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National Civil Discourse Leader Joins UD’s Biden School

By March 24, 2022March 30th, 2022No Comments

Timothy Shaffer to guide Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Ithaca Initiative

// Photo by Evan Krape

The University of Delaware’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration is welcoming Timothy J. Shaffer as its first Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Chair of Civil Discourse. Shaffer will be responsible for developing and guiding the delivery of the SNF Ithaca Initiative’s academic curricula and experiential learning programs.

Established in the fall of 2021 with a generous grant from SNF, the Biden School’s SNF Ithaca Initiative seeks to increase the quality and quantity of civil discourse and civic engagement by instilling core democratic values on UD’s campus and beyond. SNF Ithaca serves not only as UD’s home base for civil discourse, but as a national hub where students from across the country come together and develop the civil civic engagement skills that will strengthen our democracy. The recent appointment of Shaffer in the Biden School demonstrates the SNF Ithaca Initiative’s swift and exciting growth.

“Together in partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), we are helping our students on their journey toward becoming engaged and effective citizens who strengthen democracy,” said Maria Aristigueta, dean of the Biden School and Charles P. Messick Chair of Public Administration. “As we look to further empower students to take part in a diverse, multi-partisan society, the Biden School is thrilled to welcome Tim to help lead the SNF Ithaca Initiative.”

Shaffer is director of civic engagement and deliberative democracy with the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona and serves as an associate professor and director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University. He is also teaching a new seminar on civil discourse at the Biden School, in addition to mentoring the inaugural cohort of SNF Ithaca Student Leaders and helping coordinate the SNF Ithaca National Student Dialogue, which will bring students from 15 universities and civil discourse experts from across the country to UD for a weekend of programming this spring. He will begin his professorship at UD in the fall of 2022.

An interdisciplinary scholar, throughout his work and research, Shaffer focuses on the role of civic professionals in institutional settings such as governmental and non-governmental organizations in relationship with diverse communities. In joining the SNF Ithaca Initiative and Biden School, Shaffer will help grow new course offerings focused on civil discourse and a series of compelling new programs and special events designed to foster a healthier vision of democracy.

“Through my position with the SNF Ithaca Initiative, I hope to demonstrate what’s possible when we engage meaningfully and substantively across differences and use civil discourse to understand one another and our common challenges,” Shaffer said. “The sense of being on a long journey and learning while on a difficult path alongside others is something that speaks to the importance of the initiative. I want to help UD students understand the difference between speaking politely and viewing civil discourse as an essential democratic practice. The SNF Ithaca Initiative gives students more civic tools rather than simply attacking or dismissing other experiences, policies or positions.”

Shaffer initially became interested in the area of civil discourse and public policy through his experiences as an undergraduate student leader at his university’s community kitchen, seeing firsthand the impact of social issues that were important to him.

“As an undergraduate student, I was drawn to several social issues such as food insecurity and economic inequality, and my time in the community kitchen is where I witnessed those issues directly,” Shaffer said. “As I went to graduate school and from that time on, I continued to explore more of the intersection of democracy and education. Particularly, I was interested in the ways that institutions, such as universities and local government, played a role in the lives of individuals and communities.”

From his studies and experiences, Shaffer embarked on a journey for a deeper understanding about the importance of civil discourse and civic engagement that has continued throughout his career. Shaffer’s years of dedicated work in the field have already led to many international and national accolades, including most recently the 2021 National Extension Award for Diversity from the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals and the Community Development Society for his work addressing race relations in both institutional and community settings through the use of civil discourse.

Other achievements include the Early Career Award from the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, recognition for his work as the chair of the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop through the Engagement Scholarship Consortium and serving on the board of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. Shaffer is also the associate editor of the Journal of Deliberative Democracy and serves as a country expert on deliberative democracy with the Varieties of Democracy research project based at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Shaffer holds a doctorate from Cornell University, a master’s degree in public administration and a master of arts degree in theological studies from the University of Dayton, and a bachelor of arts degree from St. Bonaventure University.

“I am looking forward to contributing my knowledge and experience to help elevate UD’s role in shaping scholarship and practice of civil discourse and civic engagement,” Shaffer said. “Especially as discussions about how civil discourse can advance and improve public policy making and administrative processes.”

Learn more about the Biden School’s SNF Ithaca Initiative and its work to unite college students in the spirit of civil civic engagement by visiting

About the UD Biden School

Established in 1961 and named in 2018 for the University of Delaware’s most distinguished alumnus, the 46th President of the United States, the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration prepares students with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in research and public service activities to improve the quality of life in communities around the world. The Biden School’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni create and use interdisciplinary, nonpartisan research, and empirically based analysis to inform effective decision-making and policy and to improve leadership and administration. The Biden School partners with organizations from all sectors to discover innovative and equitable solutions to the critical challenges of our time.