EDITORIAL: Civility: A good, necessary idea, but lacks force
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While students returned this week to take classes and plan new goals, faculty members launched a policy to help reach a community goal: openness on the UNLV campus.
Representatives within the university’s faculty senate approved a policy on Tuesday to support civility and inclusiveness on campus.
According to the statement, “UNLV is dedicated to intellectual inquiry in its full depth, breadth, abundance, and diversity.”
This statement can be seen as a great step forward in making the campus a place where everyone feels respected and free to speak their opinions.
While the statement comes up a little short in terms of actual implementation, it is an admirable step in the right direction.
UNLV Vice President and General Counsel Richard Linstrom explained that the policy will not be actionable because the definition of civility is debatable.
This creates a problem. Without defining civility, the statement encourages it.
It leaves the terms “civil” and “inclusive” to be open for discussion. Although, the existence of the statement is crucial in that it conveys a message to the entire UNLV community that civility is expected in some capacity.
Despite the fact that civility is an abstract term, its definition and practice unique to every individual, having a spoken (or written) expectation of civility may hold community members accountable to at least exploring and defining the term for themselves.
We are thrilled that UNLV’s faculty senate would endeavor to foster a community of genuine respect and mutually beneficial dialogue, but the unenforceable nature of the policy makes it rather limited in scope.
Surely community members are aware that a respectful and open environment is preferred by the university. The people who would follow it without any fear of repercussions probably do so already.
If the UNLV Faculty Senate truly wants to tackle this problem, a compilation of resources for those involved in disrespectful quarrels may be even more helpful.
Perhaps senate leadership could ask faculty to sign a voluntary commitment to the proposal.
Any sign that the commitment made in the statement is something more than an easily disregarded promise would be beneficial.
More importantly, it would show that the faculty are united and committed to the cause.
This would not only instill confidence in the community at large, but it would do the same in the eyes of students.
Students who feel harangued by campus members with opposing perspectives, too often, force themselves to grin and bear it.
And we’re sure there are occasionally less-than-professional disagreements within the faculty community as well.
Hopefully, this policy will encourage dialogue and an open exchange of ideas that allow for free speech and constructive criticism without fear of repercussions.
Prospective students, faculty and staff will consider UNLV, not only as a place of academic enrichment, but also as an environment of respect and consideration: a place of civility.
Community members will be able to feel more at ease on campus, feel safe to voice their opinions and feel empowered to participate in civil debates because of this statement.
We do hope the university makes more concrete progress toward a written policy with repercussions.
Perhaps the UNLV Faculty Senate can join with other campus groups to gain wider support for this policy and make it a golden standard.
However, it’s good to know that now, the previously silent expectation of civility is in black and white, with a beautiful red lining.