UT Will Be a Beacon of Light for Civil Discourse

Category: Column

By: UT President Randy Boyd and UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman

The late U.S. Senator Howard Baker said it best, “If we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree… we would soon stop functioning altogether.” The University of Tennessee System and our flagship campus in Knoxville are uniquely positioned to solve grand challenges and facilitate sometimes difficult discussions. And we have a duty to make sure our students have opportunities to study, critique, and practice the foundations of American democracy.

We have a vision that all our campuses lead responsible civil discourse and a robust civic education. What better place to start than the center at UT Knoxville that carries the name, and advances the legacy, of Senator Baker. With a proposed investment by Governor Bill Lee to create and fund an Institute of American Civics within the Baker Center, we have an opportunity to highlight the role American institutions play in resolving conflict, advancing human dignity, and making public policy in a place where individuals with different opinions and backgrounds can come together to have productive conversations.

The institute will foster a deeper understanding of the structures and institutions of federal, state, and local government and the principles and philosophies that contributed to the foundation and development of the United States and the state of Tennessee. It will be a non-partisan resource for students, faculty, and the public to engage in open inquiry and constructive debate on our most pressing societal issues with insights from a board of fellows with distinguished academic backgrounds and a bipartisian group of thought leaders.  While located in Knoxville, the institute will provide resources to campuses across the UT System and to the citizens of Tennessee.

This new institute, and every campus in the University of Tennessee System, can be a beacon of light for Tennesseans ready to engage with their communities and solve our biggest problems. We are positioned to facilitate crucial conversations through a full and fair discussion that involves civil dialogue among varying points of view and encourages intellectual diversity. We appreciate Gov. Lee’s support and welcome the opportunity to lead the state in civic education and in fostering Baker’s vision of constructive debate for the good of all citizens.

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