Yearlong conversation seems just what Gee called for in his latest address to faculty
By Jeff McCallister
When President Gordon Gee first broached the subject of civil discourse — and Ohio State’s potential role in leading it — in his semiannual speech to faculty last May, plans already were under way to make the vision a reality.
The Center for Ethics and Human Values, one of the Innovation Groups selected for funding last October, has been hard at work planning a university-wide discussion on immigration that will take place over the entirety of the 2011-12 academic year.
“Immigration’s importance as a social issue is rivaled only by its complexity,” said Don Hubin, the center’s principal investigator. “However, public discourse on the topic rarely reflects that complexity. Too often we get facile slogans rooted in poor information and shallow reasoning, expressed with deplorable incivility.”
When Gee called on Ohio State to be a leader in civil discourse, Hubin knew this was the perfect subject. Gee has since reiterated his stance in his address to faculty Oct. 13 and alluded to the discussion that’s coming together for next year.
“In this highly charged election season — and wherever we happen to find ourselves on the political spectrum — I think we could all agree that since last spring, the climate has only deteriorated,” Gee said. “Our fractious, fragmented national dialog has grown even more venomous. The detritus of distrust and dislike — red versus blue, right versus left — has settled and hardened into a vast basin of stone. The strata are formed of layer upon layer of irrationality and insular self-interest.
“Breaking through that uncivil sediment requires something of each of us. As educated women and men, it is incumbent upon us to foster a common conversation, to counter ignorance with simplicity and reason. To understand that anger, and anger only, is not a sufficient response. To lend our time and particular area of expertise to the greater good, and also to reach through the noise and clamor by speaking and writing beyond our own disciplines and on behalf of others.
“We have little chance of discovering solutions that advance us toward the larger ideals upon which this country was founded if we do not discuss issues of importance with both compassion and dispassion. To be sure, democracy-by-sound-bite will not move us forward as a nation.”
So Hubin, along with Eric MacGilvray of political science and Piers Norris Turner of philosophy (the leaders of the center’s Democratic Governance Group), have put out a call to every corner of campus to bring in viewpoints and activities to cover as broad a frame as possible.
“We know there are a lot of aspects about this topic that we haven’t even thought of,” Hubin said. “The great thing about having this conversation here, as President Gee has mentioned, is the breadth of knowledge and creativity found here. This is a subject that can be examined from almost any angle you could think of.”
The yearlong conversation will include bookend conferences on the subject: The first, early in the academic year, will cover what’s at stake; the second, as the year comes to a close, will discuss next steps. And in between will be six different events from different disciplinary units — lectures and the like — as well as other involvement as different groups take the topic and run with it.
Hence the call for proposals, which has a Dec. 1 deadline. Hubin said he was thrilled with the response from the university community.
“We really want those proposals to come from a variety of places,” he said. “There are a few things that certainly would be appropriate: Topics such as the economics of immigration, agricultural aspects, public health issues. I’ve also spoken with a law professor who suggested a discussion of the family law implications. Beyond those, there are some obvious topics from areas such as history, political science and literature, just to name a few.
“And I heard from our cartoon library that of course they could build an entire history of the topic just from the political cartoons in their archive,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that one, and I’m sure that just scratches the surface of areas that I hadn’t considered.”
The center is designing an undergraduate course and has petitioned that a book that relates to immigration be assigned for First Year Experience’s Buckeye Book Community.
“We are assuming that this conversation will provide an impressive demonstration of OSU’s size and comprehensive character as our signal strengths,” Hubin said. “Those of us in the CEHV hope that this will serve as a prototype for future conversations on important topics of public concern, and that in turn will allow OSU to emerge as a leader in national and international dialogues on issues of vital social importance.”
On Campus, October 20, 2010