Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics Theses

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Submitted to the Program of Organizational Dynamics, College of Liberal and Professional Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania

Advisor: Syd Havely


Discourse surrounding American politics has grown increasingly uncivil, a pattern and practice that in many ways is undermining the effectiveness of our governing principles that allow our laws to be enacted and our tripartite branches of government to function harmoniously in service to the body politic. Current research has focused principally on the incivility between political elites, neglecting in most cases an examination of the general public. This study aims to determine through surveys of mid-career university graduate students the presence or absence of uncivil discourse among a highly educated and informed segment of the electorate. Data was collected using a Qualtrics survey of twenty questions: nine binary (yes/no; agree/disagree), three seven-point scale, three short answer and one multiple choice, in addition to demographic questions. The survey was disseminated among both current and former students of the Organizational Dynamics program within the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies, and yielded a total of 150 responses over a two-week period. Additionally, an in-depth interview was conducted with a civic dialogue facilitator who founded and leads the well-known and respected organization, The Village Square, a non-partisan educational forum dedicated to maintaining factual accuracy in civic and political debate by practicing civil discourse on divisive issues, a return to one of the founding principles of our democracy. Survey results showed a significant change in the way we discuss politics, and a majority of respondents reported feeling unable to discuss their political opinions freely with others, for fear of being criticized. The survey found that most people will allow a person’s politics to dictate whether or not to engage in a conversation with them, even though the likelihood that they will agree is very high. According to civic connector Liz Joyner and other experts, scholars, and practitioners, polarizing news media and particularly social media, rank highest among the amplifiers of uncivil dialogue. This phenomenon, however, remains slippery and, depending on the issue, the audience, and the demographic make-up of citizens so engaged, uncivil dialogue continues. Discussing politics isn’t easy – it never has been. But something has happened in recent years to make it even harder.


American Politics, civil political discourse, civil discourse



Date Posted: 17 December 2019