news releases

2005.12.12 > For Immediate Release
contact: Teresa Gleason - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.2762 - email: tmgleason@mail.unomaha.edu

UNO Receives Ford Foundation Grant for Difficult Dialogues Initiative

Omaha - The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is the recipient of a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to promote academic freedom and constructive dialogue on campus.

The grant program, which drew more than 675 proposals in a national competition, is part of Ford's Difficult Dialogues initiative created in response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities.  Its goal is to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship, and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.  UNO is one of 27 higher education institutions to receive funding.

"Because the University of Nebraska at Omaha is committed to fostering a campus climate in which minority students, faculty and staff can trust that their voices will be heard, the Difficult Dialogues initiative will serve as a powerful tool in our continuing efforts to achieve this goal," said Nancy Belck, its chancellor.  "The Ford Foundation is to be commended for its interest in combating bigotry in today's world."

The two-year project at UNO, titled "Breaking Silence: Difficult Dialogues at the University," aims to create opportunities for open, productive dialogues on issues of religion, sexuality and race.  The project's principal investigators are Hollis Glaser, associate professor in the UNO School of Communication; Shereen Bingham, professor in the UNO School of Communication; and Nora Bacon, associate professor in the UNO Department of English.

"Dr. Bacon, Dr. Bingham and I are gratified that the Ford Foundation is ready to help UNO and the entire metropolitan area talk about the difficult issues we face as a community," Glaser said.  "As we worked on the proposal, we talked to many members of the UNO faculty and staff.  It is clear that there is widespread interest in this project, reflecting our campus's commitment to real dialogue about race, religion and sexual orientation."

Glaser said the first year's activities will introduce the knowledge and skills needed for dialogue about sensitive and controversial issues to faculty and staff.  A dialogue workshop will be conducted with the guidance of the Public Dialogue Consortium.  In addition, specific plans for infusing dialogue into the curriculum and co-curriculum will be developed.

The second year's activities will provide continuing support to core faculty and staff, widen the circle to include student leaders, and extend the work into the community.  Community-wide dialogues on local issues of race, religion and sexual orientation will be organized in collaboration with community leaders, Glaser said.

Over the course of the two-year initiative, the Difficult Dialogues grantees will be invited to share their experiences and ideas at regional conferences coordinated by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in Charlottesville, Va.  The center also will host a Web-based forum for project directors to share ideas online.

"Colleges and universities are uniquely suited to expand knowledge, understanding and discussion of controversial issues that affect us all," said Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation.  "The selected projects illustrate the thoughtful and creative ways institutions are promoting intellectually rigorous scholarship and open debate that is essential to higher education."

Difficult Dialogues is part of a broader, $12 million effort by the Ford Foundation to understand and combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry in the United States and Europe.  For a complete list of Difficult Dialogues awardees, visit the Web at http://www.fordfound.org/news/more/dialogues/index.cfm.

For more information about the UNO project, contact Glaser at 402.554.4846 or hglaser@mail.unomaha.edu, Bingham at 402.554.4857 or sbingham@mail.unomaha.edu, or Bacon at 402.554.3318 or nbacon@mail.unomaha.edu.

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