Centre College students who conceived of a civility pledge when they wanted a more genial campus, will ask some high-powered leaders to follow their example during the vice presidential debate.
“It was a student initiative that came out of conversations among student government and with members of the administration about what values we have in common as Centre students, what are our responsibilities and what are the principles we want to promote," said senior Patrick Cho, current president of Centre’s Student Government Association, who was a member of SGA when the idea for the pledge was formalized two years ago.
The exhortation to be your best self and treat one another humanely is one Cho and others now want to share with the vice presidential candidates. Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will be asked to sign it before the debate next Thursday.
Unlike many schools, with honor codes handed down by college officials, the pledge was developed by the students themselves. Because of its simplicity, it also stands apart from more voluminous codes with detailed academic and social requirements.
The pledge consists of a single sentence promising to “do my best, be my best and respect the members and property of our Centre community.” It is constructed around words that have become a campus rallying cry of sorts because they are spoken by President John Roush at the beginning and end of each student's career at Centre — and often many times in between:
“Do your best, be your best, no regrets.”
The last two first-year classes have all signed the pledge, and banners emblazoned with Roush's words will be displayed during those students' time on campus. Recently, the rest of the student body was asked to sign, and Cho said almost everyone has.
“In signing this pledge, students are reaffirming their commitment to those values of integrity, honor and personal responsibility and to promoting a positive campus culture,” Cho said. “It’s their opportunity to do something proactive to make Centre better. Civility is part of the campus conversation now, and I don't know if it was that prominent five years ago.”
Roush is one of many in the administration quick to minimize the role anyone but the students played.
“This is a completely student-led initiative, and I think a shining example of the fact that at Centre College, student government still works,” Roush said. “At some schools, student government has become passe, but that isn’t so here.”
Roush and wife Susie are among the administrators who also have signed the document.
Cho said there had been some acts of vandalism around campus when student government first got serious about drafting a document. However, Randy Hays, dean of student life, said there have not been many discipline problems on the campus where students typically manage their own behavior well.
Hays said there have been discussions among the school’s administration about an honor code for years, but none of those led to what the students ultimately came up with. He pointed to the Student Judiciary, which was also involved in talks about the pledge.
“We’ve had a student judiciary that has served us well for many years,” Hays said. “They decided the honor culture serves us well here at Centre. We do have a lot of these principles in place already because of the students, but to their credit, they decided to make sure it continues, and all we did was encourage them.”
Michael Strysick, Centre’s director of communications, has worked at other schools with honor codes, including Davidson College in North Carolina. He said the key to making it meaningful is having students involved in establishing the code from the ground up.
Strysick, one of the primary points of contact with the campaigns during the lead up to the debate, has offered to try to get the pledge to the candidates.
Following the 2000 debate, commentators remarked about the respectful tone maintained between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney. Cho said he didn't expect anything less from the current aspirants to the second highest office, but believes it is a perfect opportunity for the men involved in a national discourse that often becomes less than civil to endorse the school's efforts.
Most said they couldn’t see any reason why the candidates wouldn’t jump at the chance.
“It wouldn’t be a bad lesson for America’s political operatives to take some of these ideals more seriously,” Roush said. “I’m confident they will sign it if given the opportunity.”
Strysick and campus leaders would like to memorialize Biden and Ryan agreeing to the simple tenets expressed in the document by having them sign it and also one of the “Thrill in the ’Ville II” posters.
“It would be wonderful if they both signed the pledge and perhaps the poster,” Strysick said. “Those could become a part of Centre history.”