An alumna and her spouse have funded a public discourse speaker series at the University with an $8 million gift.
The Abbey Speaker Series, established by Nancy ’74 and Doug Abbey of San Francisco, will bring noteworthy scholars to campus four times each year — as individuals, in pairs or on panels — to share their perspectives about timely issues while fostering dialogue with others who think differently about the topic.
“We embrace the notion that one comes to a more sophisticated, thoughtful, reasoned and successful resolution to a complex issue if there is more diversity of thought brought to bear on the issue,” Nancy Abbey said. “Imagine if every student experienced a welcoming atmosphere in which to express their educated opinion on a subject, where dialogue, debate and listening are valued.”
The inaugural event is a virtual panel discussion on Feb. 23, “Defining Racial Justice in the 21st Century: Competing Perspectives and Shared Goals.” Anyone can register to attend the free events offered through the series.
“This gift from the Abbeys recognizes a deep commitment to supporting a healthy culture of discourse and reasoning inside and outside the classroom,” said Terry Rhodes ’78, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who called it a “resounding vote of confidence in the Program for Public Discourse and its commitment to establishing the speaker series as a permanent fixture on campus.”
The program, launched in 2019, has mounted six speaker series events — the most popular featuring a virtual discussion about fostering dialogue and friendships across the political aisle, featuring legal scholar and political philosopher Robert P. George and philosopher, political activist, social critic and author Cornel West.
In addition to the speaker series, the Program for Public Discourse offers curricular and other extracurricular opportunities for students to practice and investigate public discourse in a cooperative, experiential learning environment. The program also offers faculty consultations and classroom workshops to instruct faculty on how to teach these deliberative skills, encourage civic engagement and use structured advocacy, rhetoric and dialogue in the classroom.
Nancy Abbey is a member of the Chancellor’s Philanthropic Council and the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council. She and her husband are former Parents Advisory Board members. Prior to their most recent gift, they have provided support for faculty, unrestricted and emergency support for students, innovative teaching and student support services.
Nancy Abbey serves on the board of the Nantucket Historic Association and on the advisory board of Nest, a nonprofit organization building a new handworker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s well-being and preserve important cultural traditions around the world. She has been a board member at the Grabhorn Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and perpetuating the use of the last integrated type foundry, bookbinding and letterpress printing facility in the U.S. as a living museum and education center.
Doug Abbey is chair of Swift Real Estate Partners, which he joined in 2012. He co-founded two investment management organizations, AMB Property Corp., a leading global industrial real estate investment trust; and IHP Capital Partners, a provider of equity to the single-family home building industry. He is a leader in a number of nonprofit organizations related to affordable housing and land use issues.