When:             Friday, October 11, 2019

                         8:30 AM to 4:30 PM 

Where:            William F. Starr Hall (45 Elizabeth Street Hartford, CT 06105)

Description:   In  the  current  global  conjuncture  of  populism  and  polarization,  political leaders  increasingly  disregard  substantive  dialogue  and  evidence, instead  turning  to  divisive  methods  to  mobilize  their  base.  This  symposium will  examine  how  these  broader  political  manifestations  arise  from  the mechanisms  of  moral  decision-making  and  the  powerful  role  of  the  emotions and  unconscious  biases  in  moral  and  political  judgments.  We  will  also  explore proven  ways  to  mediate  political  discord,  inculcate  a  sense  of  humility  and civility  in  public  discourse,  and  foster  a  generation  of  law  students,  lawyers, and political leaders equipped to resolve disputes effectively.

Registration:  Attendees  will  receive  a  continental  breakfast,  lunch  and  end-of-day networking  reception.  The  event  is  free  for        students  and  the  general  public. The admission fee for attorneys seeking CLE credit is $50. RSVP by October 4th here!





Panel 1: Political Polarization and Fact-Free Arguments

9:00 A.M. - 10:30 A.M.

What are the contours and consequences of political polarization and tribalism in the United States? Are historical parallels, for example to the Vietnam War era or the Weimar Republic, warranted? How can we understand the rise of populism and its relationship to economic hardship, increasing economic inequality, and the modern enfranchisement of historically excluded minorities (especially African Americans and Latinxs) in the political process? Why has xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment taken hold at the same time in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere?


Moderator: Richard A. Wilson, Professor of Law and Anthropology (University of Connecticut)

  • David Gergen: Professor of Public Service and Leadership (Harvard University)

  • Carol Anderson: Professor of African American Studies (Emory University)

  • Leah Rigueur: Professor of Public Policy (Harvard University)

  • Daniel Shapiro: Professor of Negotiation (Harvard University)


Panel 2: Moral Decision-Making: Cognition and Emotions

10:45 A.M. - 12:15 A.M.

To what degree are the current political circumstances embedded in more intractable mechanisms for making moral decisions? For example, recent studies in social science demonstrate that our reasoning and decision-making are shaped by, among other variables, cognition, the influences of authority and group identity, and unconscious moral intuitions that influence our reception of evidence. We all fall prey to confirmation bias and logical fallacies. Furthermore, we inhabit a world of values pluralism, where the basic intuitions guiding moral reasoning vary widely between social and political groups. For example, studies show that liberals and conservatives prioritize different moral values, and are puzzled by the decisions of members of the opposing party. How does an awareness of the mechanisms of moral reasoning help us understand political polarization, the widespread resistance to scientific information, and the degree to which individuals act against their interests?


Moderator: Anne C. Dailey, Professor of Law (University of Connecticut)

  • Lasana Harris: Professor of Experimental Psychology (University College London)

  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: Professor of Practical Ethics (Duke University)

  • Jonathan Weiler: Professor of Global Studies (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

  • Heather Battaly: Professor of Philosophy (University of Connecticut)


Lunch & Keynote Lecture: 12:15 P.M. - 1:30 P.M.

  • Keynote Speaker: Danielle Allen, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University.

Panel 3: Restoring Civil Discourse, Cultivating Humility

1:30 P.M. - 3:00 P.M.

The recognition that humans are vulnerable to cognitive fallacies should not lead us to abandon all hope. Recall that several twentieth century political leaders across the political spectrum, including John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, all campaigned on positive political messages. Instead this recognition may inculcate a greater humility in our political discourse. For example, researchers in mediation and negotiation have identified methods to bring together individuals with opposing interests and histories of hostile relations to forge lasting compromises. But how can we face the challenges that still remain, such as creating public trust in government institutions and basing policy decisions on verifiable facts?


Moderator: Kiel Brennan-Marquez, Professor of Law (University of Connecticut)

  • Steven Sloman: Professor of Cognitive Science & Psychology (Brown University)

  • Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz: Professor of Political Science (University of Rhode Island)

  • Robert Talisse: Professor of Philosophy (Vanderbilt University)

  • Lynn Itagaki: Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies (University of Missouri)

Panel 4: Law Schools and the Legal Profession

3:15 P.M. - 4:45 P.M.

Ideally, lawyers possess many of the skills required to achieve agreement between

opposing parties: they advise their clients to consider the interests of others to achieve

meaningful compromise; they weigh evidence carefully and use both rational arguments

and emotionally-intelligent narrative to foster common understanding; and they appeal to

universal values of fairness and honesty that bridges divides. But, of course, lawyers are

not immune from the cognitive vulnerabilities that have bred political polarization—lawyers can foment a partisan and adversarial perspective that exacerbates conflict and highlights only the facts that suit the argument. What can law schools do to sensitize students to the complexity of human decision-making, inculcate a sense of humility, and coach students to “de-bias” moral judgment and defuse conflicts? And how will law schools fulfill their missions to advance the rule of law and respect the neutrality of judges while some challenge the legitimacy of the judicial system and its responsibility to hold government itself accountable to the law?


Moderator: Leslie C. Levin, Professor of Law (University of Connecticut)

  • James Stark: Professor of Law (University of Connecticut)

  • Jennifer Robbennolt: Professor of Law and Psychology (University of Illinois)

  • Kellye Testy: President & CEO of the Law Schools Admission Council; Professor of Law and Former Dean (University of Washington College of Law)

  • Alina Ball: Professor of Law (University of California Hastings College of Law)

© 2018 by Connecticut Law Review. 

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