Penn State Issues Plea for Civility
Had enough of the sometimes harsh debate over the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno's firing and the actions of the Penn State Board of Trustees?
It appears that's the case for Penn State's leadership.
Early Friday morning, with many alumni and Penn State supporters heading back to the university for the season's first home football game, the university released a letter calling for the return of respect and civility.
The letter, titled, " A Message From the Leadership of Penn State" addresses the issues by saying, "There are honest disagreements on fundamental issues related to whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate."
The message predicts that the full story will likely never be known and it's equally likely that people will never be able to reach a consensus. It goes on to say, "The question is whether a lack of civility in discussing these issues will create a deeper divide, one that alters the remarkable bond that exists between all those who are a part of the Penn State community."
The letter which appears in its entirety below is signed by members of the President's Council, members of the Academic Leadership Council, members of the University Faculty Senate's Advisory Committee, University Staff Advisory Council Executive Officers and student leadership.
The university also released a video featuring Penn State President Eric Barron:
A Message from the Leadership at Penn State
September 5, 2014
For decades, few universities could match the considerate manner in which Penn Staters treated both friend and opponent. In particular, to see someone wearing a Penn State T-shirt while traveling was a guarantee of a common bond and warm conversation no matter how distant the location. Today, that rather remarkable bond is under stress.
Unfortunately, there are many examples in every university where differences of opinion lead to incivility. For Penn State, one issue is of particular concern. There are honest disagreements on fundamental issues related to whether our institution acted appropriately, how our institution handled a crisis, and whether the sanctions that resulted are appropriate. Reasonable people can be found on all sides of these issues. The reasons for this disagreement are clear. Much is still left to interpretation and the issues have considerable emotional significance to us all. We are likely never to have the full story. We are equally likely never to reach consensus.
The question is whether a lack of civility in discussing these issues will create a deeper divide, one that alters the remarkable bond that exists between all those who are a part of the Penn State community. Consider just a few examples that you may have also come across – the alumnus who says he lost his best friend over his opinion of the Freeh report; the alumni trustee candidate that faced dozens of unkind comments; the long time donor of time and treasure who no longer feels welcome.
Debate and disagreement are critical constructs in the role of universities in testing ideas and promoting progress on complex issues. But, the leaders of your University at every level, from the administration, faculty, staff and students, are unanimous in deploring the erosion of civility associated with our discourse. Reasonable people disagree, but we can disagree without sacrificing respect. The First Amendment guarantees our right to speak as we wish, but we are stronger if we can argue and debate without degrading others.
Today, civility is an issue that arises in many areas of campus debate. Some may argue that the lack of civility is a national issue, promoted by a growing community involved in posting anonymous comments on blogs or by acrimonious national politics. We cannot afford to follow their lead, not if we are to serve our students as role models, not if we expect to continue to attract the outstanding volunteers who serve our University in so many ways, and not if we wish to have Penn Staters take our University to new levels of excellence.
Respect is a core value at Penn State University. We ask you to consciously choose civility and to support those whose words and actions serve to promote respectful disagreement and thereby strengthen our community.
Members of the President’s Council (unanimous)
Members of the Academic Leadership Council (unanimous)
Members of the University Faculty Senate's Advisory Committee (unanimous)
University Staff Advisory Council Executive Officers (unanimous)
Student leadership (unanimous)
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