James Leach spreads message of civility

James Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and former Iowa member of the U.S. House of Representatives, presented "Civility in 2012 and Beyond" as part of the University of Northern Iowa's Reaching for Higher Ground Series.

James Leach
Leach answers questions from the audience at the end of his "Civility in 2012 and Beyond" presentation.

Leach is the ninth chairman of the NEH. Prior to being nominated by President Obama for the post, he spent 30 years in Congress, representing Iowa and serving as chairman of the Banking and Financial Services Committee.

In 2010, Leach embarked on a Civility Tour, visiting every state in the nation to raise public awareness with the message that "polarizing attitudes can jeopardize social cohesion and even public safety." Now, he's bringing that message to UNI.

As a former member of Congress, Leach witnessed up close a decline in civility on Capitol Hill. Civility means respect for others, regardless of one's background, beliefs or religion, and in Leach's presentation, he mentions there is a great yearning in America for common ground and mutual respect, but knows these actions are missing across the partisan divide.

"An awful lot of citizens have lost their confidence in the institutions of our nation, particularly government," said Leach.

"Civility isn't just about manners, it's about recognizing that everybody is connected to everybody else. We're one big connected family and we rely upon each other," he said.

Leach's presentation relates directly to UNI's Reaching for Higher Ground project, which aims to build a stronger campus community, one more accepting of people of different viewpoints and backgrounds.

For more information about UNI's Reaching for Higher Ground series, visit http://www.uni.edu/higherground/.