National Institute for Civil Discourse to open at University of Arizona

Colleagues pay tribute to wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the president's State of the Union address as the Arizona lawmaker begins the next phase of her recovery at a rehab facility in Houston.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2011; 12:05 PM

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush will serve as honorary chairmen of a new center at the University of Arizona that will focus on civility in political debate, university officials will announce Monday.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse - a nonpartisan center for debate, research, education and policy about civility in public discourse - will open Monday in Tucson. It was created in the aftermath of the Jan. 8 shootings in the city where six people were killed and 13 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) will serve as honorary co-chairmen. Board members will include former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright; Kenneth M. Duberstein, chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan; Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren; Trey Grayson, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics; and former representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

"This institute is the right people in the right place at the right time," said Fred DuVal, vice chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents and former co-chairman of Giffords's finance committee.

The center will be funded with private donations, and $1 million has already been raised, said DuVal, who will head the working board of the institute, which is his brainchild. The institute plans to organize workshops and conferences in Tucson, Washington and elsewhere nationwide, and will bring together leaders from across the political spectrum to develop programs to promote civil discourse.

"Our country needs a setting for political debate that is both frank and civil," Bush said in a statement.

Clinton said in a statement that the new institute "can elevate the tone of dialogue in our country."

Brint Milward, director of the university's School of Government and Public Policy, said the institute will be housed in a downtown Tucson building provided by Providence Service Corp., the lead donor.

One of the institute's first events will be a conference with members of the media, foundations, academic institutions, government and corporations to discuss advancing the national conversation about civil discourse, said Meredith Hay, provost of the University of Arizona.

Although the Tucson shootings were not linked to public discourse, she said, they "created a space for us to think about civil discourse."

"If anyone should lead this conversation, it should be the University of Arizona," Hay said. "We've lived through this terrible event and grown stronger through it. We have extraordinary scholars in the area of public discourse and public policy who can reach out nationally and create an exciting conversation."

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