Civility in Universities

A national problem?

Judging from the number of universities that have active programs aimed at encouraging civility on campus, there must be a national problem. Search Google. You may be surprised at how many programs there are. I was – and stopped counting at 50 universities. Maybe all these programs are aimed at preventing incivility and promoting civility, but that’s not how it looks to me after a couple hours of scanning websites. It looks to me as though these programs often have resulted from problems on campuses.

What do we mean by civility? This, from the University of Memphis website:

Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.

–P. M. Forni

At Northwestern University, civility is an expectation that is part of the Faculty Handbook. At Johns Hopkins University, P.M. Forni, a professor there, co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project (JHCP) in 1997. An aggregation of academic and community outreach activities, the JHCP aimed at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society. Forni’s books on civility are best-sellers, so great is the need for guidance on the subject of civility.

The vast literature on the subject suggests that civility involves respect and consideration, listening to others without preconceived judgment, looking for possibilities of agreement or at least bridging the gap between us and another person, and considering that we may not always be right. I don’t have the answers to why incivility happens or the preventative for incivility. I don’t have the antidote to incivility or the foolproof strategy that will end it. Since this is a collective, cultural issue, I’d like to begin a dialogue in which we talk about civility and about how to create civil environments. Make incivility as rare as smallpox.

That’s my thought for the day on a beautiful April Wednesday. Barbara

Tagged  civility

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