Allegheny establishes national Civility Award

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama called for cooperation between the parties, highlighting the “common hopes and a common creed” of a nation often fraught with contention.  A new award created at Allegheny College aims to honor politicians who contribute to that cooperation.

The Civility Award will be given to one Democrat and one Republican elected official that the award committee feels best exemplifies and promotes civility in politics.  The committee has already received about 15 nominees, according to CPP Director and Professor of Political Science Dan Shea, who described most as being “high profile elected officials.”

The award was inspired by the three polls the CPP recently orchestrated on the public’s perception of civility in politics.  The most recent poll, conducted just before the midterm elections in November, found that 63 percent of respondents believe politics has become less civil since President Obama took office.

Seventeen people sit on the committee, including many Allegheny trustees, President Mullen and one student, CPP Fellow and ASG Financial Controller Katie Janocsko, ’11. One member of the Civility Award committee, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vice President and Executive Editor David Shribman, expressed beliefs in-line with the findings of the poll.

“I think it’s been a period of unusual incivility, and that people are screaming at each other,” he said. “Although we have a tradition of screaming at each other in this country, we tend make the most progress when we listen rather than scream.”

But perhaps the political tide is shifting towards civility, says Pittsburgh City Paper editor and Allegheny alumnus Chris Potter.  He, too, will sit on the award committee, and feels that now may be a time for civility to increase.

“I was pretty cynical about civility in politics a year ago, and I think a lot of that cynicism has been borne out,” he said. “But I do think, you know, just having watched the State of the Union last night, the situation has changed.”

He added that the tragedy in Tucson may have placed concerns of civility in the national spotlight.

Janocsko, who wrote her senior project on the civility research produced by the CPP, hopes that the civility award will illuminate efforts to promote civility, even amidst what seems to be the constant roar of contentious politics.

“I think it’s also to show Allegheny students and other people that there are politicians out there that are working to go against the trend of rudeness and incivility, that there are people out there who want to make things work in politics,” she said.

Professor Dan Shea, who spearheaded the creation of the award, feels that it is responsive to public desires for more courteous interactions between politicians.

“Our research suggests that the public is hungry for greater civility in politics.  We need to do something, so why not highlight the positive?” he said. “Why not draw attention to politicians that are passionate about their concerns, but also respectful of the opposition?”

The award committee will meet in Pittsburgh on Feb. 3 to decide which nominees exemplify that sense of respect and civility in politics.

Shribman explained that the Civility Award is modeled after the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which aims to highlight politicians “whose actions best demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership,” according to its website. He expressed hope that the Civility Award, just like the Profile in Courage Award, would help to spur more discussion on the issue nationwide.