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Release: April 27, 2000

UI civility symposium includes discussion on Clinton-Lewinsky scandal

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Through the ages, societies have defined what is proper and acceptable in public discourse and behavior. In the beginning of the 21st century in America, there are some who decry the demise of such standards, saying that in an age of school shootings, sexual harassment lawsuits, and exposes of politicians' personal lives, Americans are losing a once-important sense of civility.

A group of scholars will gather at the University of Iowa May 4-6 to discuss the changing notion of civility and its impact on society, as reflected in a variety of academic disciplines.

During the symposium, there will be a free public lecture and discussion about how the two-year Clinton-Lewinsky scandal stretched the definition of civility in politics and public discourse. The presentation will be held from 3-5 p.m. in the Senate Chambers of the Old Capitol, with a reception immediately following. The reception is also free and open to the public.

At the public presentation, Laura Kipnis, an associate professor of radio, TV, and film at Northwestern University, will speak on "Kissing and Telling," and Toby Miller, a professor of cinema studies at New York University, will discuss "The First Penis Impeached." These papers will examine the need for a constant discussion of civility as decisions are made as to what is appropriate for public discourse.

"The public presentation during the symposium will look at civility through a media spectacle," said Melissa Deem, a UI assistant professor of rhetoric and the primary organizer of the symposium. "The two papers will use a well-known series of events in recent history as a springboard into a discussion of the changing norms of acceptable speech within U.S. public life."

In addition to Deem, Kipnis and Miller, conference participants include: Michael Leff, professor of communication at Northwestern University; Robert Hariman, professor of rhetoric and communication studies at Drake University; Kirt Wilson, assistant professor of speech at University of Minnesota; Fred Antczak, UI professor of rhetoric and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts; and Ken Cmiel, UI professor of history.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the National Communication Association, the UI Office of the Vice President for Research, the UI's A. Craig Baird Debate Forum, the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiry, the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the UI Departments of Communication Studies, History, Political Science, and Rhetoric.

More information on the symposium and the public presentation is available on the Web at