Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thoughts on Civility

In several conversations lately, I’ve been saying that the challenges and issues we see in our community, and society as a whole, are manifesting themselves on our campuses. From economic constraints, to the slow disintegration of the nuclear family unit, to flashes of incivility gone unchecked– we see the impact of those challenges and issues at MVCC along with every other college and university in this country. The one that concerns me most is the issue of civility, or lack thereof, and the fact that on college campuses – in this day and age – we are dealing with incivility like no other time in the past.

You see it mostly focused on government – from the Johns Hopkins Civility Institute to the National Institute for Civil Discourse that was announced just last month at the University of Arizona – and the role models politicians often provide during election years that demonstrate behavior that was unthinkable twenty years ago. We, as faculty and staff, must recognize that we are role models as well. The manner in which we conduct ourselves and voice our opinions sets the bar for acceptable student behavior. If we don’t care enough to show up for work on time, why should they? If we continually arrive late to meetings, why should they have to get to class on time? If we treat our colleagues disrespectfully, why should students treat us any differently?

It’s amazing to me that on a college campus (whether MVCC or any of the 7,300 college campuses in the U.S.) – a place where respect for others and their ideas is at the core of learning – civility has become such an issue. For the past ten years, I’ve been involved in conversation and programs related to “the new general education” that involves weaving skills many learn at home into college-level curriculum – punctuality, communication skills, ethics, responsibility and other basics. Civility was always lumped in with communication skills, but now it seems it demands its own attention.

At MVCC, the Board of Trustees recently passed a workplace violence policy. We’ve also tried to expand communication and dissemination of the student code of conduct. In addition, we’ve made multiple enhancements to our campus safety operations.

I was so proud to see the thoughtful manner in which our College Senate addressed the issues of civility and violence at their meeting last week. The courage and insight provided by our two student representatives to Senate would have made anyone proud. Our Strategic Plan includes initiatives that revisit and redevelop codes of conduct for students and employees alike. Work is underway to address these important issues and minimize the distractions associated with unacceptable behavior. In the meantime, it is incumbent on faculty and staff member to model appropriate behavior, report acts of incivility, and address incivility (within reason and safety) wherever and whenever we encounter it.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.