“Public service is at risk of losing a generation and our democracy will suffer. As a liberal arts college nearly as old as America itself, Allegheny cannot abide that outcome.” –Allegheny College President James H. Mullen Jr.
“As someone who works with young Americans…I am so pleased that our honorees, David Brooks and Mark Shields, share an abiding belief in democratic deliberations. They are passionate about their positions, but they recognize that we all have to work together. They are both proud partisans, but their convictions do not stop them from critiquing their own positions or the positions of their fellow partisans.” –Daniel M. Shea, Director of the Center for Political Participation
“I don’t know in a nation as big and brawling and as wonderfully diverse as ours how we resolve our differences except through the political process and the care, the commitment, the passion, the creativity of those who can craft compromise and forge consensus.” –Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, recipient of first Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life
“Many great colleges teach subjects; they don’t always teach character.” —New York Times columnist David Brooks, recipient of first Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life
By Mary Solberg
The inaugural Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life was awarded Feb. 21 to two nationally recognized journalists who “represent the best instincts of American public life.”
In presenting the award to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, Allegheny President James H. Mullen called on youth across the country to follow their example.
“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 the courage to engage in the public arena with civility and respect and to honor those who by their example show us the way,” President Mullen told those gathered at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C.
The civility prize will be given each year to two winners, one from each side of the ideological spectrum, who show noteworthy civility while continuing to fight passionately for their beliefs. An awards panel—made up of such luminaries as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, and American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad—reviewed many nominees in politics and journalism before selecting Shields and Brooks.
Corbett Broad attended the morning ceremony in the Holeman Lounge of the National Press Club along with student fellows and staff of the Center for Political Participation, Allegheny alumni, and members of the college’s board of trustees. Said Corbett Broad: “The values undergirding this award—the free, vigorous, and respectful pursuit of ideas—align perfectly with those of American higher education. I extend sincere congratulations to David Brooks and Mark Shields on this honor, and applaud Allegheny College for shining a spotlight on the need for civility in our public discourse.”
In accepting the civility honor, both Brooks and Shields, who debate the issues of the day once a week on PBS NewsHour, recognized the influence of PBS NewsHour executive editor Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, anchors of the former MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, later known as PBS NewsHour. MacNeil and Lehrer, they said, taught them the fine art of civility in public discourse despite the difficulties of disparate viewpoints.
“I stand here today, and I think David would agree, as proxies and surrogates for Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, who started the NewsHour, who started with a very simple premise and that is that in every discussion that one’s involved, the person on the other side probably loves the country as much as you love our country, that they care about their children’s and grandchildren’s future as much as you do, they treasure the truth as much as you do. You don’t demonize somebody on the other side,” Shields said.
Brooks, a conservative, said he and Shields had “serious disagreements” over the years on the Iraq War. Several years ago, during the Florida presidential election recount, Brooks jousted with his liberal friend, E.J. Dionne, on a weekly NPR broadcast.
“I think that while we went at each other sometimes, it never damaged or diminished our friendships during that whole period,” Brooks explained. “To go through that with someone strengthens you, as it should political rivals.”
Center for Political Participation Director Daniel Shea joined President Mullen in honoring Brooks and Shields, saying the journalists “share an abiding belief in democratic deliberations.” Added Shea, “They are passionate about their positions, but they recognize that we all have to work together. They are both proud partisans but their convictions do not stop them from critiquing their own positions and the positions of their fellow partisans.”
Shea also told the National Press Club gathering that the CPP is working diligently on its upcoming conference on civility, which is expected to draw in about 200 college students from throughout the country. Pathway to Civility: National Conference of College Leaders will be held at Allegheny May 15-17, focusing on young people’s commitment to causes and candidates, as well as “the necessity for respectful dialogue.”
To see the full coverage of the National Press Club award presentation, go to this link: Civility Prize