Tall order: Universities paid to teach DC respect for different viewpoints

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has given a consortium of universities $400,000 to promote civility in politics.

That may seems a tall order, given the political incivility dished out by many universities towards conservatives and libertarians.

Last month, for example, Ohio State professor Kevin Boyle suggested that GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain is akin to the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan because of his stated dislike of Islamic theocracy, or Sharia. Boyle’s suggestion was part of a book review published by the New York Times.

Boyle did not respond to The Daily Caller’s phone calls.

“I do find that many in academia are so confident they’re right that they don’t listen well,” said Andrew Card, one of the five university leaders who are overseeing the project. Card is a former chief of staff to George W. Bush, and he’s now dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

The NEH grant will be used to hold public discussions around the country on civility, Card said. The discussions, he said, “will not be closed… [and organizers] are going to make sure that people with different views are welcome.”

However, he continued, “I am concerned that some of the people [deemed by progressives to have] the ‘shrill voices’ are not part of this dialogue,” he said.

The grant was won by by the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts. (RELATED: Massachusetts anti-military law professor attended University of Moscow)

The schools’s dean is Steve Crosby, a former aide to Republican Gov. Jane Swift, who held the office from 2001 to 2003. The discussions will “talk about real-world, tough issues that the world is facing in a constructive and civil way,” while trying to set a template for civil debate, he told TheDC.

“There’s nothing necessarily uncivil about the Tea Party … or even Occupy Boston,” Crosby added.

The universities haven’t selected all the speakers for the debates, he said. “We’ve tried to fid a cross-section of people.”

For example, a model for the right-of-center speakers, he said, is New York Times columnist David Brooks. He has “a conservative view of the world, but tries to go out of [his] way to be thoughtful and balanced,” said Crosby.

Brooks is one of the least liberal columnists at the New York Times, but is also regarded as one of the most liberal conservative columnists in the national media. In 2008, for example, he announced he wanted to see Barack Obama elected president.

Since then, his support for Obama has declined.

Asked by TheDC if the forum would include more centrist speakers than Brooks or other liberals, Crosby said he was hoping to get some guidance from Card. “I asked him to put me in touch with people in the conservative world whose bona-fides are solid,” Crosby said.

Card is helping Crosby, whom he has known for years, choose speakers for the forums. “Part of civil dialogue is civil listening, so I hope the liberals that will be part of this discussion would listen respectively” when conservatives deliver their arguments, Card said.

Moreover, he said, civility isn’t a top goal for democracy.

The founders expected democracy to be argumentative and difficult, not placid, he said. “Most of our founders had outspoken views, and they didn’t get along. They weren’t buddies, [but] they were forced to find a common ground and that’s why the committees that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were forced to meet under a deadline,” he said.

Nonetheless, said Card, he feels a duty to help Cosby’s civility project. “When you serve in government, you have an obligation to make it work.”

“Maybe the [discussions] will end up as an example of what respectful dialogues can be.”

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