Committee Proposes Ways to Promote Civil Discourse

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To the University Community:

Earlier this year, I formed the President’s Committee on Civil Discourse and Dialogue. I charged the members with developing “a permanent, effective strategy to further enhance a climate at UConn that fosters healthy argument, debate, and dialogue – especially among those with differing views, beliefs, experiences, and/or philosophies.”

The committee met over a period of months, and their report and recommendations are now final.

The committee was formed because freedom of speech, the free exchange of ideas, and vigorous, thoughtful dialogue are core principles of democratic societies and universities. At UConn, and in life, our students will invariably encounter others with views, opinions, and values that are contrary to their own. This creates a diversity of opinion that should lead to healthy intellectual – even impassioned – discourse and debate between people of different minds and philosophical worldviews.

The ultimate goal of the committee was to recommend strategies that will distinguish UConn nationally as an institution that nurtures and supports the free exchange of ideas and where elevated civil discourse thrives, even when it comes to the most contentious issues confronting our nation and the world.

Some key recommendations include the following, which are being implemented now:

  • Build the concepts of healthy dialogue and debate into First Year Experience (FYE) courses that most first-year students must take.
  • Appoint a senior member of the faculty to oversee our progress. Their responsibilities would include ensuring the use of best practice in curricular development, faculty support, and connecting the research efforts of the University in dialogic practice.
  • Launch a dinner series with students and faculty designed to develop skills for difficult conversations.  The inaugural event will occur on Nov. 1 and will invite students and faculty to join together to recreate the dynamics of family dinners and the opportunities they present for meaningful – yet occasionally challenging – dialogue. Members of the faculty and staff will participate alongside facilitators from ICD. Click here to find out how you can participate.
  • The creation of campus-wide awards that recognize the role of respectful dialogue and discourse as a tenet of learning in a university setting. All members of the UConn community are eligible for consideration for these awards. They will be presented to campus individuals responsible for utilizing dialogue as a means of welcoming divergent opinions and creating new knowledge.
  • Updating the University’s academic mission statement (which is distinct from the University’s purpose outlined in state statute) to reflect that part of that mission includes “exchanging ideas in a manner that fosters a climate of mutual respect.”

The ability to engage in productive dialogue and successfully articulate and justify one’s beliefs and opinions through argument, and challenge the arguments of others in a productive way, are essential components of a university education and are critical to being a thoughtful graduate and engaged citizen. The pursuit of knowledge benefits from settings and institutions that encourage constructive dialogue, empathy, and mutual respect. This helps to build a healthy community and promote meaningful interactions pursued in the interest of both individual growth and the common good.

I am grateful to the committee and its chair, Brendan Kane, for their hard work over these months, and I look forward to watching the results of their efforts.

Sincerely,

Susan Herbst
University President