Civilizing the academy: critical discourse analysis of a university civility campaign

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University of Alabama Libraries

Students, administrators, and faculty often position the university as a site of incivility while paradoxically claiming that the primary role of the university is to uphold tenets of civility and to teach our students how to be civil. In this study, I investigate the application of a of a large public research university’s civility campaign as education and social practice, interwoven within diversity discourses and practice. Using critical theories, and critical discourse analysis, I place in conversation a micro, meso, and macro assessment, including the appraisal of more than 130 documents that directly or indirectly relate to the civility campaign. I offer a discussion on how “civility” is discursively constructed within the texts of a campus civility campaign targeted to students, what rationalities and assumptions underlie the texts, and how university students are constructed and situated as educational subjects with and through the civility discourses. Major study findings consist of four enduring historical conceptual frameworks of civility: civility as enactment of courtesy, politeness, manners and decorum; civility as virtue; civility as a political foundation for civil society and citizenry; and civility as a dialogic/conversational model. Other significant findings include civility applied throughout the campus campaign as: unity in spite of difference; a function or expression of community; a response to diversity; an element of safety; and competing notions as a condition for, extension of, and threat to freedom of speech. The study findings pose questions regarding accountability and the practice of campus civility campaigns, and the compatibility of this practice to the ideals purported in higher education. Finally, I propose implications for higher education practice and future research directions.

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Higher education