What happened to civility in America? Did it disappear? Did it ever truly exist? On February 17th, 2012, a group of leading scholars and journalists — including Ellen Goodman (recipient of Colby’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy award), Joe Klein, Randall Kennedy and Jill Lepore — will gather at the University of Massachusetts-Boston for a forum on Civility and American Democracy to discuss those questions and more about the role civility plays in American politics. The event will be moderated by Tom Ashbrook, award-winning journalist and host of NPR’s On Point. The Goldfarb Center is pleased to host a live webcast of the day-long event.


Welcome (8:30 a.m.)

-Steve Crosby, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass-Boston

-David Tebaldi, executive director, Mass Humanities

-James A Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities

Session 1: Civility in American History (9:00 – 10:30 a.m.)

Is civility really as American as apple pie? What about American individualism and self expression, the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement? Does the practice of civility evolve differently in differing cultural experiences? Can civility accommodate political change and facilitate social progress? This panel raises fundamental questions about civility and American democracy.

-David L. Smith, John W. Chandler Professor of English at Williams College

-Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture and Five College 40th Anniversary Professor

-John Stauffer, chair of the History of American Civilization program and professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University

Session 2: Civility and Morality (10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.)

Is civility a smokescreen for the status quo? Does it encourage conformity and inhibit dissent? Civility demands that we respect all religions, but at what price? Can a new civility lead to a better informed citizenry? This panel explores the relationship between civility, morality and the American tradition of religious tolerance.

-Diana Eck, professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University and chair of the Religion department

-Mark Lilla, essayist and historian of ideas at Columbia University

-Alan Wolfe, professor of Political Science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life at Boston College

Session 3: Civility and the Pursuit of Truth (1:30-3:00 p.m.)

Is civility a distraction that marginalizes the individual and inhibits an honest examination of absolutes? Does it undermine our need to sometimes speak truth to power? What happens to civil discourse when ordinary political conversation becomes shrouded in the sacred? Can civil discourse lead zealots to reconciliation and mutual respect? This panel examines fundamental questions about the value of civility in a democratic society.

-Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

-Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and chair of the History and Literature program at Harvard University

-Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College

Session 4: Civility and the Media (3:15 – 4:15 p.m.)

Part of the problem or part of the solution? In the competitive, ratings-driven world of media, where is the market for civility? This panel of distinguished journalists reflects on the day’s discussions and what can be applied from them to improve journalistic best practices.

-Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer prize winning columnist, author, and recipient of Colby’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy award for courage in journalism.

-Joe Klein, journalist, author and weekly columnist for Time’s “In the Arena,” covering national and international affairs.