When the medium is the message; Promoting ethical action through democratic dialogue

Bruce L. Mallory, University of New Hampshire
Nancy L. Thomas, Society for Values in Higher Education


WHAT WOULD HAPPEN on your campus if, for several hours each week, members of various constituencies-students, faculty, staff, institutional leaders, parents, community partners, and trustees-discussed pressing ethical and social issues facing the campus or broader society? We are not referring to what typically occurs on college campuses: sporadic public panel discussions or lectures followed by a few minutes of polite questions. Nor are we referring to structured events such as departmental or task-force meetings, judicial processes, or professional development seminars. And we certainly are not envisioning point-counterpoint debates. What we propose is something quite different-intentionally designed, permanent spaces on campuses for identifying, studying, deliberating, and planning action regarding pressing issues with ethical or social implications. Given that an important mission of colleges and universities is to serve as sites of open inquiry, leading to a deeper understanding of contemporary social challenges, the need for such deliberative spaces is critical. As the higher education community works to address the challenges of increasing diversity, institutional governance, curriculum reform, and constrained resources, the need for inclusive forms of sustained and civil dialogue has become paramount.