“Is Tolerance Enough?”
A “shop talk” (campus-speak for a seminar for the brainstorming
of views on pedagogy) at the Center for Teaching and Learning attracted
over three dozen faculty and staff to the topic “Is Tolerance
Enough? Civility and Disagreement in the Classroom and Beyond.” They
were presented with these questions: In an intellectual community,
how do we best deal with disagreement over fundamental issues, both
in the classroom and among colleagues? Are calls for increased “civility” just
another way of avoiding conflict by sweeping it under the rug of politeness
and “tolerance”? Do the values of academia demand engagement
rather than tolerance? How do we remain open to the possibility of
our own intellectual error such that we can genuinely learn from others?
How do we create classroom spaces that forward these goals?
The questions provoked a lively hour of interchange – all of
it civil. Overheard:
Civility does not always mean being nice. It means supporting equal
participation. It means not just tolerance, but an obligation to engage
all with respect. The closer connection we see today between people
and ideas leads to more categorizing of people, and thus to more ad
--Eve Stoddard, English/global studies
Do we treat students differently from how we treat each other? Do
we hold students to different standards? How far does tolerance extend?
Do we have an obligation to engage those who are disrespectful, or
just to let them talk without engagement? New scholarship in racism,
sexism and so on has made people defensive.
--Steve Horwitz, economics
It’s OK to criticize without being disparaging.
--Liz Regosin, history/academic advising
It’s possible to argue against Affirmative Action and not be
racist – but you have an obligation to support and defend your
position. We need to teach students--and ourselves--to distinguish “I’m
right” discourse from “here’s my contribution to
the exchange of ideas” discourse.
Students instinctively try to put moral values on each other’s
--Donna Alvah, history
Professors have to challenge those who claim the moral high ground,
but do it even-handedly. Our students should expect that we will push
them to defend and sharpen their arguments, regardless of whether we
agree or disagree with what they say.
--Karl Schonberg, government
Critique is the highest form of respect, if one is engaging the issue
and not the personality.
--Grant Cornwell ’79, philosophy/academic dean
It’s human nature to associate the message with the messenger.
This is part of the evolution of our ability to detect deception. If
we are going to go against human nature and disassociate the two, we
need etiquette – we need rules.
--Ron Sigmundi, psychology
Martin Luther King Jr. is a model for respectful interaction—even
under relentless verbal and physical attack he called for civility,
--Rance Davis ’80, student life
We all need a stronger commitment to be less hostile, less angry.
--Pat Alden, English/international studies
We must have trust so discourse is benign, not virulent. Lack of trust
leads to lack of civility.
--Kerry Grant, English
To achieve trust, it’s necessary to find commonality.
This faculty doesn’t model trust.
--Mary Hussman, English/outdoor studies
We have lost the impulse to find common ground. We need to recover
Most college students are at an age when they are going through profound
changes, among the most important of which is learning to empathize
and see the world from the perspective of others. As we work to help
them do this, we should think carefully about the extent to which we
push them to specialize in a particular academic field. We need to
broaden their views, not narrow them, if we want them to find commonality.