Against the backdrop of  pro-Palestinian and antisemitic protests on university campuses, one western Pennsylvania college is pressing a new focus on civility and the common good.

Grove City College recently announced that it is launching a new Center for Faith & Public Life, with former Vice President Mike Pence as the first distinguished fellow.

College President Paul J. McNulty visited the studios of Erie News Now to share more about the mission of the center. "We're seeing just more hostility and antagonism toward people of faith in the public square and in public life and we want to make a case for the historic relationship and the importance of having people of faith bringing their convictions and demonstrating what a winsome witness looks like," President McNulty said.  

Protests of the Israel - Hamas war have exploded on university campuses across the country -- some crossing the line into hate speech, and many forcing administrations to make tough decisions, from canceling commencement to calling in police to break up the demonstrations and encampments.


President McNulty believes the seeds of trouble were sewn on campuses long before the war. "You know ideas have consequences and for years faculty and administrators have condoned these harsh critiques of western civilization, these sort of efforts to...exclude voices from the educational environment that were contrary to their ideas," McNulty said adding, "these ideas have come back to bite these institutions."

The Grove City College president recognizes the challenge of the moment for fellow higher education administrators, but said that this moment in American life is the reason for launching the center. "There are hard issues involved in what's happening now, but that's what we want to teach young people to do, is think through these issues well and to not simply join a cause that's perhaps been stoked or encouraged by outside agitators as well," McNulty said.

In forming the Center for Faith and Public Life, Grove City College wants to remind students of the historic relationship between religious belief and public life, and explore ways to integrate faith in public policy and service.

President McNulty cited Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of that history. "Go back to Martin Luther King, where would we be in the civil rights movement without a man of faith bringing those convictions into public life and saying this must change because of the dignity of all people."

As distinguished fellow, former Vice President Mike Pence, who served as Keynote speaker at a recent Grove City College Institute for Faith and Freedom conference on antisemitism, will play a key role, teaching classes on campus along with McNulty, and sharing how faith has guided him as a public servant. 

The goal is to guide students and those discussing issues in the public square to think through complex issues and respect not hate those who differ. "To be able to sort of corral your emotions and to manage your thoughts in such a way that you can engage constructively, respectfully listen to others, and then make a good case for why you believe a policy should be one way or another," McNulty said.

President McNulty himself had a 23-year-career in state and federal public service.   During his time in Washington, the 1980 Grove City College graduate served as Deputy U.S. Attorney General, Chief Counsel and Director of Legislative Operations for the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Chief Counsel to the House Subcommittee on Crime.