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University of Arizona to Open National Institute for Civil Discourse

The University of Arizona recently announced the creation of a new nonpartisan center aimed at advancing the national conversation regarding civility in political debate.

"The honorary chairmen of the foundation, to be called the National Institute for Civil Discourse, will be President Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush, said the director, Brint Milward, who also leads the university's School of Government and Public Policy," The New York Times reports. "Dr. Milward said the institute would focus on political disagreements 'from the grass roots all the way to the top.'"

"America faces big challenges in revitalizing the American Dream at home and preserving our leadership for security, peace, freedom and prosperity in the world," said President Clinton. "Meeting them requires an honest dialogue celebrating both a clarification of our differences and a genuine stand for principled comparisons. I believe that the National Institute for Civil Discourse can elevate the tone of dialogue in our country, and in so doing, help us to keep moving toward 'a more perfect union.'"

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will be the institute's honorary co-chairs.

Key initiatives of the National Institute for Civil Discourse will include the following:

  • Convening major policy discussions with elected officials, policymakers and advocates on topics that tend to generate polarized positions.
  • Promoting civil discourse, civic engagement and civic leadership.
  • Organizing workshops and conferences in Washington, D.C., Tucson and across the country.
  • Promoting a national conversation among prominent public figures from government, business and media regarding challenging political issues in a non-partisan setting.
  • Developing programs and research centered around the exercise of First Amendment freedoms conducted in a way that respects both the ideas of others, and those who hold them.

"The University of Arizona is in Tucson, where six people were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January," Inside Higher Ed notes. "Allegheny College is among the institutions already doing work in this area, sponsoring a survey and award to promote civility, and encouraging colleges to join the 'Soapbox Alliance,' a group of colleges and universities that refuse to let their facilities be used for closed political events."