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Generous Gift Established the Etz Family Institute for Civic Leadership & Dialogue

Institute to prepare students to work across differences in service of the public good

Knox College recently announced the new Etz Family Institute for Civic Leadership and Dialogue, which will launch in fall 2024. Established through the vision and generosity of Chair of the Board of Trustees Tony Etz ’83 and Nancy Etz, the institute will prepare students to work across differences and have the difficult dialogues necessary to create lasting and positive change in the world.

Through fellowships and immersive experiences for students, collaborative faculty research, and an annual lecture series, this partnership-rich model will enable students and faculty to question their own views and beliefs, collaborate with political adversaries, and develop—and debate—solutions for daunting local, national, and global issues. The concept of a center that would provide members of the Knox community the skills and knowledge necessary to engage with people of differing viewpoints in service of the public good was developed through discussions with hundreds of members of the community over the last three years.  

“With our nation facing extreme polarization and our world grappling with wars and struggles on multiple fronts, I can think of no better time for Knox to introduce such an important educational resource for our students,” said President C. Andrew McGadney.

The Etzs, both talent agents with Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, were inspired to make this need a reality by their personal and professional experiences. “As two people who’ve spent our lives as professional negotiators, I think the more fraught a conversation is, the more you have to listen with radical compassion and to understand where people are coming from even if you don’t agree with them,” said Nancy.

As a fourth-generation Knox alumnus, Tony was also inspired by his deep connections to the College, including his time serving on the Board of Trustees with Laurence Msall ’84. Msall passed away in 2023 after serving more than two decades as president of The Civic Federation, a nonpartisan public policy research organization. “When Laurence Msall died, it crystallized what we could do that I felt might make a difference,” he shared.


Two faculty members have been appointed as the inaugural co-directors of the Etz Family Institute for Civic Leadership & Dialogue: Konrad Hamilton, Burkhardt Distinguished Associate Professor of History, and Thomas Bell, assistant professor of political science. Professors Hamilton and Bell are already hard at work making plans to introduce programming this fall that will build a foundation for the institute’s ongoing work on campus. 

“We are grateful to Tony and Nancy Etz for their generous and timely gift. We look forward to partnering with faculty, students, and Knox leadership in creating new opportunities to promote the core Knox values of critical thinking and the respectful exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives,” said co-directors Hamilton and Bell. “We envision the Etz Family Institute as a foundation for fostering the civic spirit and productive deliberation on campus necessary for mutual understanding among citizens of a democratic society. The work of the Institute will thus enhance the College's stated mission to foster 'a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds challenging each other to explore, understand and improve ourselves, our society, and our world.’”

In February, President of the Illinois State Senate and Trustee Don Harmon ’88 led a panel discussion about the importance of difficult dialogues at the winter meeting of the Board of Trustees and is encouraged by Knox’s commitment to this issue. “The creation of the Etz Family Institute reveals the widespread optimism for something better, the desire to be part of a solution,” Harmon said. “I’m proud of Knox College’s initiative to steer us back toward civility and grateful for Tony and Nancy’s leadership in this work .”

President McGadney is also optimistic about the work our students and faculty will engage in through the Etz Family Institute for Civic Leadership & Dialogue and proud of its connections to the College’s history. “I am inspired by the passion I’ve seen our students, alumni, faculty, and staff express regarding issues that impact our local and global communities, and I know that we as a community will continue to model this commitment to civic engagement and civil discourse that has been part of the Knox experience since 1837,” he said. “For Tony and Nancy Etz to make this generous gift to ensure that we do the hard work to prepare our students to be engaged citizens is a true inspiration for me and, I hope, all members of the Knox community.“

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Printed on Friday, July 19, 2024