Civility, Focus of This Year’s Campus Theme at Southern Oregon University

(Ashland, Ore.) — For the third year, Southern Oregon University will showcase a campus theme—an annual conversation across campus and the community that focuses on a specific topic and features multiple events.

This year’s theme is Civility—a timely topic in all areas of our society.

“We see incivility in virtually every aspect of our lives—in politics, day-to-day social interactions, sports, online social networks and the media,” says Daniel Morris, an SOU French professor and campus theme co-director. “We want to explore what it means to be civil, and hope to find ways to increase civility at all levels of society.”

The campus theme is gradually becoming an SOU tradition that students, faculty, staff and community members alike anticipate. The theme finds its way into classrooms, onto the stage and around coffee tables.

“The campus theme is an intellectual hub on SOU’s campus where students, faculty, staff and our local community come together and explore a common theme or issue or question that matters to us all,” says the event’s other co-director and philosophy Professor, Prakash Chenjeri.

U.S. Judge John E. Jones, this year’s kickoff speaker, will get people thinking on the theme when he delivers two lectures on Oct. 13 and 14. Jones was the presiding judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005. In that landmark case, he ruled that intelligent design is creationism in disguise, shocking his fellow Republicans.

Since then, Jones has given many talks on the judicial process he used in ruling and has always rejected the “activist judge” accusation.

His Oct. 13 talk, “From Scopes to Kitzmiller: Civility and Incivility at the Intersection of Science, Religion and Law” begins at 7 p.m. in the Music Building Recital Hall on campus. On Oct. 14, he will present “Judicial Opinions and Civil Discourse: Is it Judicial Activism or Simply a Decision I Don’t Like?” at 4 p.m. in the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room.

Also on the fall term program are three other events—“Fostering Civility in Youth,” “Difficult Dialogues: Cultivating Civility and Mutual Understanding at Home and Abroad,” and “Civility, Democracy and Conflict.”

“We believe public higher education has a responsibility to the citizens and community we serve,” says Morris. “Two principles served as the driving force behind the campus theme: our commitment to expanding dialogue across disciplines and to building bridges between the university and the local community.”

The first presentation, on Oct. 27, focuses on civility in youth and features several academic figures, including Doug Smith from SOU’s Department of Psychology, Oanh Tran, from California State University’s Department of Education Psychology, and SOU’s Victor Chang and Matt Vogel from the Student Health and Wellness Center.

The panel will discuss why it’s critical to instill civility into today’s youth so that they can appreciate the needs and perspectives of others. The presentation begins at 7 p.m. in the Hannon Library’s Meese Room.

On Nov. 3, SOU’s John King, assistant professor of education and Margaret Perrow, assistant professor of English and writing, will examine educational efforts to help students listen to and learn from those who they have been conditioned to distrust, demean or even dehumanize. Their presentation begins at 7 p.m., also in the library’s Meese Room.

And on Nov. 17, three panelists will look at relationships between civility, democracy and conflict; first identifying and exploring specific acts of both civility and incivility, particularly in how they function in American discourse.

SOU linguistics Professor Edwin Battistella and communications Professor Jon Lange, will speak, along with Jeffrey M. LaLande, author and historian.

The spring term will feature Andrew Bacevich, PhD, retired military officer and professor of international studies at Boston University. His talk will be held on May 17, 2012.

“The response to our campus theme has been amazing. Many presentations have been standing-room only,” says Morris. “The interaction and intellectual discussion generated by bringing the campus and local community together have surpassed our expectations.”

Starting this year there are plans to take the Campus Theme on the road. Selected faculty members will visit locations throughout Oregon and northern California toward expanding discussions.

In September, they led in a seminar at the Imagining America Conference. The topic, “Strengthening Democracy through Campus/Community Engagement” was standing room only, and they were asked to add a second session. They focused on how the concept of a campus theme and related activities can help strengthen democracy by bringing the academic and local community together to discuss important issues.

All campus theme events are free and open to the public. More are slated for winter and spring quarters. To find out more about this year’s events and for future dates, visit www.sou.edu/ahc/campustheme.

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