Deans’ Initiative Digs Into Civility

Which salad fork to choose not on the menu of discussion

Published: Oct 4, 2011
Forni hopes to get the UT community talking when he comes to campus on Oct. 6.
Forni hopes to get the UT community talking when he comes to campus on Oct. 6.
While teaching his undergraduate students about Dante in the mid-1990s, Johns Hopkins University professor of Italian literature P.M. Forni had a revelation.

“The thought occurred to me that I wanted my students to know everything about Dante and medieval Italian literature, but if they went out and were unkind to a little old lady on the bus, I would have failed,” said Forni, who co-founded the The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins in 1997.

Forni hopes to get the UT community talking when he comes to campus Oct. 6 to kick off the Fall 2011 Deans’ Initiative on Civility with an address from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values.

Forni will also host a workshop for faculty and student leaders the same day, his book Choosing Civility will be this fall’s book club selection, he’ll lead the fall leadership retreat on Oct. 8 and civility will be the theme of the mixed student, faculty and staff Community Conversations discussion groups that meet this fall.

“Civility, especially as it relates to communication, is important because it is the basis for creating change and progress within an organization,” said Ali Mathe, coordinator of leadership in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement. “If you can’t communicate with others in an effective manner, you can’t inspire others to makes the changes necessary to move forward. You need those relationships to reach your goals.”

Forni makes it clear that civility is not which fork to choose for the salad.

“The word comes from the Latin for city. It means giving of yourself for the good of the city, the community,” said Forni, who recently published a second book, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction.

Life is a relational experience as we are very social animals, Forni said, so it follows that the quality of our life depends on our relationships, politeness and civility.

“We are born with an innate ability to congregate and connect with others,” he said. “But we aren’t born with the ability to behave at our best, communicate at our best, be good friends and parents. We need people to teach us the codes.”

Dean of Students Stephanie Russell Holz said the initiative is meant to get the entire campus discussing and defining civility and thinking about the Spartan Code, a pledge all UT students make to be productive and responsible citizens who embrace the values of honesty, good citizenship, trust, respect and responsibility.

“We all need to work on this as a University community,” said Holz. “Our goal is to get the conversation going.”

Courtney Tipton ’12, a communication major with a minor in advertising, said that especially college students, the world’s future leaders, have a responsibility to enact change.

“I believe this generation has lost the sincerity of generosity and what it means to be courteous because we are all too entangled in our own personal lives to see the greater picture,” said Tipton, president of the University's first interfaith organization, Better Together. “Students need this venue to remind them of their responsibility as a human, but also their responsibility as a member of The University of Tampa community.”

The Deans’ Initiative is being led by Frank Ghannadian, dean of the Sykes College of Business; James Gore, dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences; Anne Gormly, dean of the College of Social Sciences, Mathematics and Education; Joseph Sclafani, interim dean of Academic Services; Haig Mardirosian, dean of the College of Arts and Letters; and Holz.

“Scholars are trained to be skeptical, to question, to debate and to win the debate. Our society has become very fractious, cruel and impersonal,” said Mardirosian. “I hope this initiative gives people a sense of thoughtfulness. I hope we all become more reflective and introspective and are able to converse with others with meaning and purpose.”


Jamie Pilarczyk
, Web Writer
Sign up for UT Web Alerts