Prize Q&A

What is the Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life?

The Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life seeks to honor elected officials who showed authentic, courageous civility in an important moment and/or those who have demonstrated meaningful civility throughout their career.

The College is not looking to highlight individuals who sit on the sidelines, away from the fray. We want to honor passionate partisans on both sides of the aisle, women and men who showed noteworthy civility while continuing to fight for their beliefs and values. Two awards will be given in this inaugural year – one to a Republican and one to a Democrat.

Why did you create this award?

At Allegheny College, we believe that neither party owns civility, nor is neither party to blame for its absence. But as a national leader in the research, study and promotion of civility in politics, we know that we must work together to change the direction of modern political discourse. Our national research has shown conclusively that Americans crave greater civility in political discourse. And we are deeply concerned that declining civility is suppressing participation in our democracy – particularly among young people. That is a danger that should concern us all.

We also believe that this award is worthy of both Allegheny’s history and mission. As a distinguished liberal arts college approaching its 200th birthday, Allegheny seeks to inspire civil discussion of important and at times contentious ideas. Moreover, through its Center for Political Participation and its campus-wide commitment to service Allegheny hopes to inspire young people to engage public debate and the political process.

Media focus often flocks to the uncivil. Our new award seeks to shine a bright light on the examples of civility that do not get as much attention – but that are true gifts to democracy in America. As well as true models for all elected officials to consider. We will recognize one Republican and one Democrat who have shown that meaningful civility is not incompatible with strongly and passionately held beliefs.

Is this award related to the tragedy in Tucson?

Not at all. Allegheny has been working on this initiative for the past year, because our academic research shows America craves greater civility. And because Allegheny has a long tradition of leadership in this important arena – nearly 200 years.

How will the winner be chosen?

All nominations will be examined by a diverse and prominent committee which will make recommendations to Allegheny College President Jim Mullen. Then, President Mullen and Allegheny College will determine the two winners.

When will the winners be announced?

The winners will be announced in Washington, D.C. on February 21, 2012.

What research has Allegheny College done on the topic of civility in modern political discourse?

The Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College, under the direction of Professor Daniel Shea, has commissioned and analyzed three national surveys to further explore the deterioration of civility in our political processes and, particularly, its impact on voters. In Allegheny College’s April 2010 survey of 1,000 adults from across the country, 95 percent of Americans said that they believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy, and 87 percent suggested it is possible for people to disagree about politics respectfully. The most recent survey in November also revealed that 63 percent of Americans feel that the tone in politics is becoming less civil.

While politicians and experts debate the causes and impacts of the deterioration in political civility, our studies conclusively show that Americans agree coarseness and lack of respect are unacceptable.

Why is the College focusing on “proud partisans?”

Because we believe civility does not require a politician to check their political passion at the door. The truth is, it is easier to be civil when one is not deeply immersed as an advocate in the ongoing contest of ideas – a contest that, in our democracy, is centered in our two-party system. We hope this award will help to foster greater civility among the most vigorous participants in our two-party system.

Is effectiveness one of your criteria?

It could be a tie-breaker – but it is not one of the fundamental criteria. The College did not want to preclude from consideration an elected official who believes so strongly in her or his views that they are unwilling to compromise. Because such an elected official can still make their case with civility. Civility is not the same as centrism.

How can I nominate someone?

A nomination form, along with more information on the award and Allegheny College’s work on civility in politics, can be found at