New ‘Deliberation & Debate’ Workshops Aim to Develop Civility; Nomination Deadline Is February 18

 Rigorous intellectual exchange lies at the heart of the liberal arts mission, and lively debate over matter large and small is an essential feature of campus life. Recent episodes, however, have raised questions about whether today’s college students understand and can practice the fundamentals of civil discourse when they discuss contentious contemporary issues. Students come to college from communities, and indeed a world, increasingly characterized by harsh divisions and polarization: voices are strident, objective facts are discounted, and respect for difference is seen as capitulation. Thus, many of today’s first-year students arrive unprepared to discuss controversial issues with respect for a diverse range of ideas and opinions. Hoping to deepen their own identities and to find community in college, students can instead find themselves defensive, fearful of other opinions, and isolated in their own still-evolving positions.    

To address these concerns, CIC will offer two workshops on Deliberation & Debate: Advancing Civil Discourse through Courses for First-Year Students. These workshops will hone the skills of faculty members who teach courses for first-year students; support the development of new courses; and build a network of faculty members who prepare students for the challenges and open exchange of ideas that are elements of a rigorous liberal arts education. Michael Gilligan, CIC senior advisor and former president of the Henry Luce Foundation, will direct the summer workshops, the first of which will take place July 12–15, 2020, in Washington, DC. Lodging, most meals, and workshop materials will be provided through generous support from the Charles Koch Foundation.
The workshops will interest faculty members who teach first-year courses: orientations to classroom survival skills, expository writing courses, and the kind of “big ideas” seminars that lead students from their more limited and homogenous experiences to discussing complex issues with respect for others’ views. During the four-day workshops, faculty members will explore classroom strategies and rhetorical practices that promote civil discourse, such as logical argument, use of evidence, formal debate, clear and persuasive writing, deliberative pedagogy, constructive disagreement, and empathic listening.

These workshops will build on the strong programs CIC offers each year for faculty members. As Gilligan notes, “The July 2020 workshop will address timely needs: to build students’ capacity for the civil discourse necessary to engage the liberal arts curriculum, enter dialogue across lines of difference, and contribute to a wider society that depends on their best skills. The new courses developed by faculty participants can serve as a model in the coming years for a larger community of teaching and learning.”

Participants will both hear from and work with a range of presenters who are actively engaged with these issues across the country, including: Sara Mehltretter Drury, associate professor of rhetoric and director of Democracy and Public Discourse at Wabash College (IN); Daniel Fitzmier, senior lecturer in the school of communication and director of the Northwestern Debate Society at Northwestern University; Debra Mashek, executive director of the Heterodox Academy; Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the department of philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University; and Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president emerita, Kalamazoo College (MI).

CIC will select 20 teams from CIC member institutions, each comprising two faculty members, to participate in the inaugural July workshop. The nomination deadline is February 18, 2020. For more information, visit the workshop website or contact Stephen Gibson, CIC’s director of programs, at or (202) 466-7230.