A Code of Civility for the university setting: the architecture for implementation.

Author:Seganish, W. Michael


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines civility as "civilized conduct, especially courtesy, politeness" (2010). This definition is overly broad and not particularly helpful in developing a Code of Civility. The definition does not begin to encompass all of the behaviors expected of an educated person in society. Perhaps another way of defining civility is to describe it as "the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together" (Carter, 1998, p 11). However, it can be said that identifying civility is similar to the long-standing legal observation that while I cannot define pornography, I know it when I see it. [sic, Justice Stewart, 1964). The same is true in this particular situation. Even though the definition of civility may be broad and you may not be able to specifically define civility, you certainly know incivility when you see it

In the United States, civility can be traced back to one of our founding fathers, George Washington, who had 110 rules for civility (Selzer, 2000). George Washington carried these guidelines with him throughout his life (Selzer, 2000). His rules included etiquette rules, as well as other types of rules. For example, Rule 24 states that you should not laugh too loud (Selzer, 2000, p. 32) while Rule 98 cautions one not to talk with your mouth full (Selzer, 2000, p.127).

Under the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation rules, ethics education has been required in the college of business for quite some time. With the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, a Code of Ethics must be developed (and published) by public companies. The Code is to be signed first by the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer. This watershed act brought an increased push for ethics education in the university. While most universities have incorporated a Code of Conduct/Ethical Behavior for their students, there are rising acts of incivility in the university environment.

A Code of Civility, while it incorporates some of the same concepts, is different from the Code of Ethics. Civility involves basic respect and courtesy and recognizes some unacceptable behavior not usually incorporated in a Code of Ethics, in addition to the traditional ethical considerations. Many institutions have recognized the uncivil act of bullying within their discrimination policies. However, there is a need for civility throughout the university. A Code of Civility will complement the Code of Ethics and reinforce many of the same attributes.

This paper will explore some of the causes of erosion of civility; introduce the concept of civility and develop the architecture of a Code of Civility. Basic to the development of a Code of Civility is the understanding of the interconnections of civility and the disconnections of incivility


Without delving into deep sociological concepts and theories, many factors have been bandied about as the cause for the continuous erosion of civility in our society. This has not been a sudden phenomenon but rather a slow erosion over a period of time during which many factors have dramatically changed. The changes may be characterized as precursors to student incivility and center around the students we now teach: often called Millennials born after 1982. They tend to be consumers of educational product, and technologically experienced and emulti-taskers. Baker, Comer, Martinak, 2008 p 67-69. Some of the contributing factors to this phenomenon follow.

Change in family structure

It is believed that the disappearance of the traditional family, where family members gathered for dinner and talked about their daily activities, versus today's modern family, a two-career family that copes with the daily logistical nightmares of transporting the children to the various sports and other after school activities, contributed to less communication and understanding, perhaps leading to less respect and interest in other family members. Seldom are the grandparents and other extended members of the family an integral part of the household, available to help with the upbringing of the children and to encourage a child to say thank you or please, etc. Many children come home to an empty house (i.e. latch key children). Additionally, political correctness has shifted to a degree that correcting a child must be carefully weighed lest it be considered abusive, repressive, or an injury to the child's self esteem. Finally, Forni suggests that incivility is positively related to anonymity and that Americans have fewer significant ties with communities and "penalties for shame are non-existent" (Forni, 2002).

Technology's impact on our culture

"Manners are dying in part because technological change makes them seem less necessary ... Our children are mimicking the incivility of the adult world" (Carter, 1998, p.10). One study found that young people (ages 8-18) spend an average of seven and one half hours per day using entertainment media. This is more than the equivalent of a full day of school (Burris, 2010, p.1). The advent of electronic devices such as cell phones, iphones, ipods, computers, and video games, replace direct interaction with other people: Two-year-olds now learn from the electronic Leap Pad Learning systems. Many popular electronic games have heroes characterized by crudeness and rudeness. Today's music and movies would have been considered inappropriate and vulgar in past years.

Communication is now via e-mail or text messaging. Text messaging has often been cited as the main reason why parts of our society are so disengaged. It is now wasteful or inefficient to type good morning or thank you and therefore the pleasantries which were once so commonplace have been discontinued. On the other hand, several words have become a popular part of our lexicon, such as "snark", reflecting the incivility that exists. David Denby in his book, Snark, defines snark as "a tone of teasing, snide, undermining abuse, nasty and knowing, that is spreading like pinkeye through the media and threatening to take over how Americans converse with each other ..." (Denby, 2009). The Internet has replaced many communication avenues. Social networks like face book, twitter, etc. contribute to the disintegration of interpersonal social contact. Many facts, private, fictional, and derogatory are now posted publicly about a person. And, sadly, there is now a worldwide forum for bullying. "Millennials" communicate through these impersonal and detached modes rather than face-to-face.

Economic Instability

The economic instability and insecurity began with the erosion of the manufacturing sector of the economy. Employees show continuing contempt for employers because of the discontinuance/reduction/conversion of company pensions and healthcare. Staffs have been cut to a minimum and the remaining employees must do the work of several.

There is insecurity about the future. There is a doubtful future for the social security system, unemployment remains high, while the country goes deeper into debt. Adding to these factors, there is the loss of confidence in the banking/financial system, the unpredictable swings of the stock market, the financial meltdown in 2008, and the lingering recession which have deepened the instability.

Role Model Incivility

The tone at the top in government, banking, and industry seems to project the impression of a sense of entitlement. Greed on the part of politicians and CEOs is acceptable behavior. While the...

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