Feb. 21, 2012 – President James H. Mullen Jr. of Allegheny College, one of the nation’s oldest liberal-arts colleges, today honored political journalists and commentators David Brooks of The New York Times and nationally syndicated columnist Mark Shields as the recipients of the first Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life at the National Press Club.
The Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life each year will honor two winners, one from each side of the ideological spectrum, who show noteworthy civility while continuing to fight passionately for their beliefs. After reviewing many nominees in politics and political journalism, Brooks and Shields were selected for the inaugural award.
“Every week Mr. Brooks and Mr. Shields come together on ‘PBS NewsHour’ to vigorously debate the issues of the day – always respecting each other as they do so,” Mullen said. “They show us that civility does not require one to be tepid. Mr. Brooks proudly argues from the right; Mr. Shields, from the left. But they advocate their views with steadfast civility. It is an honor for me to bestow this award upon them today.”
“I am touched and honored by this award,” said Shields. Shields said he believes the award is an award for ‘PBS NewsHour.’ He said ‘NewsHour’ taught him to presume “in every discussion that the person on the other side probably loves their country as much as you love our country; that they care about their children’s and grandchildren’s future as much as you do; that they treasure the truth as much as you do; and that you don’t demonize somebody on the other side.”
Brooks praised Allegheny for its leadership on civility. “I think many great colleges teach subjects,” said Brooks. “But they don’t always teach character. It’s a pleasure to be involved with a school that has taken that seriously for so many centuries and still does today.”
Mullen said research by Allegheny College’s Center for Political Participation, under the leadership of Dr. Dan Shea, one of the nation’s leading political scientists, has “shown conclusively what most of us always suspected: That civility is perceived to be declining. And that political participation by young people is declining with it.”
“As a college president, this is my greatest concern,” Mullen said. “Today’s young people are extraordinarily service oriented. Allegheny’s 2,100 students last year contributed nearly 60,000 hours of community service. Yet while volunteerism is up among young people – political participation is down … way down. Consider this fact: Despite a high-stakes presidential election, only 1 percent of eligible voters under 30 participated in the recent Nevada Republican caucus.
“Most worrisome for me is the prospect that fewer and fewer young people will seek a career in public service. I worry we are at risk of losing an entire generation of public servants – with potentially catastrophic consequences for our democracy.”
In conjunction with today’s presentation, Mullen urged like-minded Americans to join Allegheny in its efforts to enhance civility.
“If we want greater civility, we need to be much more serious about positively reinforcing civility whenever we see it. We must shine a bright, positive light on the unsung heroes of democracy today – the many women and men who practice partisan politics passionately, but with civility, each and every day.
“Today, there is virtually no positive reinforcement of civility. Instead, there is a fundamental imbalance in the political marketplace. Incivility is often rewarded. Civility is usually ignored.
“Tomorrow I will send a letter to the political journalists of America, respectfully urging them to join us in this effort. Journalists do an exceptional job ‘calling out’ those who are blatantly uncivil. But if we hope to change the climate, journalists must do more. If every political blog and website and newspaper and broadcast was to commit to periodic reporting on the bright lights and unsung heroes of civility in their respective communities — then something special could happen. Politicians might actually be inspired to choose civility. Because they would be rewarded for it.
“Civility is a choice. We must help public servants and candidates to make that choice. Until we do so, we are part of the incivilty problem – no matter how politely we sit on the sidelines,” Mullen said.
“Allegheny College has been working toward a civility initiative for the past two years,” said Shea. “Our research shows that Americans want and need civility in political discourse. By honoring public figures who make civility a priority, we hope to increase awareness of the issue across the spectrum and re-energize future generations of leaders.”