. The logic is the message. When a polarizing vocabulary of animus takes public hold and “prejudice” and its twin—“hate”—become commonly accepted, society becomes vulnerable to violence and social instability. Certain frameworks of thought define rival ideas. Other frameworks describe enemies. If we fought a civil war to emancipate a people and preserve the union, if


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hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers sacrificed their lives to defeat fascism, if tens of thousands gave the ultimate sacrifice to hold communism at bay, if our armed forces are currently engaged across the globe to constrain challenges to our liberties, isn’t it a citizen’s obligation to apply perspective to incendiary words that summon Americans to battle each other? There is, after all, a difference between supporting a particular spending or health care view and asserting that someone who prefers another approach or is a member of a different political party is an advocate of an “ism” of hate that encompasses gulags and concentration camps. America is a mosaic of subcultures relating to factors like geography, immigration, and ethnicity, but we are also a unique national culture that embraces a melting pot tradition. When we fail to respect each other, as we did under slavery; as we did when we established internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II; as we did when we incarcerated labor leaders during World War I, we later regretted our narrowness and came to our senses as a people. Citizenship is hard. It takes a commitment to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another.

How we communicate with each other is of central significance. Words reflect emotion as well as meaning. They clarify—or cloud—thought and energize action, sometimes bringing out the better angels of our nature, sometimes baser instincts.

When anger is stirred and the irrational fears of citizens are played upon, social cohesion and even public safety can be jeopardized. Conversely, healing language such as Lincoln’s plea in his Second Inaugural for “malice toward none” and “charity for all” can uplift and serve to unite a bitterly divided country.

The choice for leaders is whether to opt for unifying statesmanship or opportunistic partisanship.

Likewise, the challenge for citizens is to determine whom to support: those who seek unity by respecting diversity, or those who press debilitating cultural wars or extreme ideological agendas.

Civility is about more than governance. At issue is whether we perceive ourselves as belonging to a single American community with all its variety, and whether we look at people in other neighborhoods and other parts of the world as members of families seeking security and opportunity for their kin just as we do our own. Whatever our backgrounds, in politics as in family, vigilance must be


maintained to ensure that everyone understands each other. Vigorous advocacy should never be considered a thing to avoid. Argumentation is a social good. Indeed, it is a prerequisite to blocking tyranny and avoiding dogmatism. Rather than policing language, the goal should be to uplift the tenor and tone of debate and infuse it with historical and philosophical perspective.

The poet Walt Whitman once described America as an “athletic democracy.” What he meant was that nineteenth Century politics was rugged, with spirited debates about immigration, taxes, and slavery. Things could also get violent.

In 1804, a Vice President, Aaron Burr, shot dead our greatest Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, for suggesting that Burr was “despicable” in a duel that could be described as a brazen act of legalized incivility. Half a century later, Preston Brooks, a South Carolina Congressman, wandered over to the Senate chamber and caned unconscious Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who had just held forth on the immorality of the KansasNebraska Act and its sanctioning of slavery in an expanding part of the union. So, uncivil acts are nothing new. What is new in our social discourse are transformative changes in communications technology, debilitating changes in American politics, and the gravity of issues facing mankind.

In teaching at Princeton and Harvard upon leaving Congress, I developed for lecture purposes a large number of what I termed two-minute courses in governance. Let me cite several that point to some of the causes of American angst and division.

Political Science 101: The country over the past generation has been approximately one-third Democratic, one-third Republican, and one-third independent. Basic math tells us that one-half of one-third is one-sixth, so 16 2/3rds percent of the voters nominally control candidate selection in a typical election. But only one in four voters (often a fraction of this figure) participates in primaries where candidates are chosen. Thus, it is at most 1/4th x 1/6th—i.e., 1/24th of the electorate—that determines who the candidates of the principal parties will be. This four percent is socially quite conservative on the Republican side and actively liberal on the Democratic. Consequently, legislative bodies intended to represent a cross-section of the American public come principally to reflect its ideological and interest group edges. The pragmatic center-left and center-right of the American electorate which is the majority of the body politic are thus increasingly underrepresented in legislative chambers.

Political Science 102: It is widely understood that in primaries for president, Republican candidates lean to the right, where the vote is, and then, if nominated, attempt to scoot toward the center in the general election; 42

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Democrats do the same, but begin from the left. What is less understood is that when it comes to Congress, the scoot to the center is seldom evident. Approximately eighty percent of the seats in the House of Representatives are either naturally or gerrymandered to be “safe” for one of the parties. About half of these safe seats are held by Republicans and half by Democrats. With few exceptions, safe-seat members must lean to the philosophical edges to prevail in primaries. Unlike Presidential contests, there is no incentive for most legislators to move to the center or embrace compromise legislative approaches —before or after elections. They understand that in the future their only serious electoral challenge is likely to come from within their party's uncompromising base. Instead of politics being the art of compromise where a mutual commitment exists to advance the common good, legislatures inevitably become polarized. Pragmatic idealism gives way to ideological narrowness. Psychology 101: An increasing number of issues in Congress are being projected as questions of morality rather than judgment. Advocates of one perspective assume that those with a different view are championing immorality. On the left, the problem is frequently evidenced by those who assume that increasing spending for almost any social cause is the only moral choice; on the right, by those who assume that the moral values of one or another group should be written into law to bind society as a whole.

Psychology 102: There is something about the human condition that wants to be allowed to make governing decisions at decentralized, socially cohesive levels where citizens may have impact. Much is written today about globalism but this century is also about “localism.” To adapt to a fast changing world, one must understand both of these phenomena—the fact, as Tip O’Neill repeatedly noted, that all politics is local and a corollary I propound that all local decisions are affected by international events. The angst of our times is correlated to the concerns of peoples everywhere that their livelihoods are increasingly buffeted by forces outside the control of family and community. While our political system is probably better adapted to providing citizen accountability than any other, our free market economic system is becoming increasingly concentrated and in many respects globalized. Indeed, with each passing year corporate interests become less aligned with the national interest.

Sports 101: A mid-twentieth Century sports journalist, Grantland Rice, famously observed that winning and losing are less important than how the game is played. The same is the case in politics. The temper and integrity of the political dialogue are more important for the cohesiveness of society than the outcome of any election. Yet a “winning-at-all-cost” ethic has taken hold in elections. Despite well-known incidents of misbehavior of a few celebrity athletes, the sports ethic is far higher than the political one. No high school or college will hire or maintain a coach who teaches teams not to respect their opponents. Yet the first thing a political adviser tells a candidate in a close election is to go negative.


While in politics there are few rules and no referees, in football a referee throws a flag when a player is off-side or clips. In basketball players are penalized for fouls; in politics candidates are rewarded for foul mouths. Several years ago I heard a University of Iowa women’s Hall of Fame Athletic Director recount witnessing a tennis match in which at a critical point there was an extraordinarily long volley with each player hitting powerful forehands and resourceful backhands, mixed with dashing net play. Finally the point was won; the audience stood in applause and the two players dropped their rackets and applauded each other. Where does this happen in politics? Similarly, two years ago a young team from the Big 12 university in my home state, Iowa State University, went to play a vaunted, highly ranked Nebraska team in Lincoln. The Cyclones played above their talent level; the Cornhuskers below and the football gods caused a series of fumbles that resulted in the upset of the day. After the game in which all but a handful of fans wore Cornhusker red, the Nebraskans at the exit tunnel clapped in respect as the Cyclone players left the field. They paid tribute to good kids who competed hard and won fair. Is it asking too much for candidates and their supporters to do the same in politics?

Literature 101: In a set of four books published half a century ago called the Alexandria Quartet, the British author Lawrence Durrell describes urban life in Alexandria, the ancient Egyptian city on the Mediterranean, between the first and second World Wars. In the first book, Durrell spins a story from the perspective of one individual narrator. In each subsequent book, he describes the same events from the perspective of other narrators. While the surrounding events are the same, the stories are profoundly different, informed by each narrator's life and circumstances. The moral is that to get a sense of reality it is illuminating to see things from more than one set of eyes. This observation can apply to interactions in a court room or town hall or on the international stage. American foreign policy, for instance, may seem reasonable from our perspective, but look very different to a European, African, Middle Easterner, or Asian.

Physics 101: Sir Isaac Newton set forth three laws of motion, the third of which stated that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; in shorthand, action equals reaction. Social chemistry can be quite different. In the kindergarten of politics, reaction can be greater than action. If, for instance, one were to malign a rival calling him a “bum” or “crazy” or worse, or describe the country in which the individual lives as “evil” or “backward,” the reaction might produce effects far greater than the precipitating words envisioned or intended.

Humanities 101: In the most profound political observation of the twentieth Century, Albert Einstein suggested that splitting the atom had changed everything except our way of thinking. Yet 9/11 has taught that thinking must change not simply because of the destructive power of the big 44

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bomb, but because of the debilitating nature of terrorism. The more advanced and sophisticated an economy, the more vulnerable it is to terrorist acts. After all, a bomb placed next to a tall building does more damage than a similar bomb in a decentralized rural economy. And a cyber attack on our communication system or electric grid would cause greater potential harm than a similar effort in a developing country. Humanities 102: In Western civilization’s most prophetic poem, The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats suggests that “the centre cannot hold” when “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Circumstances are different than when Yeats penned these lines in the wake of the senseless trench warfare that cost so many lives in World War I. But sadly his memorable words hold resonance for many today. Citizens of all philosophical persuasions are displaying increased disrespect for their fellow citizens and thus for modern day democratic governance. Much of the problem may flow from the fast-changing nature of our society, but part of the blame falls at the feet of politicians and their supporters who use inflammatory rhetoric to divide the country. Candidates may prevail in elections by tearing down, but if elected, they lack the good will needed to unite an angered citizenry. Negativity dispirits the soul of society just as it raises the temperature level of legislatures. I have often assumed that in America process is our most important product, and that our Constitutional processes have generally propelled our history toward greater justice for all. Unfortunately, today, the problems of partisanship, what George Washington termed “factionalism,” have taken on a demoralizing dimension at a time when our position of world leadership requires us to restore the health of our political economy.

Management of debt at the federal, state, and local levels as well as within the typical family is the principal financial issue for most Americans. In modern times we have never had a lower tax burden relative to the Gross Domestic Product or higher levels of spending. Last year, for instance, the federal government raised approximately fifteen percent of GDP in revenues and spent twenty-five percent. This is unsustainable. It is also dangerous. As Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently noted, our national debt may be the greatest threat to our national security.

Over the course of our history, the general practice has been to raise revenues to cover or partially cover the costs associated with the country going to war. Taxation was considered a form of shared national sacrifice for the common defense. However, for the first time in our history and perhaps the history of man, America’s wars in the Twenty-first Century have been “de-financed” with tax cuts, with disproportionate benefits flowing to higher income citizens. The multi-trillion dollar costs of these Twenty-first Century wars—the longest in our history—will thus have budget ramifications for decades to come. 45

Today’s political dilemma is self-evident. Modern conservatives too often are willing to embrace domestic spending restraint with inadequate attention to fairness; conversely, modern liberals too often demonstrate populist concern for fairness with inadequate attention to fiscal discipline. And, if this conundrum were not enough, political matters are becoming increasingly entangled with special interest groups whose powers have recently been bolstered by a corporatist Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United) that enhances corporate bullying in the political process. It is no accident that just as the gap between rich and poor is widening in America, so is the political gap between the powerful and the common citizen. Politeness may be an aspect of civil discourse but civility and polite words are not synonymous. Moneyed speech that carries strings may be the most uncivil speech of all. It eviscerates reasonableness in public dialogue and distorts the capacity of citizens and policy makers to weigh competing views in balanced ways.

Many good people enter politics only to find that the system causes the low road to become the one most travelled. Politicians routinely develop conflicts that do not technically rise to a legal standard of corruption because law and now judicial fiat have weakened that standard.

The new norm magnifies quasi-contractual relationships between interest groups and public officials. These implicit uncivil contracts can be coercive even if never discussed because corporatist power can so easily reward a candidate or inflict political retribution. On the assumption, for instance, that politicians have an instinct for political survival, a key component of which is a desire to raise campaign revenues and suppress opponent treasuries, why in a corporatist political system would a politician want to stand up to the drug companies or gambling interests or investment banks if corporate monies can quickly be shoveled into the political trenches of the opposition?

Speech is thus at issue from two perspectives. At one end, uncivil speech must be protected by the Court but filtered by the public and, at the other, corporate “speech” must not be allowed to stifle the voices of the people.

The issue isn’t just the right to speak freely but to be heard openmindedly. A public official encumbered by campaign funding indebtednesses is prone to be insulated from the voices of the public. What is so disappointing about the new corporate empowerment is that it nationalizes interest group politics and entrenches political polarization at a time when a new attitudinal framework for public discourse is so needed.

One common sense alternative that fits a less conflicted political system and is innately used in certain settings by parents and teachers involves a theoretical approach to dialogue associated with a Twentieth Century German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Rather than argumentation 46

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aimed principally at exposing the weaknesses and incompatibility of other positions, Gadamer suggests that the goal should be to work to discover where there might be elements of truth or validity in other people’s stances.

Searching for the good in another’s ideas and implicitly in another person allows the prospect of arriving at a place neither side might have considered or reached alone. Such an approach to dialogue emphasizes listening and observing. It encourages creative action with the goal of avoiding irreconcilable conflict. Over three decades as a legislator, for instance, I invariably found that when efforts were undertaken to listen to and, where possible, accommodate other perspectives, the effect was to bring people together. The wisdom of each side could be tapped and everyone could share credit for the end result. The seeking of common ground does not require parties to give up their values or go along with an un-compelling outcome. It does, however, require a degree of humility and a recognition that concerns for political advantage and personal ambition must be a secondary concern.

The problem in legislative politics today involves as much as anything the question of how to parse contrasting loyalties. Is a legislator’s first loyalty to his party’s caucus and to the political activists who fund or influence primary elections, or is it to the Congress itself and the American public as a whole? Is it the national interest or a parochial interest that matters the most? Each set of loyalties is important but there are times they are in conflict and at all times they must be prioritized. The stakes have seldom been higher. The world is watching to see if America can pull together and make the necessary trade-offs between revenues and expenditures, between discipline and fairness.

Just as our political judgment is on trial, civilization itself is being challenged from two extremes: the looming prospect that proliferating weapons of mass destruction could be unleashed, and the reality that a new model of terrorism now exists for anyone, anywhere with a cause.

A potent army is thus a national security prerequisite. But military capacity alone cannot protect against all threats when respect between peoples of the world break down. The capacity of committed radicals to lash out and do harm, almost anywhere at any time, has grown exponentially over the last generation. So has the capacity for committed individuals to bring about uplifting change, whether in American technology or the Arab Spring.

In this context, I would like briefly to conclude by commenting on public service and suggest that it is a widely misunderstood concept. Public service is a precept not limited to receipt of a government pay check. After all, who is the greater public servant: a Senator or the discoverer of a cure for a disease; an ambassador or an entrepreneur who creates jobs; a Cabinet member or


designer of a new generation of computers; a governmental policy-maker or the scholar, journalist, novelist or creative artist who advances understanding of the human condition; a public program director or the funder, employee or volunteer in a non-profit venture; a city council member or the plumber, electrician, and builder; today’s political activist or the educator who works to prepare tomorrow's citizens? Despite problems in our economy, the great freedom that is seldom thought about is the freedom to seek a variety of occupations in a variety of places in a variety of ways. It is this freedom in the most extensive jobchanging culture in history that is so liberating and also so discombobulating about our times. Over the last century America has led the world in almost every field of endeavor from the arts to education to business to government. But if we are frank with each other, we must acknowledge that our leadership is being challenged in all fields today, most particularly in politics where our political parties and political institutions demand greater citizen attention. That doesn’t mean that everyone should gravitate to public office. America is indeed stronger if the majority of the most able devote themselves to other occupations. The classic example involves a scientist. In the early 1950s, Abba Eban, then the Israeli ambassador to the United States, visited a Princeton resident and, on instructions from his government, offered him the Presidency of the fledgling state of Israel. Albert Einstein promptly declined, noting in an understatement that he knew little about nature, and a fib that he knew nothing of human nature. What he understood was that his contribution to society was more valuable in other pursuits. For Einstein, resolving political squabbles would have been time misspent. History would have been disserved.

On the other hand, there are aspects of American politics where pragmatists and idealists have seldom been more in need. In the aftermath of a decade of war and economic stagnation, when the public sector made misjudgments and the private sector suffered ethical lapses, the national cry is for government at all levels to pull together for the common good.

Around the world people are asking whether America has peaked, whether we are on the precipice of social decay or the edge of renewed greatness. That question can only be answered by our actions.

Everyone is responsible. All are called upon. As Lincoln noted in words borrowed from Scripture, a house divided cannot stand. Civilization requires civility. Thank you.

Delivered at Chautauqua, New York, July 4, 2011. Reprinted with the permission of the National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman James A. Leach. 48

Rudeness Is a Neurotoxin

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

By Douglas Fields, Senior Investigator, National Institute of Health

Americans are rude. I say this not to preach, which is neither my right nor my intention, but as a scientist, a developmental neuroscientist. My concern about American rudeness relates to my scientific research and knowledge about the development of the human Dr. Douglas Fields, brain. My conclusion comes from a recent trip to a neurobiologist at the Japan, and from a reminder of times past, the death of actress Barbara Billingsley, who died Oct. 16, 2010. National Institute for Billingsley portrayed June Cleaver, the sympathetic and iconic, nurturing mother on the popular 1950s sitcom “Leave It to Beaver.” Remember her signature line? “Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver.” She confided her concern earnestly to her husband whenever their young son seemed the slightest bit distressed. The latest scientific research backs up with detailed molecular and cellular mechanisms what June Cleaver (and we) always knew intuitively, that through adolescence, the human brain is molded by the social environment in which a child is reared. A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.

Health, citing recent research, posits that a stressful social environment is “a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche.” He argues that when the behaviors of civility are cast away, there are neurological consequences for the development of the brain.

One can debate how accurately television entertainment reflects reality, but there is no doubt that it represents the ideals of the time. Commercial art and entertainment always reflect and reinforce a society’s values, as the public buy it (literally) because they value it. There is no doubt that American society has changed dramatically with respect to manners and social discourse in a generation. The “Leave It to Beaver” model of American polite society in the 1950s and early 1960s is gone. Those black-and-white sitcoms have been supplanted today by garish reality television programs that showcase domestic and social interactions driven by narcissism, factionalism, competition and selfishness.

The contrast between the brash, comparatively disrespectful behavior of Americans today and the courtesy, formal manners, civil discourse, polite behavior and respect for others regardless of social status that is evident in Japanese society is striking. The contrast hits an American like a splash of cold water upon disembarking the airplane in Japan, because it clashes so starkly with our behavior. For an American, Japanese manners and courtesy must be experienced.

American children today are raised in an environment that is far more hostile than the environment that nurtured today’s adults. Children today are


exposed to behaviors, profane language, hostilities and stress from which we adults, raised a generation ago, were carefully shielded. When I was a boy, there were no metal detectors at the entrance to my school. The idea was inconceivable, and there was indeed no need for them. Not so today. I wonder: how does this different environment affect brain development?

First it is helpful to consider, from a biological perspective, what “rudeness” is, so that we can consider what is lost when formal polite behaviors are cast away. People (and animals) living together in large numbers must develop strict formalized behaviors governing interactions between all individuals in the group, or there will be strife and chaos. In the natural world, as in the civilized world, it is stressful for individuals (people or animals) to interact with strangers, and also with other members of a working group and family members. As the size of the group increases, so do the number of interactions between individuals, thus raising the level of stress if not controlled by formal, stereotyped behavior, which in human society is called “manners.” The formal “Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma’am,” is not a showy embellishment in the military; strict respect and formal polite discourse are the hub of the wheel in any effective and cohesive social structure. True, many chafe under a system of behavior that is overly rigid, as do many young Japanese, but my point is that these polite and formalized behaviors reduce stress in a stressful situation that arises from being an individual in a complex society. Stress is a neurotoxin, especially during development of a child’s brain.

Studies have shown that children exposed to serious psychological trauma during childhood are at risk of suffering increased psychiatric disorders, including depression, anger, hostility, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis as adults. Using modern brain imaging, the physical damage to these children’s brain development can be seen as clearly as a bone fracture on an X-ray. Early-childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence undermine the normal wiring of brain circuits, especially those circuits connecting the left and right sides of the brain through a massive bundle of connections called the corpus callosum. Impairment in integrating information between right and left hemispheres is associated with increased risk of craving, drug abuse and dependence, and a weakened ability to make moral judgments. (See my post “Of Two Minds on Morality” for new research on the corpus callosum and the ability to make moral judgments.)

A series of studies by a group of psychiatrists and brain imaging scientists lead by Martin Teicher, of Harvard Medical School, shows that even hostile words in the form of verbal abuse can cause these brain changes and enduring psychiatric risks for young adults. In a study published in 2006, the researchers showed that parental verbal abuse was more strongly associated with these detrimental effects on brain development than was parental physical abuse. In a new study published in the July issue of the American 50

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Journal of Psychiatry, they report that exposure to verbal abuse from peers is associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms and corpus callosum abnormalities. The main causes are stress hormones, changes in inhibitory neurotransmitters, and environmental experience affecting the formation of myelin electrical insulation on nerve fibers. The most sensitive period for verbal abuse from peers in impairing brain development was exposure during the middle school years. Why? Because this is the period of life when these connections are developing in the human brain, and wiring of the human brain is greatly influenced by environmental experience.

Unlike the brains of most animals, which are cast at birth, the human brain develops largely after we are born. The brain of a human infant is so feeble that human babies are helpless. Human infants cannot walk, visual perception is rudimentary, and cognitive abilities, likes and dislikes, talents and skills, and the ability to communicate by speech or through reading and writing do not develop fully until the completion of adolescence. Our brains are the product of the environment in which we are nurtured through the first two decades of life. Whether you are Mormon or Muslim or speak Spanish or French depends primarily on where you were born and raised. Our experience during childhood and adolescence determines the wiring of our brain so powerfully that even processing of sensory information is determined by our childhood environment. Whether or not we can hear eight notes in a musical scale or twelve, or whether we find symmetry in art beautiful or boring, or whether we can hear the difference in sound of the English letter “R” vs. “L”, depends entirely upon whether our brains wired up during childhood in Western culture or Asian culture. The neural circuitry underlying those sensory perceptions is directed by what we experienced in early life, and these circuits cannot be rewired easily in the adult brain.

One can view the effects of environment on brain development with fatalism or with optimism. It is, however, the reason for human success on this planet. The fact that our brains develop after we are born rather than in the womb allows humans to adapt to changing environments. Biologically speaking, this increases the likelihood of success in reproducing in the environment we find ourselves rather than in the cave-man past coded through natural selection in our genes.

There were many other sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s that portrayed politeness and manners as paramount in social and family interactions: “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show.” These are largely forgotten, but “Leave it to Beaver” thrived. It did so not as a commercial success for the ABC television network during its run from 1957 to 1963, but because of its enormous popularity in syndication, where it ran for decades in the late afternoon, watched with devotion by an audience of school children.

Copyright, Dr. Douglas Fields, Huffington Post, January 5, 2011. Reprinted with permission.


Can We Talk? A Conversation About Civility and Democracy in America By Dr. Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania President, Amy Gutmann, suggests that it is not the presence of incivility, but rather its ubiquity that should disturb us. She argues that our exercise of free speech has become divorced from a sense of civic responsibility and calls for reducing the excess of polarizing rhetoric in the body politic and reviving a mindset conducive to compromise.

It’s a pleasure to join you all today at the National Constitution Center. I’m reminded that President Ronald Reagan—whose 100th birthday we mark this year—signed the “Constitutional Heritage Act” in 1988 that established this venerable institution, which was constantly championed by Mayor Ed Rendell. One of the great modern rivalries in American politics was between President Reagan and the then Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. If Reagan believed that government was the problem—O’Neill, an unreconstructed New Dealer—believed it could be the solution. Yet these two very different politicians—from rival parties and with opposing philosophies of government—were able to bridge the gulf between them, often with cordiality—and always with civility. Reagan summed up their relationship when— after one of their famous St. Patrick Day lunches—he wrote in his diary: “Tip is a real pol…[he can] be a friend while politically trying to beat your head in.”

I find one story especially poignant. Exactly thirty years ago this month, John Hinckley Jr. shot Reagan as he was leaving a speaking engagement. The President was in much worse shape than was generally known when O’Neill went to his hospital bedside. He took Reagan’s hands in his, and knelt in prayer. Tip then rose… kissed Reagan on the forehead…and said that he didn’t want to keep him from his rest.

Reflecting on that story, Chris Matthews—once a senior aide to O’Neill— wrote in his Post column this January: “these political giants recognized…their shared humanity, despite their stark differences of philosophy.”

It’s a recognition that seems to be lost to the incivility of so much of our public incivility that many blame for the recent tragedy in Tucson.

I think they go too far. But none of us here would deny that recognition of our shared humanity has been lost when, this February, a Dallas County Commissioner disparages a speaker as “the chief mullah of Dallas County...” 52

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None of us would deny that it’s been lost when—even after Tucson—an Indiana deputy attorney general tweets to Mother Jones magazine last month that police should use “live ammunition” against Wisconsin labor protestors… And none of us would deny that it’s been lost when—on the campaign trail last fall—the current governor of Maine tells a group of fishermen that if he were elected he would tell President Obama “to go to hell.” Addressing this incivility and promoting a healthier body politic is why we’ve all gathered here today. But even as Americans from across the country, and across the political spectrum, are calling for more civility, many others argue that what we’re experiencing today is not the exception—but rather the rule—in American politics. It is…it has always been…and perhaps it must always be, a rough and tumble enterprise. Politics is certainly not for the “thin-skinned,” as President Obama told graduates last year.

To know that this is true, we need only look at the anti-Semitic, anti-FDR tirades of Father Coughlin, the Depression-era radio priest—who attracted 16 million listeners. We need only recall that General George McClellan once called his commander-in-chief, President Lincoln, “Nothing more than a wellmeaning baboon.” Subtlety was certainly not his strong suit... We need only read an editorial that claimed, if Thomas Jefferson were elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” Nuance obviously escaped this newspaper editor… And we need only accurately remember the Founding Fathers themselves—whose lives and legacies we honor in this very building. We might like to think of our Founding Fathers as models of civil discourse.

But we know that some of what they wrote paints a very different picture. John Adams once described Alexander Hamilton as “The bastard brat of a Scotch peddler…devoid of every principle.” No one ever accused Adams of being understated…And James Monroe, more prosaically, labeled George Washington “insane.” Calling Barack Obama a “socialist” may seem tame in comparison—that is, until we take into account a variety of posters, and a massive billboard in Iowa, that compare him to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin.

So what, if anything, is different today? Is incivility in our public dialogue and discourse more damaging than at other points in our history? Is Peggy Noonan on to something when she writes that it may be “a mistake not to see something new, something raw and bitter and dangerous, in the particular moment we’re in”?

I believe it’s not the presence of incivility in our public life that should disturb us, but rather, its ubiquity. Incivility is now so widespread—and so


rewarded by so many powerful institutions—that it has upset our treasured balance of rights and responsibilities. Specifically, how we use our right to free speech has been divorced from any effective sense of our civic responsibility.

We know that constitutional democracy depends on both protecting rights and promoting responsibilities. But while the right of free speech— even in its most repugnant terms—is legally enforceable, our responsibility to use that speech for productive public purposes isn’t. It’s why the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church could lawfully mount hateful, and hurtful, anti-gay protests outside the military funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “As a nation we have chosen—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” The legitimate concern today is that our public debate and discourse has become so hateful…so untruthful…so raw so much of time, that it’s all but impossible to see how the public good is or can be served. It may be hard to see how the public good can be served—but it shouldn’t be impossible. We need to remember those Founding Fathers.

At the end of the day—despite their polarizing rhetoric—they were able to work together to craft compromises and achieve very meaningful results. It’s why Ben Franklin stated, when he announced his support of the Constitution, that, “The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.” It’s also why Franklin’s reply to Mrs. Powel—upon his leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787—is well worth our heeding in 2011: “Well, Doctor, what have we got…?” she asked. Franklin replied, “A republic—if you can keep it.”

If you can keep it: For more than 200 years, we’ve kept it. Loud, and messy, and contentious, we’ve kept it. At times awful…at times amazing and inspiring, we’ve kept it. But how confidently can we continue to keep it?

My confidence depends on how effectively we address two huge challenges—challenges to recognizing our shared humanity in the midst of ongoing disagreement, including passionate protest. These two challenges—if met—will help ensure a civic dialogue that advances the common good while also respecting, indeed often appreciating, passionate voices of protest.

The first challenge is to reduce the excess of polarizing rhetoric in the body politic. And the second challenge is to revive a mindset conducive to compromise.


The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Taken together, these two challenges highlight the importance of a sense of mutual respect and shared humanity to the future of our democracy. They also reflect some of the scholarly work I’ve done with my frequent co-author, Dennis Thompson, who is with us today. Reduce the excess of polarizing rhetoric in the body politic Years ago, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define pornography. He famously answered, I don’t know how to define it—but I know it when I see it. Something similar might be said about polarizing rhetoric: we know it when we hear it. And we’re hearing far too much of it these days.

Democracies are well served by robust and passionate public argument. The problem arises when polarizing rhetoric so dominates democratic politics that it shuts out constructive consideration of competing values. Polarizing rhetoric can be as psychologically tantalizing as the twists and turns in a Dan Brown novel—and often as entertaining. When it dominates public discourse, it drives fellow citizens into becoming disdainful enemies in rhetorical warfare. It also denigrates and degrades rather than respects those with opposing viewpoints—making it far more difficult to deliberate and to bridge reasonable differences. To put it metaphorically, polarizing rhetoric is junk food for the body politic. Consumed in “supersize” quantities, it clogs the two major arteries that nourish constitutional democracy: the willingness to compromise, and the expression of mutual respect across differences.

When these two arteries are clogged, democracies do not pursue the kind of civic dialogue that simultaneously promotes a majority will, and listens to—and learns from—minority voices.

A strong regimen of preventive medicine would do our body politic the greatest good: The most powerful antidote to polarizing rhetoric is education in robust, reasoned, and respectful political debate. We need to teach students—the future leaders of our democracy—how to engage with one another over controversial issues. We must ensure that they are exposed to the widest spectrum of viewpoints—guaranteeing that they encounter beliefs that challenge their own.

We must help them to understand and engage with the views of others without knee-jerk reliance on the crutch of character assassination. We must also help them to recognize polarizing rhetoric when they hear it…and appreciate its dangers before they habitually speak it. In his speech after the tragedy in Tucson, President Obama eloquently stated why we must take responsibility for reducing incivility in the body politic. “Only a more civil and honest public discourse,” he noted, “can help


us face up to our challenges as a nation.” There are discernible links between polarizing discourse, which dismisses and degrades all opposition, and the incapacity of our political system to address our most challenging problems. Above all, the most insidiously destructive link is the disinclination to respect and—therefore—to compromise with one’s ideological opponents. This brings me to our second challenge.

Revive a Mindset Conducive to Compromise If we want to ensure that the right to free speech is accompanied by a corresponding sense of civic responsibility, reducing excess polarization in our public discourse is not enough. We must also find ways to revive a political mindset that is conducive to compromise. Why is compromise so difficult these days in American democracy? After all, almost everyone recognizes that—just as politics is the art of the possible—compromise is the soul of democracy. A story about Harold Macmillan drives home for me what makes democratic compromise so difficult.

During World War II, the future British Prime Minister was the British representative in Algeria. He was called upon to settle an increasingly bitter dispute between British and American officers in an Allied mess. The Americans were insisting that alcohol be served before meals…the British insisting that alcohol be served with their meals. With the wisdom of Solomon, Macmillan announced that, “from now on—we will all drink before meals in deference to the Americans….and we will all drink during dinner in deference to the British.”

Major compromises in democratic politics never leave all parties so satisfied…nor are they ever so simple.

To the contrary, major compromises—while giving all parties something that they want—require all to sacrifice something they value by making difficult—and often painful—concessions to an organized opposition. Compromise, therefore, typically leaves all parties dissatisfied. So, as essential as compromise is to democracy, it’s a steep uphill trudge.

In a recent article in Perspectives on Politics, entitled “Mindsets of Political Compromise,” Thompson and I argue that the ability to negotiate a successful compromise—particularly in an era of polarized politics—depends on cultivating a mindset that encourages politicians to adapt their principles and to respect their opponents. This mindset promotes attitudes and arguments that help us to work in common cause for the common good. The compromising mindset also focuses our attention on the most critical question for governing: Compared to the realistic alternatives, does this compromise promote the principles of both sides better than the status quo? 56

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Unfortunately, the massive incursion of campaigning into governing—the so-called “permanent campaign”—fuels a mindset that opposes compromise. The uncompromising mindset—very conducive to campaigning—encourages politicians to stand firmly on principles that appeal to their base… and it spawns mistrust of their opponents. This mindset may help win elections— but it stymies effective governing. It radically biases the democratic process in favor of the status quo. And it blocks the democratic process from producing the public goods that citizens seek. I want to stress that the uncompromising mindset is not inherently bad, let alone evil. It is important—perhaps even essential—to campaigning for office. The problem of the uncompromising mindset—like that of polarized rhetoric—is not its presence—but its ubiquity, which has upset the delicate balance of “campaigning” and “governing” in American politics. Like strangle weeds in a garden, campaigning has now grown out of its natural environment and threatens to choke out the very process of governing.

The incursion of campaigning into governing is not necessarily greater than other factors that make compromise difficult—such as polarization and the 24/7 segmented media market. But the mindset associated with campaigning—with its overriding goal of producing a winner—reinforces and exacerbates all the other factors.

Even sharp ideological differences—like those manifested by Reagan and O’Neill—pose far less of an obstacle to compromise in the absence of the continual pressures of campaigning. In 1983, not long after a big Democratic victory in the midterms, both Reagan and O’Neill backed a bipartisan solution to keep Social Security sustainable. And three years later, they together backed the most comprehensive tax reform bill in modern American history, the Tax Reform Act of 1986. The TRA was forged with the support of a bipartisan group, which included Democrats Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley…and Republican Bob Packwood. They were all partisans—but they were also prepared to take responsibility for governing.

Are there any glimmers of hope today? Let’s begin with last December, when President Obama, Congressional Democrats and Republicans reached a compromise to extend both the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Although the success of this compromise reflects the unusual landscape of a lame-duck Congress, the victory for both sides reinforces the importance of extending the compromising mindset beyond lame-duck sessions.

Another glimmer of hope: In the Senate, there’s a new “gang of six”— Democrats Warner, Durbin and Conrad…and Republicans Chambliss, Crapo and Coburn. Together, they’re working on a bipartisan debt reduction plan. They’re debating numbers, deadlines, and legislative methods.


Instead of just engaging in a polarized “Point-Counterpoint,” they’re responsibly addressing some tough and critically important issues across the aisle. As the Post noted last month, “[they are] willing, in a time of ideological rigidity, to accept that painful trade-offs will be essential to putting the country on a sustainable fiscal path.”

Yes, there are glimmers of hope. But for efforts like these to multiply and usher in actual decisions that serve the public good, then we must find ways of shifting the balance in our democratic process toward governing and away from the permanent campaign. We cannot wait for the media and politicians to reform themselves. Citizens can play an important role by resisting the siren’s song of polarizing rhetoric when we hear it…and by supporting political leaders whose rhetoric is respectful, and whose willingness to compromise is robust. We also can practice “an economy of moral disagreement.” When we argue about controversial issues, we can defend our views vigorously and passionately, while expressing respect for our adversaries, and not simply rejecting out of hand everything they stand for. By economizing on moral disagreement, we engender mutual respect across competing viewpoints and—most important—we make room for compromise. Without compromise, American democracy cannot survive—let alone thrive.

The capacity for compromise—for cooperation across party lines for a publicly worthy goal—has long been one of our democracy’s greatest natural resources. It’s a resource we’ve been squandering. Yet it’s a resource that we desperately need, to enhance both our rights to free speech and free elections… and our responsibilities to speak and govern for the public good. If we do our best to reduce the excess of polarizing rhetoric in our public discourse…and to revive a mindset conducive to compromise, we will match our sacred rights to speak and to vote with an equally sacred set of responsibilities. We can help ensure the future of our republic.

We can help engender a civic dialogue that simultaneously advances the common good and respects the voices of protest…

And—most important—we can help restore the recognition of our shared humanity.

Restoring the recognition of our shared humanity certainly appeals to the “better angels of our nature…”

It reminds us that what unites us has always been greater than what divides us… 58

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And it urges us to listen to each other with empathy…to speak to each other with respect…to appreciate one another as fellow members of a great American family…and to cherish not only our rights, but also our responsibilities. Thank you.

Delivered at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. March 26, 2011. Copyright, Amy Gutmann 2011. Reprinted with permission. _______________________________________________

Tree of Failure

By David Brooks, Columnist, New York Times

President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath—as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country's sense of New York Times loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and columnist David the possibility for renewal. Of course, even a great speech won’t usher in a period of civility. Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.

Brooks suggests that a decline in the belief that the truth is best approached through the give and take of argument has resulted in a politics of absolutism that, in turn, has led to polarization and a loss of civility in public life.

Every sensible person involved in politics and public life knows that their work is laced with failure. Every column, every speech, every piece of legislation and every executive decision has its own humiliating shortcomings. There are always arguments you should have made better, implications you should have anticipated, other points of view you should have taken on board. Moreover, even if you are at your best, your efforts will still be laced with failure. The truth is fragmentary and it's impossible to capture all of it. There are competing goods that can never be fully reconciled. The world is more complicated than any human intelligence can comprehend. 59

But every sensible person in public life also feels redeemed by others. You may write a mediocre column or make a mediocre speech or propose a mediocre piece of legislation, but others argue with you, correct you and introduce elements you never thought of. Each of these efforts may also be flawed, but together, if the system is working well, they move things gradually forward.

Each individual step may be imbalanced, but in succession they make the social organism better. As a result, every sensible person feels a sense of gratitude for this process. We all get to live lives better than we deserve because our individual shortcomings are transmuted into communal improvement. We find meaning—and can only find meaning—in the role we play in that larger social enterprise.

So this is where civility comes from—from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process. Civility is the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation. They are useless without the conversation.

The problem is that over the past forty years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. The nation’s founders had a modest but realistic opinion of themselves and of the voters. They erected all sorts of institutional and social restraints to protect Americans from themselves. They admired George Washington because of the way he kept himself in check.

But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. Children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process.

So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents. They feel no need for balance and correction.

Beneath all the other things that have contributed to polarization and the loss of civility, the most important is this: The roots of modesty have been carved away. President Obama’s speech in Tucson was a good step, but there will have to be a bipartisan project like comprehensive tax reform to get people conversing again. Most of all, there will have to be a return to modesty. 60

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In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. ... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.” Copyright, New York Times, January 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission. _______________________________________________

The Civil Classroom in the Age of the Net

By P. M. Forni, Professor, John Hopkins University

For quite some time, we have observed that the disengaged, disrespectful, and, unruly student behavior that used to be confined to secondary schools has reached higher education. In college classrooms across the U.S., tardiness, unfamiliarity with assigned readings, and unjustified absences are routine. So are chit-chatting, e-mailing, and instant-messaging. In large lecture halls where ringtones jar and jangle, students have been spotted reading newspapers and even watching television on their portable sets. Virtually no academic term goes by in P. M. Forni of Johns which instructors don’t open their inboxes to find eHopkins encourages mail that is inappropriately informal, unreasonably demanding, or both. After receiving less-than-stellar college teachers to do the following: grades, legions of students cry foul. The arsenal of maintain an the disgruntled includes profanities, threats, and atmosphere of relaxed physical abuse. It may not be widely known, but formality in class, help college teachers are bullied too.

The professing of knowledge used to rest on the firm foundation of the principle of authority. Most students granted their teachers respect and sometimes deference as a matter of course. That foundation has been crumbling for at least three generations. The new digital technology has virtually razed it. As college teachers, it is imperative that we realize what this means for our relationship without students and for the future of education. In his Chronicle of Higher Education column, the pseudonymous Thomas H. Benton articulated a concern of many of today’s faculty:

students develop a sense of value and respect, present themselves as “knowledge professionals” and, finally, create a written covenant for both professor and students to regulate their relationships in the classroom.

Whatever the explanation, I sometimes feel stung by students’ rudeness. I try to make my classes interesting and relevant, and I care about their learning. I try to conduct myself in a kindly but professional manner. But, more and more, I think the


student culture of incivility is a larger impediment to their success than anything they might fail to learn about Western Civilization or whatever it is I am teaching.

How did we get to this? Many students are simply not prepared to engage in serious academic work and do not know how they are expected to behave on campus. Most of them bring a consumer mentality to school and very little concern about approval from the older generation. That their own generation was raised on oversized portions of self-esteem is part of the problem, not to speak of their massive exposure to coarse popular culture on television and the Net. Of course, professors are not blameless either. We can be unfair, unhelpful, disillusioned, disengaged, arrogant, and sarcastic. And sometimes, just as our new breed of students is not prepared for college, we are not prepared for them. The Net is a case in point. We know that it plays a major role in the shaping of the young, but how many of us have a strategy in place to cope with the challenge that this poses to education? In the last decade, first-yearexperience programs have been sprouting up at many two-year and fouryear colleges. When expertly managed, they have been invaluable assets, helping students learn how to behave civilly with both peers and teachers. However, these programs are not enough. If we want to slow down the continuing decline of traditional civil interaction on American college campuses, we must train ourselves too. In the following pages, I have collected a few reflections on the challenges we all face as college teachers and on ways of responding to them that have been working for me.

Establish a Climate of Relaxed Formality Even in the radically informal times in which we live, I cannot be alone in believing that positive pedagogical results require a modicum of formality. It is, in part, through formality that you convey that there is value in what is taking place in class. Formality is the homage that intelligence pays to value. I concede that there may be circumstances in which asking your students to address you by your first name is the thing to do; I just have not experienced them often. Your students are not your pals. Boundaries between roles should remain solid. Go for an Aristotelian happy medium between stilted formality—the kind that makes you aloof and discourages dialogue—and chumminess. Call it relaxed formality. I have addressed all my students as Mr., Miss, and Ms. throughout my teaching career and never had reason to regret it. If they seem to like it, in the second half of the semester I will switch occasionally to their first names. Students appreciate much more the informal address when we do not grant it outright, but rather as the result of a degree of familiarity they have achieved with us after hours of class work.

I do not use juvenile jargon for effect, and only occasionally will I use an informal expression picked from the realm of popular culture if I see a pedagogical advantage in doing so. My private life remains so. Still, on occasion and with cause, I will disclose something personal-without 62

The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

indulging in idle chit-chat or gossip. I encourage my students frequently, often with a smile, but I am firm in expecting undivided attention for whoever has the floor, be it the instructor or a student. This style of interaction has helped me build a civil environment in which I and my students can be at our best as we teach and learn.

As you foster (through relaxed formality) a learning environment where restraint, respect, and consideration are the norm, your students learn better and more. In turn, their success in learning will have a positive effect on their classroom behavior. Non-disruptive behavior reinforces learning and viceversa. This is the virtual circle you want to put in place in the everyday exercise of your profession. This is what defines a job well-done in the classroom.

Train Students to Distinguish the Trivial from the Valuable The notion of value is woven together with that of difference. Recognizing and accepting difference is the premise of our recognizing and accepting value. Unfortunately, one major aspect of their experience with the Net inclines our students not to perceive difference. On the Net every single thing is equidistant from every other thing and from the person at the keyboard. It takes the same amount of time and the same effort to access anything you wish. The fact that one can as easily conjure up the Bible as Mad magazine erodes some of the difference between the two. When everything comes from the same source—the mysteriously endless and space less warehouses of the Net—everything reveals itself under a varnish of equivalence. To quote Philip Roth, “everything goes and nothing matters.”

I believe that part of my job as a teacher is to convey the notion that although the Net may conceal it, a hierarchy of values does exist and does matter. No matter what the topic of my class is, I often find myself using the material as a primer in moral philosophy. If we are reading poetry, we discuss the ethics of reading poetry: Why are we reading poetry? Can we justify this expenditure of time, money, and energy on moral grounds? How can we locate the value in what we are doing? Is there something more important that we should be doing instead? Go through the Net with your students, educating their critical eye. Open a conversation on what makes information trivial or important. Make discussing values a recurring exercise. When your students become more invested in the notion of value, they will find value in a class that questions its own value and behave more respectfully and considerately in class. Respect takes root in the presence of perceived value. Sell Your Product and Yourself Two current ways of looking at knowledge add disaffection and tension to the lives of teachers and students on today’s campuses. They are: knowledge retention and knowledge retrieval. Many teachers and professors profess the former. For them knowledge is something to acquire and retain forever. Most students are partial to the latter. They look at knowledge as something to access when needed. For them, the Net is the repository of 63

information of choice. The Net is where they go to have all their questions answered, be it the name of Alexander the Great’s teacher, or how cathecolamines work. This devalues the figure of the teacher as a provider of knowledge. “I don't really need you, I have the Net,” is the unspoken and sometimes subconscious belief that many students bring to the classroom; hence, there exists less incentive to pay attention in class, more boredom, more frustration, and more disruptive behavior.

Then, to make matters worse for them, that very professor whose image is so diminished in their eyes proceeds to evaluate them according to traditional standards. The professor expects retention of knowledge from students for whom retrieval on demand is the only way that makes sense. Not only are they unable to see the point of retaining, they do not know how to read to retain. Poor performance in tests follows. When students receive low grades, their disappointment and resentment are fueled by the perceived unfairness of it all: having paid good money for a bad grade, and for an education they see as obsolete. Anger can ensue. And, of course, anger (or even simple disaffection) can make students behave poorly—not only with their teachers, but with anyone else on campus as well.

Be proactive. Bring forward the retention/retrieval divide, making sure you are well-prepared to defend the former without dismissing the latter. It goes without saying that retrieval according to necessity must become second nature in a world saturated with information. At the same time, make very clear that retention is crucial to our cognitive and emotional functioning. Our very ability to function in the world needs a solid structure of notions that we acquire and retain—be they historical, philosophical, literary, artistic, astronomical, musical, or other. Without reference to retained knowledge, there is no effective thinking. Without effective thinking, no wise choices are possible, and the good life is nothing but a chimeric abstraction. The outstanding leaders of tomorrow will be people with a rich inner structuring of possessed notions and a great ability to retrieve information.

Explain the benefits in taking the class, and taking the class from you. Go over what your role will be in a journey of cognitive and emotional growth that will take your students from information to knowledge and from knowledge to wisdom. This is easier to do in humanities classes, but science teachers will have to imagine new ways to get through to their students as well. Students need to understand what they can get from attending your class that they would not from sitting in their dorms in front of a digital screen. We need to present ourselves as necessary and authoritative mediators between the Net and our students, as the credible knowledge professionals who can teach them how to think about the information they retrieve. The alternative is to fade into obsolescence. Do not overpromise, however. Tell them what the class is not going to do for them. This is also the moment to touch upon the workload and discourage 64

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attendance by students who find it incompatible with their degree of motivation or availability of time and energy. I bring with me an at least subliminal awareness (if such a thing exists) of the new instructor-student dynamics brought about by the digital revolution every time I teach. It keeps me on my toes, making me want to convey content and meaning in ways that are insightful, challenging, and memorable. Stipulate Fair Covenant If you have been dealing with a widespread student attitude mixing disengagement with disregard, you are not alone. Millions of educators around the world are in your same position. A tool of choice to make things better is to make your expectations explicit. For the past several years, my students and I have agreed upon codes of behavior—either oral or written— regulating our relationship during the term of classes. In the absence of compelling reasons not to do so, go for the written covenant.

At the top of a sheet of paper, under the heading “What I Expect from You, list entries such as: “That you be punctual for every class.” “That you do not receive or make telephone calls.” “That you respect what I and your fellow students have to say.” “That you come to class ready to ask and answer questions of substance on the day’s readings.” “That you be mindful of time constraints when making presentations.” “That you will concentrate exclusively on this course during class hours.” Use the bottom half for your own list of commitments. “What You Can Expect from Me”: “That I will be punctual for every class.” “That I will give everybody a fair share of my attention.” “That I will prepare you for your tests.” “That I will grade the quality of your work rather than the amount of time and effort you spent on it.” “That I will work to make you perform at your best.”

Read the covenant to your students on the first day of classes and ask them whether they are willing to abide by it. You can certainly make it part of the syllabus, but if you prefer a more memorable option, bring copies on separate sheets. Then, after the students’ approval, you will staple the sheets to the syllabi just before distributing them to your class. Either way, it is of utmost importance that you do not change the original stipulations during the course of the term.

A Mixed Bag for the Road Ahead Your students are aware of their own edge over the older generation in the handling of all things digital. The smaller the gap between their competence and yours, the more respect you will receive, and the more in


control of the class you will be. Take care of disruptions of any kind right away. Interrupt your class if necessary, and allow it to continue only after the disruptive behavior is corrected. It is unfortunate that teachers are reluctant to report egregious breaches in civility and ethics because they perceive them as personal defeats, and for fear that administrators will deem them unable to control their classes. This, of course, gives students the impression that they can act with impunity, which makes them repeat their behavior. It is also unfortunate that when breaches are reported, administrators often appear reluctant to discipline a paying constituency. This wrongly reinforces the students' feeling that their transgressions will be tolerated. Keep exceptions to the rules to a minimum. If your syllabus says “No makeup tests,” explain that you really mean it out of fairness to the contingent of students respecting the rule. Place plenty of emphasis on the notion that it is not acceptable to come to class without having read and assimilated the assigned material. Help your students prepare for their tests. They will be more likely to do well, which means fewer challenges of grades. When students come to class unprepared, it does not necessarily mean that they have not opened their books. It is easy to mistake inability to study for a lukewarm interest in the subject; teach them what it means to study in earnest. Inform them that study is just another form of work. As such, it is most rewarding when you reach a state of uninterrupted absorption in what you are doing. It is the mental state called “flow.” Show no tolerance for the antics of the overbearing, the mean-spirited, and the narcissists.

However, never cease to be clear-headed, temperate, considerate, and compassionate. Never argue or raise your voice. In a particularly difficult encounter with a student, imagine that you are being videotaped and that the resulting video will be used to train other teachers in the handling of such situations. While remaining engaged, you will perceive the hostility directed at you less like a personal attack and more like a management task. There is no doubt that today’s relationship between college professors and students is fraught with tension. And it is becoming clear that the massive presence of the Net in college students’ lives is contributing to that tension. By casting a glance at why and how that happens, these pages are a contribution to an area of interest in which scholarly work is destined to grow in the years to come. Examining what being a teacher and a student entails is going to be an important task within the larger enterprise of reconceptualizing what being human is in the age of the Net. WORKS CITED

Benton H. Thomas. “Remedial Civility in Training,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 11, 2008). Copyright, Thought & Action Fall 2008. Reprinted with permission.



The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

The Courage to Listen, The Courage to Speak

Remarks Delivered by The Honorable D. Brooks Smith during Commencement Exercises at Mount Aloysius College on Saturday, May 5, 2012 Thank you President Foley, and a thank you to the entire Mount Aloysius College community for inviting me to share this very important day in the lives of those who are about to receive degrees after months and years of hard work and disciplined study. I stood at this same podium some years ago, at another graduation exercise. It is a common affliction for those of us who are getting older to bemoan how things have changed– and that observation is usually delivered with a tone of disapproval. Not so when I survey things here at the Mount. Change here has been positive and dynamic. I have witnessed the great leap forward under Sister Mary Ann Dillon, and I’ve watched the energetic and seamless transition to the vigorous Presidency of Thomas Foley. Without a doubt, Mount Aloysius has changed over the years, and that change has meant a vastly improved educational environment from which all of you have benefitted.

I realize that I represent something of an obstacle for you right now. I stand between you and the diploma that you are eager to receive and that you richly deserve. For what I promise will be a relatively short time, you will just have to observe ritual. As I heard a speaker tell an audience once, “I’m here to speak, and you’re here to listen. If you finish before I do, just put your head back and rest. I’ll be along shortly.”

Actually, it is on the subject of listening that I am here to speak. I’ve chosen it as a topic because there seems to be so little of it being practiced these days. I don’t mean the kind of lazy listening that accompanies the use of an iPod or anything requiring headphones or earpieces. What I am referring to is the kind of listening that is essential to genuine conversation. Real listening requires engagement with another. By engaged listening, we acknowledge that other person’s value as a human being. As a loved one. As a colleague. As a friend.

To really listen means to take part in that great art form called communication. The late Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, wrote that “[m]an’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” This Rogerian – as it is called – axiom is not how we ordinarily think about communication. We think about verbalizing. We think about talking. We think about actively deploying words for the purpose of expressing to someone else what we want them to hear about our ideas, our viewpoints, our feelings. Without a doubt, speaking is essential to communication. Discourse is a sine qua non. But, as a fellow by the name of Michael Nichols wrote in an essay, The Lost Art of Listening: 67

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

If we are really to communicate, we need to hone not just our speaking skills. We need to recognize that communication is a two-way process. I emphasize both “two-way” and “process.” It is a highly participative process, in which parties are engaged as speaker and listener. And if practiced properly, that process should lead to genuine understanding. Of course, there are very practical reasons for careful listening. Empirical research has shown that we actually hear and take in only a fraction of what is said to us. Perhaps no more than a third. Those results alone suggest the need to be alert to the spoken word. But the listening I’m talking about is more than just attentiveness.

In preparing for these remarks, I came upon the work of a now deceased author and columnist from Minnesota by the name of Brenda Ueland. In an essay entitled The Art of Listening, she wrote: “When we listen to people there is an alternating current that recharges us so we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.” Ueland acknowledged, though, that not everyone seems capable of listening. She went on to write: “there are brilliant people who cannot listen much. They have no ingoing wires on their apparatus. They are entertaining, but exhausting, too.” Probably all of us know someone like that. The person who can hardly wait to hear what he has to say next. Some folks don’t really want to know what you have to say. Genuine communication is not what they have in mind. Their desire is to monopolize a conversation, either through sheer selfcenteredness or a desire to control. For them it is better to dominate than to risk being challenged. Their failure to listen may actually be a failure of nerve.

The eminently quotable British statesman, Winston Churchill, reminds us: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Often people refuse to listen because they lack the courage for it.

Listening may challenge us. It requires not only patience, but often a suspension of our more reactive tendencies. We must be silent for a time, and we must be open to thoughtful consideration of points of view that may be alien to us, and perhaps which shake our very foundations. That is when it takes courage to listen.

In her book, The Argument Culture, linguistics scholar Deborah Tannen complains that too many in our society “approach the world ... in an adversarial frame of mind.” That too many people are gripped by a kind of “programmed contentiousness.” I think she’s right. And our media is complicit in this. It is not just that media thrives on conflict; it has always done that. But in recent times, programming that purports to suggest balance


The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

goes about it by seeking the most extreme and polarized proponents on an issue. The result is not enlightened debate, but something more akin to a WWF production.

To be sure, some things just aren’t worth listening to. Perhaps because it is a presidential election year, there seems a lot these days worthy only of a deaf ear. On the airwaves, bombast is offered as informed opinion. On the campaign trail, sound policy is sacrificed in the interest of polemic. Our public discourse seems these days to offer little that is worth listening to. And yet we are a democracy, and if our national conversation is to be raised above its current level of incoherence and intolerance, it is we who must change it – through thoughtful listening, through informed reply – and ultimately through citizen action.

Yes, conversation is a process. And as I’ve attempted to convey, listening is not a form of passivity, nor should it ever imply condonation of a speaker’s morally offensive viewpoint. Listening affords us the opportunity to understand. And once patient listening has informed us fully of another person’s point of view, we are free to accept or reject it. Hopefully, our listening will provide occasion for eventual response that is measured and polite. It may even lead to a proverbial “meeting of the minds.” But if what we hear, after thoughtful consideration, truly offends our deeply-held values, we are free to reject it – and sometimes, to reject it in the strongest terms. The poet, Charles Simic, who was born in Serbia and became our country’s fifteenth Poet Laureate, tells us that there are times when we must oppose. Times when we must push back. “There are moments in life,” he writes, “when true invective is called for, when it becomes an absolute necessity, out of a deep sense of justice, to denounce, mock, vituperate, lash out, in the strongest possible language.”

In two weeks, I will travel to Serbia, Charles Simic’s homeland, where I will meet and work with some of that country’s judges. Few regions in the world saw more twentieth century conflict than the region called the Balkans. In the 1990's, NATO and the U.S. bombed Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, in an international effort to end a genocide in the region.

There is no more tragic and conspicuous example of the failure of communication than war. War must be a last resort. If we must have armed conflict, it should occur only after listening, and more listening, and the exhaustion of all efforts to understand another nation’s position.

Diplomacy is nothing more than communication between nations. Diplomacy requires listening. And patience. The practice of diplomacy requires carefully chosen words. Successful diplomacy can result in actual conversations between national leaders. Conversations that bring about trust and confidence. Failed diplomacy has often led to war and bloodshed. What 69

each of us is called to do as individuals – to listen so that we can understand – is also what nations are called to do in their relations with one another. The courage to listen, and the courage to speak up.

In this process I’ve been talking about, where is the tipping point? When is the right time to stop listening? Recall that poetic, Biblical passage from Ecclesiastes that tells us: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” That passage also includes these words: “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” To know the right time for each is to possess judgment that is the fruit of wisdom.

Hopefully, listening will edify. It should provide possibilities for discernment. But sometimes it will spark moral outrage, so that our obligation is then to speak out – and perhaps to act. Many years ago, I heard a stirring speech delivered by a former state judge from South Carolina to a group of federal judges. Alex Sanders was then the president of the College of Charleston, and he told a story which to this day resonates with me, and which may tell us something about when to listen and when to speak up. I unabashedly borrow this story, but with full attribution to Judge Sanders:

The other day as I was leaving the President’s house, I saw a co-worker of mine at the College, standing on the sidewalk in front of the fraternity houses. I recognized her immediately as Dorothy, one of our custodial workers who cleans up the residence halls at night. She was softly crying. I know Dorothy, and I know she has problems. She lives a life of “quiet desperation.” Everybody at the College knows Dorothy. She is a single mother. She works hard at close to minimum wage to support herself and her children. She bears her burdens privately. She is always cheerful and uncomplaining. Dorothy neither seeks nor expects help from anybody. Nevertheless, I thought she might tell me what was causing her such acute distress. I thought she might let me help her. “What’s the matter, Dorothy?” I asked, fully expecting her to reveal some intractable financial crisis or perhaps a serious illness that had overtaken one of her children. I was wrong. She pointed up at the Confederate flag flying proudly on one of the fraternity houses. “I love these children,” she said. “I love cleaning up after them. I don’t mind their mess. But, when I see that flag, it makes me think they hate me.” “They don’t hate you, Dorothy,” I said. “Those fraternity boys are just playing. You know how bad they are sometimes. You know how they like to play.” I tried desperately to make her understand. She didn’t. Memories of old experiences were too much for her. She sobbed audibly. I went straight over to the fraternity house. “Men,” I said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to ask you to take down that flag.” Notice I didn’t order them to take it down. I


The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

only asked. Believe me, they knew the difference. They stiffened visibly. I could see it in their eyes: they were going for their argument like a gunfighter preparing to draw his Colt 45. I was in for the diatribe. The bumper sticker argument: “It’s part of our heritage. It doesn’t represent hate. We have a right.” And so forth.

The President of the fraternity stands six feet four. He has the ash blond hair and the indomitable spirit of his Nordic ancestors. He has eyes like a Weimaraner. He was ready for me. “Exactly why should we take it down?” he asked, cool as a cucumber. “Because it makes Dorothy cry,” I said. I told them all what had happened. “Oh,” the President almost whispered, his eyes now move like those of a deer caught in headlights. “We didn’t mean to make Dorothy cry,” he said.

That night the fraternity met. They discussed the matter of the Confederate flag as I’m sure they had many times before. But this time, the discussion was different. It centered now not on the lifeless pages of history but on the feelings of a single human being: Dorothy. The next day the flag came down. Perhaps, it will go back up tomorrow or next year or four years from now, when all the fraternity boys now at the College have graduated. But, for one brief, shining moment an idea prevailed that is the best idea any of us ever had: the idea of unselfishness. Unquote Alex Sanders. For me, this story poignantly illustrates in very human terms both the value of listening and the need to speak out – and to act. There are many Dorothys who live and move among us, and at the same time, we are surrounded by too much intolerance and selfishness. Listening can help. Listening can lead to greater understanding. Listening can evoke within us a thoughtful empathy that unleashes that highest of human qualities: unselfishness.

One footnote before I conclude: there is another form of listening, a form worthy of a separate speech, yet worthy here of brief mention. It is the listening we should do in the absence of human interaction. It is found in solitude. In quiet time – like prayer, meditation, contemplation. It is vital to self-understanding. I recall an essay I read many years ago as an undergraduate, a piece written by the Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber. My efforts to locate that piece were unavailing, but a search did yield a quote that may well have been taken from what I read long ago. “I do, indeed, close my door at times and surrender myself to a book,” Buber said, “but only because I can open the door again and see a human face looking at me.”

In taking that quiet time we do not disengage from the world. We simply encounter it in a different way, always conscious that we will soon see a human face, hear a human voice – and be called to truly listen. As you leave Mount Aloysius – with its history and the deeply-


embedded values and charism of the Mercy sisters – decide to be a listener. A thoughtful, caring listener. Make it your goal to resolve conflict, rather than add your voice to it. I wish you well. Oh ... and thank you for listening.



Suggested Readings on Civil Discourse


Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse. trans. George Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau. From Critical Thinking to Argument: A Portable Guide. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.

Brooks, Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson. unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. New York: Random House, 2007.

Browne, Neil, and Stuart Keeley. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking. Boston: Pearson, 2011.

Carter, Stephen. Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

Creighton, James. The Public Participation Handbook: Making Better Decisions through Citizen Involvement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Davetian, Benet. Civility: A Cultural History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Dilenschneider Group, ed. Civility in America: Essays from America’s Thought Leaders. New York: DGI, 2011. Hacala, Sara. Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths, 2011.

Hillel Foundation. Imagining a More Civil Society: An Essay Compendium. Washington: Hillel, 2008.

Holt, Richard. Dialogue on the Internet: Language, Civic Identity, and Computer-Mediated Communication (Civic Discourse for the Third Millennium).Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia. Discourse and Democracy. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2004.


The Role of the University in Civil Discourse

Pearson, Christine, and Christine Porath. The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It. New York: Portfolio, 2009.

Rodin, Judith, and Stephen Steinberg. Public Discourse in America: Conversation and Community in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Sistare, C.T. Civility and Its Discontents: Essays on Civic Virtue, Toleration, and Cultural Fragmentation. Lawrence, KN: University of Kansas Press, 2004.

Stone, Douglas, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. 10th ed. New York: Penguin, 2010.

Tannen, Deborah. The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words. New York: Ballantine Books, 1999.

Weeks, Kent. In Search of Civility: Confronting Incivility on the College Campus. New York: Morgan James, 2011.

Online Resources

Annenberg Public Policy Center ( &

Center for Civil Discourse (University of Massachusetts Boston):

Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College:

Civility Web Site—Dr. P.M. Forni (Johns Hopkins University):

Institute for Civility in Government: National Constitution Center:

National Institute for Civil Discourse (University of Arizona):

Project Civil Discourse (Arizona Humanities Council):

Project Civility at Rutgers University:

An online version of this monograph—content and weblinks—is available at


President Tom and Michele Foley

Inauguration of Thomas P. Foley Thirteenth President of Mount Aloysius College September 16, 2011

Mount Aloysius College traces its roots to Mount Aloysius Academy, opened in 1853 by Sisters of Mercy who emigrated from Dublin, Ireland. The College encourages students “to synthesize faith with learning, to develop competence with compassion, to put talents and gifts at the service of others and to assume leadership in the world community.�

Like President Foley, 70% of Mount Aloysius students represent the first generation in their families to attend college. Today at Mount Aloysius, students can choose from over 70 programs of study and develop their skills to a state of the art level.

The beautiful and historic campus is located on 193 acres in central Pennsylvania, at the summit of the Alleghenies in Cresson.

7373 Admiral Peary Highway Cresson, Pennsylvania 888-823-2220

Civil Discourse Monograph - Mount Aloysius College  

Civil Discourse Monograph - Mount Aloysius College

Civil Discourse Monograph - Mount Aloysius College  

Civil Discourse Monograph - Mount Aloysius College