July 14, 2009
They call it Speakers' Circle, a First Amendment gathering spot at the University of Missouri where just about anything goes.
Confrontational evangelists condemn abortion and gay marriage. Conservative students bash President Obama's bailout plan. The rhetoric is heated, and the discussions not always polite.
College campuses have long been hotbeds of activism, from Vietnam War protests a generation ago to more recent efforts to roll back affirmative action in admissions.
But a rash of confrontations in recent years has led to a nationwide effort to promote civil debate on campus. A $4 million Ford Foundation initiative that began in 2006 and was expanded this year aims to promote dialogue on college campuses after a series of clashes between liberals and conservatives.
Missouri recently hosted a Ford Foundation "difficult dialogues" workshop for campus leaders from nine schools: Alaska-Anchorage, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Missouri-St. Louis, Oklahoma State, Texas-Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.