New Boldt gift supports PACON, civil discourse
A $1.5 million gift from former St. Olaf College Regent Pat Boldt P’74, P’78 and her late husband, Oscar C. Boldt, will permanently support the instructional cost of the Public Affairs Conversation (PACON).
“PACON teaches students about the founding principles of our country while modeling respectful and informed dialogue about the contending ideals behind those principles,” says St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74. “This wonderful gift couldn’t come at a better time.”
PACON is a two-course interdisciplinary sequence that engages Oles in exploring and debating contested ideals that shape American discourse. The first course examines principles and tensions during the founding and history of the republic as well as normative perspectives at the foundation of contemporary debate. The second focuses on analysis of contemporary public policy. Through both, students look at what is at the heart of disagreement and what it takes to make civil discourse work.
It’s an exciting program to teach given everyone’s passion for politics and given the varied perspectives and experiences students bring and share. Their willingness to engage and respectfully debate is very noticeable because it doesn’t happen often enough as it should.Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Public Affairs Conversation Jason Marsh
“One issue we try to talk to students about is knowing why you disagree with somebody,” says Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Public Affairs Conversation Jason Marsh. “We do this, in part, by exploring diverse ideas about public policy from several intellectual traditions. We also create an intentional set of rules as a community for how to deliberate without alienating others.”
“It’s an exciting program to teach given everyone’s passion for politics and given the varied perspectives and experiences students bring and share,” says Marsh. “Their willingness to engage and respectfully debate is very noticeable because it doesn’t happen often enough as it should.”
Internships at governmental, nonprofit, and corporate agencies complement classroom learning, as do events sponsored by St. Olaf’s Institute for Freedom and Community. Applying the skills and engaging with the ideas encountered in class helps students discern the issues they care about and their vocation. Often PACON alumni go on to pursue professional and graduate degrees and careers that center in public service and affairs.
This commitment to civility and community drives participation in the program. Since its launch in 2015, enrollment and the number of sections in the conversation has doubled — 40 Oles can now engage in the Public Affairs Conversation each year.
Civil discourse has been an interest of ours. Broadly, politics seem to be moving away from people who think and care deeply about things. St. Olaf does a service to support and share thinkers who are interesting and challenging. If we focus our minds on the positive, good things will come.Former St. Olaf College Regent Pat Boldt P’74, ’78
For Pat Boldt, supporting a rational exchange of varied viewpoints is at the heart of what a liberal arts education is about. Boldt served as a St. Olaf Regent from 1974 to 1982. Two of her grandchildren were in the Great Conversation (now named Enduring Questions), the original Conversation Program at St. Olaf.
“Civil discourse has been an interest of ours,” says Boldt. “Broadly, politics seem to be moving away from people who think and care deeply about things. St. Olaf does a service to support and share thinkers who are interesting and challenging. If we focus our minds on the positive, good things will come. The Public Affairs Conversation is the kind of thing we should be doing more of.”
The Boldts’ gift builds on significant contributions their family has made over the years to the college. Among others, their gifts include the O. C. and Patricia Boldt Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, the Margaret Boldt Anderson ’78 Endowed Scholarship that helps Oles study off-campus, the Boldt Fund for Career Enhancement, and ongoing support through the St. Olaf Fund.
Boldt’s gift to the Public Affairs Conversation builds on the support Sally ’71 and Alexander Bracken have also made to advance the program’s development.
Nearly one-third of students participate in St. Olaf learning communities, including its Conversation Programs. The programs enable students to develop communication, team-based inquiry and collaboration, and critical thinking skills. Alumni report their participation in St. Olaf’s Conversation Programs also challenged them to think for themselves and respect and integrate the perspectives of their peers.
“We have met wonderful people and friends at St. Olaf,” says Boldt. “Giving has long been something we just do. We have been steeped in the liberal arts to our great pleasure.”