Inaugural Building Bridges Event Showcases Civil Discourse


On Tuesday, April 25, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law held its inaugural Building Bridges discussion. The event, part of a new series, featured a fireside chat with former United States Senators Kelly Ayotte ’93 (R-NH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, ’75 CLAS opened the program by welcoming guests. Mark C. Alexander, the Arthur J. Kania Dean and Professor of Law, moderated the discussion.

Highly regarded for their bipartisan efforts while serving in office, Ayotte and Feingold offered insights on promoting respectful conversations across party lines. Together, they have a combined 24 years in the United States Senate between 1993 and 2011.

Throughout the discussion, they shared stories and details from their career-spanning political journeys, including how collaboration and respect guided their efforts to build bridges, whether working with members of their own parties or across party lines.  

“Bipartisanship is a very important topic to me,” said Ayotte. “I believe that solving problems, which is why I believe people run for office, cannot be done through working with just one party alone. When both sides are brought together on an issue, you realize that there are many opportunities to work on both sides of the aisle.”

The discussion also touched on advocating for more bipartisanship in the face of ever-evolving political challenges.

“When I first joined the Senate, people respected you more if they saw you working with those from the opposing party,” explained Feingold. “Being bipartisan is now the right thing to do, it used to be a good thing to do – somehow that push has to happen again; people have to let politicians know that they’ll be rewarded with their vote if they are doing work with their opposition.”

Ayotte also discussed how her time at Villanova Law helped build a foundation for building bridges throughout her career.

“I found that law school is the best opportunity to have debates and learn to work through disagreements – you learn a way of thinking, a way to persuade people – those experiences are beneficial to understand that you can argue with each other, disagree without being disagreeable, but then shake hands when it’s over and move on,” said Ayotte. “Even if we have a vigorous debate where we disagree entirely on the philosophical idea of an issue, there’s no reason we should not be able to walk out that door and still hold respect for each other.”

The Building Bridges series, developed by Dean Alexander, is supported by the generosity of Charles Widger, Esq., '73 and Barbara Widger and Joseph V. Topper Jr. '77 VSB and Maureen Topper.

“Building Bridges demonstrates the crucial idea that we can engage respectfully with those who share differing opinions from our own,” said Dean Alexander. “This first event is a great example of what I hope the discussion series continues to be in the future – informative, engaging and thought-inspiring. It’s integral that we continue educational pursuits like this, especially ones that model our core values as Villanovans.”