On Feb. 6, at UMD, the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, directed by Shane Courtland, sponsored another in its series of events that bring the university and the community into dialogue about key issues of the day.
The panel was composed of four experts — one from the university (a teacher of Philosophy of Law at UMD), three from the community. More information about them can be found at the bottom of this post. But the real action, in many ways, had less to do with the panelists (the bulk of whom were civil or at least coldly polite to each other) than with the heat generated by the questions.
So, for example, as a student asked a panelist a question, the panelist interrupted the student, allegedly to correct her facts in the question. The student asked whether she could finish the question, and the panelist said “no.” There was a lot of short-circuiting in this debate — moments when a panelist might be asked a doozy of a question, one that I found provocative or interesting, at least, and the panelist would reply with “I don’t understand the question” or “I reject the premise of the question.” It’s hard to move forward from there.
I’m grateful, then, to be part of a university that sponsors these debates. Maybe more importantly, I’m grateful to be part of a university that typically models what these debates can look like when the struggle to understand each other is paramount. I don’t know that both sides will ever really understand each other in an issue like this, but I feel certain that we won’t if we stop trying. We need to model debate not as a struggle to win, but as a struggle to understand, first.
1. Senator D. Scott Dibble — MN DFL Senator from District 60. Dibble became involved in politics in the mid-1980’s working on issues concerning the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) communities. In 2000, Dibble ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, becoming the third openly gay legislator to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. After serving one term in the House, Dibble ran for State Senate in 2002 where he is now serving in his third term.
2. Jason Adkins — Vice Chairman of the Minnesota for Marriage campaign, the coalition of religious and secular organizations created to pass the marriage protection amendment. He is also executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. Prior to his advocacy work for the Church, Adkins was an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. He has clerked for both state and federal appellate judges, and received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, where he continues to serve as an adjunct professor.
3. Teresa Collett — Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas. Professor Collett is a nationally sought-after scholar and speaker on the topics of marriage, religion and bioethics. She has published numerous legal articles and is the co-author of a law casebook on professional responsibility and co-editor of a collection of essays exploring “Catholic” perspectives on American law. Professor Collett is an elected member of the American Law Institute, and has testified before committees of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, as well as before legislative committees in several states. She has served as special Attorney General for the States of Oklahoma and Kansas , as well as assisting other state Attorneys General in defending laws protecting human life and marriage. Prior to joining St. Thomas in 2003, Professor Collett taught at the South Texas College of Law where she established the nation’s first annual symposium on legal ethics.
4. Jason Ford — Associate Professor in the Philosophy department at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He received his Bachelors degree in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. He has an abiding interest in Constitutional law, and has taught Philosophy of Law at UMD for six years.
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