Rutgers to launch a new program promoting politeness

Inspired in part by the propensity for today’s students to lose themselves in technology or leave nasty anonymous comments on web sites, Rutgers University this week is launching Project Civility, a two-year initiative intended to explore politeness and foster respect among members of the state university’s community, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “For me, living together more civilly means living together more peacefully, more kindly, and more justly,” said Kathleen Hull, a Rutgers faculty member, who is helping to coordinate the effort. “This includes good manners, yes, but so much more.” It is a prudent time to consider what is appropriate behavior, and not just at Rutgers, according to Hull, who began her scholarly research of the subject following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “There’s been a polarization of the country and a moving away from the center in politics that has contributed to difficulty in having civil dialog,” said Hull, who teaches a popular course on the topic. In May, during a graduation speech at the University of Michigan, President Obama remarked that one way to keep democracy healthy “is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate.” Pier M. Forni, a Johns Hopkins University professor of Italian literature, will launch Project Civility with a lecture at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Student Center. Forni, who is a civility expert, directs a similar initiative at Johns Hopkins, and his work has helped launch like-minded projects around the country. “Civility, good manners, and politeness are not trivial, because they do the everyday busy work of goodness,” said Forni. “Devices of mass distraction,” as he calls them, are a particular source of disruptive behavior: leaving class to take a cell-phone call, surfing the internet, or watching an online show instead of paying attention to an instructor…

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