Mouw gives keynote address at event featuring six presidents of learning and research institutions
Dr. Mouw delivers keynote address
Watch this event on video.
Has civility been lost in twenty-first-century America? What role can educational institutions play in encouraging the art of civil discourse?
Six distinguished leaders of Pasadena learning and research institutions came together to discuss these questions in an unprecedented forum, “Honoring Civility for a Civil Society,” held Thursday, May 10, at the Pasadena Convention Center. The gathering was organized by Pasadena’s higher education community and inspired by the local initiative Pasadena: City of Learning.
Moderated by KPCC Radio’s Larry Mantle, the event featured a keynote address from Fuller President Richard J. Mouw on civility, followed by a panel discussion with the presidents of six other highly respected institutions of learning and research in Pasadena: Dr. Lorne M. Buchman, president of Art Center College of Design; Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau, president of California Institute of Technology; Dr. Steven S. Koblik, president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; Dr. Ezat Parnia, president of Pacific Oaks College and Children's School; and Dr. Mark W. Rocha, superintendent and president of Pasadena City College.
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard—“probably the most civil man I know in public service,” commented Mantle—opened the forum with introductory comments. “This is a landmark event,” said Bogaard. “It may be the first time these six presidents have come together to address such an important topic.”
“We are in a crisis” of incivility, claimed Dr. Mouw in his keynote address, with abusive language and behavior becoming commonplace in every arena from politics and reality television to blog commentary and grocery store encounters. “We need to think together,” Mouw said to his fellow panelists, about “how we as a community of educators” can address the problem.
Describing the ways one typically learns civility, Mouw—seconded by many of the other panelists—emphasized the importance of the family meal, a tradition that is rapidly being lost in our society. “The family dinner is the first place we learn to stay at the table for 45 minutes with people we’re really irritated with,” he quipped.
At the higher education level, “we need to see ourselves as, among other things, workshops in civility,” stated Mouw. “We could be more intentional about the ways we design and structure our public space, and the events we plan,” to encourage students getting to know others who are not like them.
“The capacity to accommodate differences is the
most pressing problem in this century,” agreed Dr. Buchman of Art Center. “Fear of the stranger—facing what we don’t know—is a trigger” for incivility. He emphasized the value of art in education as a way of promoting collaboration and teaching courage. “We must honor the creative imagination” in our schools, he said. “Art and creativity enable us to honor human expression . . . and allow us to understand that there is an ‘other’ with a different perspective—and give that difference a dignity.”
With France as his homeland, Dr. Chameau of Caltech laughingly but emphatically agreed with the importance of the family meal. “Being civil starts in the home,” he affirmed. “But as leaders we must focus on what we
can do. We must make people realize that collaboration can be more important than competition.” Leaders must always model civility in their own behavior, he said: “I always say that the most important part of my job is to remain calm!” He additionally stressed the importance of teaching students to become learners, stating that civility and learning go hand in hand.
Dr. Koblik of the Huntington Library agreed that, in today’s entertainment culture, educators should be working to produce “learning
folks rather than educated
folks”—but he questioned the connection between civility and learning. If it came to a choice between the two, “I would take learning over civility!” he declared. Fundamental changes in our society have been going on for a while, he went on—increased diversity, altered family structures and home life, a level of technology that presents us with a dizzying array of choices in life—all of which have stoked fears and uncertainties, and problems engaging in public discourse that is civil and calm.
Dr. Parnia of Pacific Oaks College highlighted the negative example set by those in Washington, noting that a recent poll showed only a seven percent approval rating for Congress. “Leaders play a very important role in setting the example for how the rest of us behave,” he said. Parnia also agreed with the claim that civility begins at home, but that the nature of that home life has changed: “We have become a nation of entertainment,” he believes. “We have relinquished the job of parenting to the TV.”
Dr. Rocha of Pasadena City College noted that he was given a very real test in practicing civility when students staged a protest over budget cuts at PCC in February. “‘A soft answer turneth away wrath’ was my mantra,” he said. Leadership “requires a great deal of humility”—of “lowering ourselves,” being quiet, and listening. “Educational institutions have the responsibility to create the kind of environment that encourages civil discourse,” he said, adding that at PCC they are closely reviewing their curriculum and “examining what students should
know” to be contributing members of society.
“This discussion has been very encouraging,” said Mouw at the conclusion of the forum, “for the kind of leadership we want to encourage.”
“You clearly all love your students, and you want to make a difference,” affirmed Mantle. “What is better than that?”