Duke Expanding Civil Discourse Training for Faculty Across America

August 5, 2023

For faculty, reversing this situation isn’t easy.

“Nobody gets a Ph.D. in civil discourse, so many lack confidence in this area,” says Rose, director of the Civil Discourse Project at Duke. “They feel like something needs to be done and sense many students want a different classroom environment, but, as teachers, they don’t know how to do it.”

Largely because of Rose’s efforts, Duke is becoming a hub for teaching ways to create civil discourse on college campuses.

In addition to courses on the subject he’s been teaching undergraduates for the past several years, Rose and colleagues hosted an inaugural seminar last summer on incorporating civil discourse. That event, which drew faculty from as far away as BYU and Pepperdine and as near as UNC-Chapel Hill, was discussed in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This August, two seminars on civil discourse will take place at Duke – a repeat of the 2022 event, “Teaching Civil Discourse in the Classroom,” Aug. 15-16, and a new gathering Aug. 2-4 lead by the nonprofit Institute for Citizens & Scholars. (Registration for both seminars is closed.)

Both events provide training and resources to help faculty and administrators across the United States learn how to better guide classroom discussions focused on hot-button issues.

Rose’s own class, which he reflected on for an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, spends days on abortion, the idea of race, factors in college admissions, transgender athletes and police violence.

“I applaud these efforts at Duke and across the country to help promote respect and understanding regarding the differences that often divide our society and our students,” said Duke University President Vincent Price, who visited Rose’s class this spring and will offer opening remarks at the Citizens & Scholars event.

“These seminars will help faculty develop skills and resources for advancing a collective, healthy respect for differences on our campuses.”

Participants in the Institute for Citizens & Scholars seminar were selected by their university and college presidents from myriad disciplines, Rose says. He will lead many discussions, along with faculty from the University of Chicago, Columbia University, American University and Citizens & Scholars.

Through speeches and table discussions, goals of the seminar include:

  • Increasing faculty members’ capacity, commitment, and comfort level to develop and teach courses that prepare students to engage in dialogue across difference.
  • Increasing faculty members’ capacity, commitment and comfort level to engage across lines of political difference in a meeting, classroom and community — irrespective of their discipline or areas of scholarship.
  • Strengthening teaching in civic preparedness, free expression and intellectual dissent in the classroom by incorporating methods into an existing course or developing a new one.
  • Expanding and establishing a network of faculty committed to this area of teaching.

The Citizens & Scholars team plans to stress the importance of faculty as “crucial both for the larger aspirations of higher education and for the specific effort that this initiative involves” in course redesign and/or development.

“Universities prepare students for full participation and leadership in our constitutional democracy and civil society,” said Janett Cordovés, senior program director at The Institute for Citizens & Scholars. “The faculty who prepare students for those responsibilities, in turn, must be skilled, confident and comfortable in engaging in discussion of diverse intellectual and social perspectives.”

Rose and Sanford School professor Deondra Rose, director of Polis: Center for Politics, will lead the second seminar. Participants, who commit to teaching a version of Rose’s course at their own institutions following the seminar, were chosen from a large pool of applicants. This year’s group will come from 20 schools, including Carleton, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Vanderbilt and MIT. Discussion topics will include the relationship between DEI and free speech, as well as the limits to the so-called Overton Window — a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics — in the classroom. The seminar is funded with a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

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