Dr. Robert W. Smith, Dean College of Public Affairs and Education
Publish Date

Call for a National Conference on Restoring Civility in American Politics

Respect Civility Equality

Ok…at this point it is not a formal call for papers, presentations, panels, speakers or roundtables…yet!!  This is actually a question I want to pose to you: our students, faculty, alumni, stakeholders, friends and citizens at large!

I have been in discussions with various colleagues and units within the U of I system about the need for such a national dialogue. There may even be some foundation support behind such a conference venue. It would essentially be a national conference on solutions for the seeming rise in political violence and discontent across the nation over the past several years. We somehow survived the Mid-Term Elections of 2022 with some bumps along the way. Yet, we still live in a “House Divided.”

The House is in Republican hands, and the Senate is in Democratic control. And certainly an air of incivility seems to pervade politics along the lines of these political divisions. And that is notwithstanding the ongoing “Trump Factor” in American politics. Elections have become bitter mandates and only a win-win scenario is acceptable. I think we need to talk about how we, as a nation, might restore a bit more civility in this key democratic process.

Moreover, it would seem that the “Home of Lincoln” would be an appropriate place and setting for such a national conference and dialogue. The conference would run for maybe 3-4 days and feature:

  • Eminent speakers on both sides of the aisle;
  • Experts presenting on political division;
  • Workshops with selected political leadership nationwide to dialogue across party lines;
  • Student participation in varied forms;
  • A solutions forum where a robust exchange of ways to address the divides can be offered;
  • A media segment focused on the role of the press in preserving dialogue and democracy.

Perhaps such a conference could take place in 3 separate settings in Springfield (UIS), Champaign (UIUC) and Chicago (UIUC! It would be a statewide happening with the University of Illinois as the host.

Although I must say that the preliminary discussions have somewhat tempered the grand scope and length of such a conference, discussions continue. In fact, there is enough interest in the academic community that my proposal for a roundtable discussion on the prospects for such a national conference has been accepted by the Midwest Political Science Association at their 80th Annual Meeting in April in Chicago. Therefore, please stay tuned to hear more about this conference in the near future!

In the meantime, as I look across our academic programs, this theme of “civility” strikes a chord for those in education looking to train the next generation of our teachers; in communication in how we convey our messages person to person or across the media; in legal studies because the basis for rule of law is a platform for civil discourse and exchange; in public administration and public policy because the concept of service to the public needs to be strengthened, and in politics where the basis for our very democracy lies on a system of open and reasoned dialogue to solve our problems.

Therefore, I must conclude by asking: What do you think? Is a national conference on restoring civility in politics needed in today’s political environment? Why? Please feel free to share your thoughts and views at

Your views and input always matter to us here in the College of Public Affairs and Education.

Happy December and Holiday Wishes to All,

Dean Smith

Robert W. Smith, Ph.D. is Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Education. Dean Smith provides the overall academic leadership, budgetary oversight and strategic direction for his College. Prior to his leadership role at UIS Dr. Smith was a Dean at Savannah State University (GA), Department Chair at Kennesaw State University (GA) and Graduate Program Director at Clemson University. Before joining the Academy, Dr. Smith served as a Senior Budget Official for the State of New York División of the Budget. He also served for several years on the staff of former US Senator and UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan. His experiences also include local government administration, leading nonprofit organizations and managerial posts in the private sector. He is widely published in the areas of public budgeting and finance, and ethics in government. Dr. Smith seeks to establish his College as the premier public affairs program in the State, expand the relevancy and impact of faculty and student research in the arena of public service, and better serve citizens of the State with a keen focus on engagement, participation while reinforcing our institutions of democracy.