The University of Arizona

Frequently Asked Questions

The increasingly strident tenor of the nation’s public discourse affects our democracy, and our ability to work together as a nation to address the major challenges that America must confront.

In a world of instant communication, it is more important now than at any other time in our history that we find avenues to speak across political divides and party lines, and communicate in ways that will foster dialog, conversation and legitimate debate.

On January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, a young man turned a gun on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, severely injuring Giffords, and 13 others around her, and killing six people – including Chief Judge John M. Roll and Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old girl who had come to an event out of her interest in electoral politics. Although the tragedy was not linked in any way to contemporary public discourse, the tragedy sparked a national conversation about civic engagement and civility. The University is the state’s Land Grant University, and one of the premier research institutions in the world where many of its faculty already conduct research relevant to public discourse, civic engagement and civic leadership.

Absolutely not. But the shootings created a space for people to focus on civility, and the Institute is building on that positive outcome of a tragic event.

The purpose of the National Institute for Civil Discourse is to promote civic engagement and robust political debate by fostering ties between people of all political persuasions so that they may vigorously debate the choices that face our country in a turbulent and dangerous world.

For a new national conversation to begin, there have to be institutions to foster it. The National Institute for Civil Discourse will mobilize organizations to become a central part of an archipelago to create the space for tough-minded civil discourse between people with conflicting values and ideas

The Institute will convene briefings and conferences with some of America’s most accomplished leaders from across the political spectrum to develop an agenda for organizing and promoting civil discourse.

The Institute is predicated on a deep belief that vigorous but respectful debate, consistent with the First Amendment, is a necessary ingredient for successful problem solving in the civic arena. The Institute's role is to encourage civic leaders to embrace vigorous debate in a way that allows for diverse perspectives to be shared, for complex issues to be discussed thoughtfully, and for challenging topics to be explored without resorting to invective and personal attacks. While we advocate for civility as a necessary condition for effective governance in the world’s greatest democracy, we do not presume to be judge and jury for what some consider vitriolic speech. At the Institute we are interested in promoting civility, engagement and leadership.

The Institute is a counterweight to the dominant business and media model of our age which attracts an audience by catering to existing fears and beliefs, rather than challenging them. While this is a very good way to stir people up around issues they are passionate about and against people perceived as thinking differently, it is a terrible way to govern a great nation which requires discourse, debate and compromise.

Politics is about effective governing, not just winning and losing. A great democracy depends on a respect for difference and willingness to compromise, most importantly for the good of generations of Americans to come. The oath that Athenian citizens took required them to leave the city “not worse, but better” than they found it. We believe this as well.