University Relations and Communications

Fractured society needs more civility, upcoming speaker asserts

August 25, 2010



Ken Egan, Humanities Montana, 243-6022 or
Dan Carter, MSUB University Relations, 657-2269 or


Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities to speak at MSU Billings on Sept. 17


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Spirited debate is a rich part of this country’s history, but uncivilized rancor is not the American way.


Jim Leach photoThat’s the cornerstone of an address to be given in Billings in September by Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Leach will give his address on “Civility in a Fractured Society” on Friday, Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. at Petro Theatre at Montana State University Billings. The event is free and open to the public.


In addition to his major address, Leach will participate in a “Bridging Cultures Forum” at the Western Heritage Center in Billings from 3-4:30 p.m. on Sept. 17.  This wide-ranging “world café” will provide local citizens a chance to reflect on how they can make Billings and Montana even better places to live. Once again, the event is free and open to the public; however, seating is limited, so please RSVP for the “Bridging Cultures Forum” to (406) 256-6809 ext.  134.


Leach maintains that civility in many American conversations — the willingness to consider other views in the context of history and philosophy — is endangered. To bring civil discourse back from the brink, he has embarked on a 50-state “American Civility Tour,” which will bring him to all 50 states within a two-year period. 


A former Republican Congressman from Iowa, Leach became Chairman of NEH in August, 2009.  He has made civility and cross-cultural understanding the centerpieces of his chairmanship.  During a recent stop in Denver, Leach asserted that new divisiveness is not an American virtue and encouraged people to work on new ways to understand each other.


“Citizenship is hard,” he said. “It takes a commitment to listen, watch, read and think in ways that allow citizens to understand that words reflect emotion as well as meaning. They clarify - or cloud - thought and energize action, sometimes bringing out the better angels of our nature and sometimes baser instincts.”


Leach’s visit is being hosted by Humanities Montana, Montana State University Billings, Leadership Montana, and the Western Heritage Center.  


Founded in 1972, Humanities Montana is an independent nonprofit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency that supports learning in history, philosophy, literature, and other humanities disciplines. Humanities Montana provides grants for public humanities programs, a statewide Speakers Bureau, reading and discussion programs, and the annual Montana Festival of the Book.


PHOTO ABOVE: Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities