Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse select new endowed professor


Courtesy / GVNext

Melia Williams, Staff Writer

At Grand Valley State University, students are introduced to diversity and inclusion through courses and class discussions. However, Professor Greg Warsen plans to take that further in the next school year after becoming the fifth professor to be named the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor for Civil Discourse. 

Every two years, a new recipient is chosen to teach a civil discourse class and lead the fall symposium. The symposium is an evening event lasting 90 minutes, with hors d’oeuvres provided in addition to a presentation and activities. The event’s planning will be in the hands of Professor Warsen. 

“The theme this year is political polarization, so it’ll focus primarily on what the politics look like in this country and how they are polarized or separated between the right and the left,” Warsen said. 

Warsen said this polarization has different impacts on different areas of society, especially in a traditional K-12 context. 

The IDS 350 Civil Discourse class will now be taught by Professor Warsen as part of the endowment.

“I think the course will give us a snapshot of what political division looks like in American society right now, and how that political division impacts different areas in American society,” Warsen said.

Once a public school superintendent, Warsen witnessed political polarization and its impact on the relationship between K-12 schools and communities firsthand. He now intends to narrow in on what happened to cause these shifts.

Although it tends to be a very competitive process, the Advisory Board for Civil Discourse unanimously agreed that Warsen was the one for the role.

“(His application) really stood out for being a timely and pressing issue,” said Director for the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse Lisa Perhamus.

Warsen said his application stood out because of its “practical nature.”

“I had a specific idea for groups that I wanted to work with, namely superintendents and boards of education, to give them concrete skills about how to achieve a better civil discourse,” Warsen said.

As the GVSU community becomes increasingly diverse each year, it’s important that students and faculty have the opportunity to talk to others with different ideas than them.

“Every year that students take the course, what I hear is that it’s transformative – that in some way, it touches their lives,” Perhamus said.

Perhamus said she has noticed school board meetings becoming especially contentious, with members shouting and sometimes leaving. She said that Warsen will represent the Civil Discourse Center well with whatever he has planned.

Warsen intends to teach the class in a discussion-based format on the many aspects of polarization, such as how we got here, who benefits and what we do moving forward. He explained how the learning should be reciprocal from professors to students.

“I am very much looking forward to getting insights from 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds, and what their take is on what they see going on at the political level right now,” Warsen said. 

The civil discourse class will be open to registration in the fall of 2023.

“I’m just really excited about the opportunity to work with undergrads,” Warsen said. “Whoever signs up for the course, just know that the professor coming in is very excited that you’re walking in the door.”