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President John E. Jones III '77, P'11, Speaks About Public Discourse, Safety of Public Officials

John Jones

Photo by Dan Loh.

Keynote address highlights distinctive Dickinson program

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

A toxic public discourse has real—sometimes devastating—effects. On Nov. 16, President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11, weighed in on the issue during a public address highlighting the distinctive initiative under way at Dickinson to help work toward positive change.

Jones delivered his remarks as keynote speaker of the seventh-annual Judicial Independence Benefit. Held at the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, the event was a fundraiser for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts (PMC), which works toward a judicial system in which all are assured impartiality, fairness, accessibility and respect. The event also included the announcement of the Rendell Center for Civics and Engagement as the recipient of the PMC’s 2022 Judge Edmund B. Spaeth Jr. Award.

Jones shared that the increasing dangers of public life came into sharp relief for him in 2020, after a disturbed and disgruntled lawyer took the life of a former colleague’s son and seriously injured the colleague’s husband. Soon after that tragedy, Jones published an impassioned op-ed on the ways in which those working in the judicial system are particularly vulnerable in the current sociopolitical climate. This past August, he published a second piece in this vein.

As Jones emphasized in his keynote address, overblown and false statements made against public officials can, and have, inspired misled citizens to inflict existential and bodily harm to judges and others in the public sphere. Jones ended his speech on an optimistic note, relating that at Dickinson, work is under way to help foster a more enlightened dialogue. The Civil Dialogue Across the Curriculum, Campus & Community program, now in development, will roll out next fall.

“Students representing all areas of study will thus have an opportunity to learn how to engage with others, particularly those with whom they disagree, in constructive ways,” Jones said of the distinctively Dickinson program. “I know my students, and I can tell you they are looking for a way out of this mess we’ve created. This fact gives me great hope.”

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Published December 5, 2022