The Importance of Civil Discourse

Art courtesy of Baylor University

Dr. Nancy Brickhouse | Provost

During the past week, the Baylor University community has been drawn into a conversation — and, to some degree, into conflict — concerning a topic on which some members of our faculty, staff, and students have differing views. On Tuesday, the Baylor Lariat published a story reporting that a faculty member’s social media comments about transgender rights have sparked controversy and resulted in several students reporting her to Baylor administrative offices.

Such instances of disagreement are not unusual at colleges and universities, of course, and they will continue into the future. A university is both a marketplace of ideas and a gathering of diverse cultures. This diversity is an enduring strength. Within this community, the ability to share perspectives and beliefs, even when they may stir controversy, must be safeguarded. It is equally true that Baylor, like other institutions of higher education, places a high priority on creating and fostering a community that people from all backgrounds will find welcoming and supportive.

As part of our Christian mission, the glue that binds us together as a diverse community, and which keeps us strong, is the commitment to treating one another with dignity and respect. Baylor respects and values an academic environment in which faculty members can freely express their views. To be sure, the protection of free speech by individual faculty members is vital. In this particular instance, the faculty member is not being investigated and will not be punished in any manner for sharing her opinions on her personal Twitter account because it did not violate any University policies. To my mind, the Lariat’s coverage, in implying that this faculty member merited such punitive measures, has likely had a negative impact on the character of discourse at Baylor.

There are many issues on which we, as individuals, will differ. We may encounter views and opinions that we personally disagree with or even find offensive. When this happens, we must seek to interact with one another in a spirit of Christian fellowship and learn from one another through civilly discussing and exploring our areas of disagreement. We may not always find common ground, but we will avoid the unhealthy consequences of succumbing to the temptations of attacking and lashing out at perceived enemies.

Personal interactions — seeking dialogue and truly listening to one another — are what feed the heart and build community within a Christian environment. Being exposed to differing views and attempting to learn from one another, face to face, leads to our own growth as individuals and an academic institution.

As we move forward, let us strive to always treat one another with a loving regard and a mindful consideration of differences that reflect who we are as children of God. Further, let us seek to engage in sometimes difficult conversations in a manner that reflects Baylor’s Christian mission and values.

Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D. serves as Provost of Baylor University