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2022 Symposium of Collegiate Programs for Public Discourse

2022 Symposium of Collegiate Programs for Public Discourse

A Resource Manual
Made possible by grant funding provided
by the Heterodox Academy

Introduction, by Kevin Marinelli

On January 22, 2022, The Program for Public Discourse at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill invited leading scholars and practitioners of rhetoric and public deliberation across
the country to participate in a symposium on deliberative pedagogy. Framed through the lens of
academic centers for civic discourse, the conference explored myriad approaches to fostering
constructive disagreement in the classroom and community.

The four-panel symposium probed a series of critical and practical questions about promoting
civic discourse in higher education. Panelists shared a rich combination of activities, guidelines,
and theoretical reflections, revealing sites of consonance and divergence along the way. As any
worthwhile forum should, the symposium arguably opened more sites of exploration than settle
any matter once and for all. We have attempted to highlight some of its key takeaways for you
here in three slide-deck presentations organized by panel. We encourage the reader to utilize
these brief summaries in conjunction with the digital recordings and follow up with presenters
directly to ask questions or offer feedback.

We have also included to two addendums to the symposium. First is Pamela Conners’ essay,
“Adapting to Organizational Context: Mission and Goals for Public Discourse Programs.” The
essay offers an insightful reflection concerning the evolution of Conner’s own center, providing
invaluable lessons to educators aspiring to launch or sustain centers of public discourse at their
respective institutions. Second, we have included Van Hillard’s resource guide to metadiscourse,
which features a list of strategic questions students can practice incorporating into their
deliberative discussions.

The symposium commenced with the panel discussion, Facilitating Public Discourse in a
Polarized Climate. Martín Carcasson challenged participants to transform public discussion by
taking the wickedness out of the person and putting it back into the problem. A wicked problem,
according to Carcasson, is one manifesting competing values, paradoxes, and tradeoffs that
cannot be resolved by science. Likewise, Carcasson’s work strives to equip citizens with the
conceptual tools necessary to develop a more nuanced framing of value arguments that
transcends traditional good-evil binaries. Rhonda Fitzgerald builds on the work of sociologist,
James Marcia, by inviting facilitators to inquire into the “role identities” of participants before
jumping into deliberation. By engaging students where they are, rather than where one wants
them to be, this alternative model of discourse helps participants deliberate at their own pace. In
doing so, participants can more easily dissolve traditional “stuck points” of deliberation. Leslie
Garvin provided a repertoire of dialogical models, encouraging facilitators to reflect on which
format best meets the needs of their particular group. Finally, Ryan Solomon rounded out the
panel with a sobering reflection on the inherent interconnection between dissonance and
deliberation. Rather than view these qualities as antithetical to one another, Solomon encourages
scholars to embrace their inevitable convergence in democratic life. He also cautions against
submitting to the false equivalence of certain competing perspectives in the call for viewpoint
diversity and inclusion.

The second panel, “Rethinking Missions and Desired Outcomes,” engaged questions related to
student growth and development. Pamela Conners reminded program directors that student
learning must come first and center in the effort to promote community engagement. Likewise,
active deliberative engagement should remain the primary deliverable for students, rather than
community problem-solving per se. Katherine Knobloch emphasized the importance of utilizing
a sound business model to manage a sustainable program or center. Directors should utilize
resources efficiently and not be afraid to go back to the drawing board when necessary. Carolyn
Long encouraged program directors to incorporate student work in the curriculum when possible
to help ensure concrete deliverables. She recommended centers create program content that hits
close to home, while also fostering strategic partnerships with organizations that shared one’s
mission. Deondra Rose shared her experience overcoming student resistance to civil discourse by
providing an alternative framework for productive discussion. Rose utilizes the Braver Angels
model to foster discussion, while also situating public discourse in a broader democratic context.

Our third panel, “Celebrating Successes and Strategizing Struggles,” invited participants to
reflect on their ongoing initiatives. Lelia Brammer opened the panel by challenging the
traditional, debate-centered model of classroom deliberation, instead challenging colleagues to
find opportunities to institutionalize discourse across the curriculum. The purpose of free
expression, she reminds us, is to ensure that we all have the capacity to seek and engage
difference and disagreement in the effort to build knowledge. Similarly, Graham Bullock shared
his experience building the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative, which seeks to build student
capacities to engage in robust deliberative practices across political difference. To that end, Sara
Drury emphasized the importance of empowering students and citizens with deliberative
capacities rather than focus solely on the discourse itself. We must think creatively, she insists,
about finding better ways to create opportunities for people to foster those deliberative
capacities. Finally, Timothy Shaffer shared his approach to balancing the needs to navigate
institutional constraints and serve the needs of the community simultaneously.

We concluded our symposium with a “Student Perspectives” panel, which invited
undergraduates from different institutions to share their respective experiences and feedback.
Students highlighted the importance of creating inclusive spaces on campus and making students
feel like valued partners in our discursive initiatives. They mentioned the importance of offering
deliverables to generate greater participation, and they candidly confirmed the reality of
contemporary politics that posed barriers to student participation—fear of peer-judgment and a
general resistance to the appearance of contentious discourse.

Full recordings of the panel presentations are available at the links below. What follows is a
synopsis of the issues discussed, highlighting key insights shared by our respective panelists. We
hope it will serve as a useful resource to faculty, students, staff, and administrators interested in
fostering robust deliberative practices at their respective institutions, or perhaps even establishing
public discourse programs of their own. Please feel welcome to join the conversation.


Contributions

Adapting to Organizational Context: Mission and Goals for Public Discourse Programs, by Pamela Conners

Deliberating Together, by Van Hillard


Panel 1: Facilitating Public Discourse in a Polarized Climate

Panelists share theoretical perspectives, practical applications, and activities they find useful for generating and facilitating robust public discourse across a range of contexts. Particular attention is paid to strategies that help practitioners navigate the contemporary polarized political climate that informs our communities and campuses.

Featuring:

  • Martín Carcasson, Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State
  • Rhonda Fitzgerald, Managing Director of the Sustained Dialogue Institute
  • Leslie Garvin, Executive Director of the NC Campus Compact
  • Ryan Solomon, Associate Director of the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse at the University of Chicago

Presentations summaries available for download here.


Panel 2: (Re) Thinking Missions and Desired Outcomes

Panelists reflect on the learning objectives, mission statements, and core philosophies informing their respective programs and discuss how programs can best serve the needs of their students and communities.

Featuring:

  • Pamela Conners, Director of Public Deliberation and Dialogue at Gustavus Adolphus
  • Katherine Knobloch, Associate Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University
  • Carolyn Long, Director of the Initiative for Public Deliberation at Washington State University Vancouver
  • Deondra Rose, Director of Polis: Center for Politics at Duke University

Presentations summaries available for download here.


Panel 3: Celebrating Successes and Strategizing Struggles

Panelists share insights gleaned from their work initiating programs and agendas at their respective institutions, highlighting positive and negative experiences and key lessons learned.

Featuring:

  • Leila Brammer, Director of the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse at the University of Chicago
  • Graham Bullock, Faculty Director of the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative at Davidson College
  • Sara Drury, Director of the Democracy and Public Discourse Program at Wabash College
  • Timothy Shaffer, Director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University

Presentations summaries available for download here.