The Institute for Honor Symposium

Civility and Public Discourse

March 1 - 2, 2019

Featuring Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist George Will as Keynote Speaker

George WillEstablished in 2000 at Washington and Lee by a generous endowment from the Class of 1960, the Institute for Honor includes an array of initiatives and specific programs designed to promote the understanding and practice of honor as an indispensable element of society. The Institute for Honor Symposium is dedicated to the advocacy of honor as the core value of personal, professional, business and community relations. The symposium is directed by Sam Calhoun, the Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and Law. Critiques of the current state of American politics are rampant. Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy believes we've reached "a low point in our civic dialogue." Some in part blame social media for encouraging "the purveyors of abuse." Another claims that all humans "are hardwired for tribalism."

However, others have a different message. Some remind us that American history reveals that our political disagreements have often lacked civility. And many urge us to resist the allure of ultra-partisanship.  

W&L President Will Dudley summarizes the challenge admirably: "'Civility' has become a loaded word, redefined by some as a thin veneer of decorum used to uphold the status quo, rather than as the pre-condition of honest conversation, constructive self-criticism, and personal relationships that can withstand meaningful disagreements." Regarding the downside of too great an emphasis on civility, one commentator argues, "If you're being civil, you're not paying attention." 


The three principal speakers for this year's seminar are superbly qualified to guide and inform the extended conversation. The career of George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and keynote speaker, has exemplified civil partisanship. The Saturday morning speakers, W&L Professors Robin LeBlanc and Michael Hill, will provide provocative insight on the nature and degree of civility needed to sustain the public discourse our democracy requires to thrive and, indeed, to endure.   

Sam Calhoun is Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and Law. He has taught at Washington and Lee University School of Law since 1978, focusing on contracts, legal writing, the Uniform Commercial Code and the abortion controversy. His two principal research interests are the abortion controversy and the interaction between law and religion. In 2013, he spearheaded the W&L Law Review Symposium commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. From 2013-16, he served as the Law School's associate dean for Academic Affairs.  

George F. Will has written a syndicated newspaper column for the Washington Post since 1974. Today, it appears twice weekly in more than 440 newspapers. In 1976, he became a regular contributing editor of Newsweek magazine, for which he provided a bimonthly essay until 2011. In 1977, he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in his newspaper columns.   In June 2019, Will will release his most recent work, "The Conservative Sensibility." Altogether, eight collections of Will's Newsweek and Washington Post columns have been published, the most recent being "One Man's America: The Pleasures and Provocations of Our Singular Nation" (2008).   In 1981, he became a founding panel member on ABC television's "This Week" and spent over three decades providing regular commentary. After that, he spent three years with Fox News, where he appeared regularly on "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday." Will is now a regular contributor to MSNBC and NBC News.  

Michael Hill recently joined the faculty of Washington and Lee as a Professor of Africana Studies. He received his bachelor of arts from Howard University and his master's and doctorate degrees from Harvard University. He has taught courses covering African-American literature, contemporary popular culture and black citizenship. His research analyzes post-World War II African-American experience, with particular attention to the ways that black individuals pursue excellence within white institutions. His book, "The Ethics of Swagger: Prizewinning African American Novels, 1977-1993," came out in 2013. Along with his wife, Dean of the College Lena Hill, he co-edited "Invisible Hawkeyes: African Americans at the University of Iowa During the Long Civil Rights Era" (2016).  

Robin M. LeBlanc, professor of politics at Washington and Lee University, is a political anthropologist who has worked on non-elite citizens' engagement in local politics, on civic life and on ethics. She has published two books about Japan, "Bicycle Citizens: The Political World of the Japanese Housewife" (University of California Press, 1999) and "The Art of the Gut: Manhood, Power, and Ethics in Japanese Politics" (University of California Press, 2010). Since 2012, she has added Italy as a field of study, doing comparative work on urban space and democratic community in Bologna and Tokyo supported by the Fulbright program and the Association for Asian Studies. Currently, LeBlanc is writing a book manuscript based on work in Bologna titled "Opposing the Desert: Reconstructing Democratic Space in the Postgrowth Era." Her most recent publication is "Designing a Beautifully Poor Public: Architectural Discourses of Postgrowth Community in Italy and Japan," Journal of Political Ecology, 2017. 

Schedule of Events

Participants stay in local inns, with the program, receptions, dinner and lunch on campus. Programs begin on Friday afternoon and conclude after lunch on Saturday.

Friday, March 1

3:00-3:50 pm Program Registration Early-Fielding Lobby
4:00 pm Program Welcome and Introductions
Brant J. Hellwig, Dean of the School of Law
Sam Calhoun, Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics and Law
University Chapel
4:15 pm Keynote Address: “Lowering the Temperature, and the Stakes, of Politics”
George F. Will, author and nationally syndicated columnist
University Chapel
5:00-5:30 pm Book Signing by George F. Will Washington Hall Lobby
5:30 pm Lee House Reception
Hosted by W&L President Will Dudley
Lee House
6:30 pm Institute Dinner Evans Dining Hall

Saturday, March 2

8:30-9:00 am Continental Breakfast Elrod Commons Living Room
9:00-9:45 am “Resurrecting Nuance: The Benefit of the Doubt”
Professor Michael Hill, Africana Studies, W&L
Stackhouse Theater
9:45-10:00 am Discussion
10:00-10:30 am Break
10:30-11:15 am “Civility Is Politics”
Professor Robin LeBlanc, Politics, W&L
Stackhouse Theater
11:30-11:40 am Break
11:40-12:30 pm Panel Discussion
George Will, Robin LeBlanc, Michael Hill
Stackhouse Theater
12:30-1:30 pm Luncheon Evans Dining Hall