FIT Pledges Civility

On Wed., Jan. 31, noon-2 p.m. in the Dubinsky Center Lobby, faculty, students and staff are welcome to fill out a pledge card and get an “I Pledge Civility” button.  Post your image on Instagram and/or Twitter and use #FITcivility to show your pledge!

President Joyce F. Brown launched FIT’s new civility initiative at spring convocation, sharing her thoughts on why civility matters and what we can all do to promote respectful ways of living and learning at FIT. Below is an excerpt from her remarks.

You know, long before we ever took up the issue of civility—long, long before—a 16-year-old George Washington recorded what he called “110 rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation.”

They spoke of respect and consideration of others; they spoke of kindness. One rule, for instance, says: “Do not make fun of anything important to others.”

Another, number 45, says: when you must give advice or criticism, consider whether it should be given in public or private, and above all, be gentle.”

Number 89 is: “Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.

And for the fashionistas among us, I offer Number 54: “Play not the Peacock, looking everywhere about you to see if you be well decked…”

And finally, there are three that seem particularly relevant today, given the quality of our public discourse: “Think before you speak…” “Let your conversation be without malice…and in all causes of passion, let reason govern” and finally, number 79: “Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof.”

These words of wisdom from our first president actually long predate him: he got them from a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. So we are following a long and noble tradition in attempting to institutionalize and to inculcate in ourselves a pattern of behavior, based on common courtesy, that makes possible our ability to live together, to work together, to teach and learn together—to thrive together.

This is not a new topic for us either—certainly not for me: I have been singing the song of civility throughout my tenure here, raising it as a value, as a goal at every opportunity. And even with so many of you at my side, it remains a work in progress. So I am thrilled and grateful that the Faculty Senate and its president Robin Sackin took it upon themselves to team with Academic Affairs and with our Chief Diversity Officer, Ron Milon, and with me, not just to devote today’s convocation to civility, but to make it a long-term project. And I’m delighted that the UCE is part of this bandwagon as well—on February 8th, it is sponsoring a Town Hall on diversity and inclusion.

And as part of these efforts, the President’s Award for Faculty Excellence will focus this year on civility. The application form provides some ideas of what civil behavior might consist of as well as a list of criteria, but it isn’t all encompassing. So if there is someone you wish to nominate for reasons that don’t appear on the form, please go ahead. The applications will be available shortly and when they are, I hope I am overwhelmed with nominees.

Our goal is to bring the concept of civility front and center for this community so that in practice, in our classrooms, our offices, our residence halls and throughout the campus, we all feel we are being treated with respect. The notion of civility—and its companions, diversity and inclusion—is embedded in our strategic plan, in goals like “student centeredness” and in many many of our initiatives. But we want civility embedded in the heart and consciousness of every one of us, every one of our colleagues, even those who are not here today, and every one of our students.

It should be simple to achieve, but it is not. After all, we live in a world that seems to grow more uncivil, more vulgar and rancorous with every passing day. We started the academic year with the racial malevolence and violence in Charlottesville. Soon after, a crescendo of stories of workplace harassment, bullying and sexual abuse emerged—dominating the airwaves, the soundtrack, the air we breathe: brave women, and some men, empowered, finally, to tell their stories and retrieve the dignity that had been stolen from them.

The ongoing immigration battle—and the ugly rhetoric surrounding it from Washington and elsewhere—has raised the ante all the more. It is no surprise that every poll imaginable reports that the vast majority of Americans believe that, as a nation, our lack of civility has reached “crisis” level.

Here’s the paradox: I would wager that many of those same Americans also perpetuated incivility—being rude, disrespectful, crude, insensitive—without even recognizing it in their own behavior.

Last fall, following Charlottesville, I sent a memo to the community emphasizing the importance of every day civility in our own environment, not just as an ideal, but as actual individual behavior. Behavior that is personally owned and acknowledged. As Toni Morrison once said at an academic conference, “Like it or not, we are paradigms of our own values, advertisements of our own ethics” and then asked her colleagues: How do we treat each other, members of our own profession? How do we respond to professional cunning, to sly self-interest, to raw, ruthless ambition? What are we personally willing to sacrifice for the “public good?”

Tough questions, but if answered honestly, they speak to our personal integrity, to our personal levels of civility. “We teach values by having them,” she said. I would paraphrase that by saying we teach civility by practicing civility. And we all have a part to play.

It is somewhat comforting to know that rules of civility date back to ancient times. Human nature, after all, is unruly. Like Sisyphus, we are constantly having to push that rock up the mountainside. But I am feeling optimistic today, given the initiative of the Faculty Senate, the activities of our Diversity Council, the new and ongoing programs on civility and kindness for students sponsored by our enrollment management and student success division, and the groundswell of interest so many of you are exhibiting in this important work. For my part, I will continue to be your most enthusiastic cheerleader, to welcome your suggestions and ideas and, of course, to support programs and services that contribute to this effort.

So, let me leave you with one more rule from the long list that young Mr. Washington recorded. It is, appropriately, rule number one:

“Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

It is with this simple but essential rule that I welcome you back.


Find out more about the FIT civility initiative at fitnyc.edu/civility