President Mullen’s Remarks

From the inaugural presentation of the Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life, February 21, 2012, National Press Club, Washington, D.C.


Good morning,

I am Jim Mullen, President of Allegheny College and I would like to thank the National Press Club for hosting this event.

Welcome to the Allegheny College Trustees who have come to Washington to join us today, as well as the alumni who are with us. And, of course, in a special way welcome to the students who have traveled in from campus. I also note that there are several close friends of the College here today, members of the national advisory panel that helped us as we moved forward on the civility effort – I see Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council on Education and EJ Dionne of the Washington Post and Rick Detweiler, President of the Great Lakes College Association. Thank you for being here.

Today is a very significant event for our College, because it focuses on an issue that has been central to Allegheny’s character for almost 200 years. Preparing young people to care and to engage and to lead – and to do so passionately yet respectfully – all this is fundamental to the liberal arts education we promise our students.

And today, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, alumni, faculty, staff and 2100 students of Allegheny, it is a privilege to join in presenting the inaugural Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life to David Brooks and Mark Shields – two individuals, who through their work as journalists and their weekly appearance on PBS News Hour, have represented the highest ideals of civility in public discourse.

At a time of relentless incivility, David Brooks and Mark Shields have reminded us that civility is possible and that difference of opinion does not require invective or disrespect.

The democratic process deserves better than it has received in recent years. Incivility has become an accepted norm of American politics; negativity the centerpiece of campaign playbooks; and personal attack the preferred means of bringing down an opponent.

And the effects of this incivility are clear. Most importantly, while young people are volunteering for community service at unprecedented levels, they are abandoning the political process.

Public service is at risk of losing a generation and our democracy will suffer. As a liberal arts college nearly as old as American itself, Allegheny cannot abide that outcome.

That is why Allegheny College through the work of its Center for Political Participation, has focused on civility and issues related to participation by young people in the political process.

Dan Shea, Professor of Political Science and influential scholar of American elections, is the founder and director of our Center. I would like to ask Professor Shea to come forward to speak briefly about the work of the Center for Political Participation; work that is reflected in a new book he has co-edited “Can We Talk? The Rise of Rude, Nasty, Stubborn Politics.”

Presentation of the Civility Prize

And now it is my privilege to present the Allegheny College Prize.

Through the course of their careers, David Brooks and Mark Shields have represented the highest ideals of journalism… one a conservative, the other a liberal; both consummate professionals and distinguished public intellectuals.

They remind us that the public arena is about ideas – and that it functions best when those ideas are debated passionately, with intellectual rigor and respect for difference.

They remind us that humility is a virtue; that at its best, politics is joyous and noble that across the reach of philosophy and conviction, individuals can find friendship, professional regard and even common ground, with professional regard – and even friendship.

David Brooks and Mark Shields represent the best instincts of American public life and their example should inspire us all.

Most of all, their example should give confidence to every student at Allegheny and every young person in this nation – confidence that dignity and grace and civility can persevere – that people of good faith can care deeply, disagree without being disagreeable, and make a difference in the right way.

That is the hope of today – that through this award and our College’s focus on civility we might empower young people across the nation; that we might help them – help all of us – find the faith and courage to engage the public arena with civility and respect – and to honor those who, by their example, show us the way.

So with great thanks for their example, I present the inaugural Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life to David Brooks and Mark Shields.

Gentleman, would you join me for the presentation of the award?