Newsweek editor and author Jon Meacham will discuss “Conflict and Civility in the Age of Obama” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the auditorium of O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the University of St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus.

Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham

The lecture is sponsored by the St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences and is free and open to the public. Moderator for the evening will be Tom Crann, host of “All Things Considered” for Minnesota Public Radio News.

Meacham’s talk will inaugurate St. Thomas’ annual Public Discourse Lecture Series, one of several initiatives announced by the university to address the widespread and growing lack of civility in discourse in U.S. society.

Named by the New York Times as “one of the most influential editors in the news magazine business,” Meacham was named national affairs editor at Newsweek shortly after arriving there in 1995. Three years later he was named managing editor, and in 2006 was named editor.  In addition to overseeing day-to-day editorial operations, Meacham also writes cover stories for the magazine.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for his latest book, the 2008 American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He also wrote two other New York Times bestsellers: American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation and Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. Meacham edited the 2001 Voices in Our Blood: America’s Best on the Civil Rights Movement.

He has served as a judge for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, received the Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Medal from the Anti-Defamation League, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and last year was elected to the Society of American Historians.

Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1969, Meacham graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English literature from the University of the South. He has received four honorary doctorates, including one from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University.

The lecture series and other initiatives, explained Dr. Marisa Kelly, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will strive to promote discussion of important ideas without the aggression, anger and obstinacy that often cloud such matters in today’s world.

“In recent years our society has witnessed a breakdown of civility surrounding contentious moral and political issues,” Kelly said. “Both locally and nationally, there is an urgent need to promote the concept of civil discourse. We are responding to a cultural problem that unfortunately has become commonplace.”

The idea for the lecture series, Kelly said, was developed by the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Advisers and, in part, grew out of St. Thomas’ experiences in recent years with controversies that have involved speakers, films, books and policies.

In addition to the lecture series, St. Thomas is raising funds to establish an Endowed Chair in Civil Discourse, has started a pilot civil-discourse-related program for first-year students, and is considering a civil-discourse requirement for graduation.

“Many of our efforts to promote civility will build on what is already in place at St. Thomas,” Kelly said. “It is critical that we connect these efforts directly to our mission. You cannot educate students to be morally responsible leaders if they are not committed to civil discourse.

“Our goal is to graduate students who not only have an awareness and understanding of this growing problem, but the skills to engage in civil discourse in their communities after they leave campus,” Kelly said.