Northwestern Kellogg Launches ‘Enlightened Disagreement’ Center

The new Center for Enlightened Disagreement at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management aims to bridge divides to serve students.
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Published on February 20, 2024
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  • The Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management launched its new Center for Enlightened Disagreement in February.
  • The center aims to bring together diverse perspectives and bridge divides through constructive dialogue.
  • The Center for Enlightened Disagreement will build on long-standing work at Kellogg, including at the school's Dispute Resolution Research Center.
  • This isn't the first innovative and unique effort at Kellogg. Last year, the school announced its new complexity science institute.

A new Center for Enlightened Disagreement is coming to Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management — a move officials hope will bridge divides and make the school a global destination for discourse.

The center aims to enhance the graduate business curriculum by teaching leaders how to navigate conflict in the workplace. Kellogg has a long history of conflict resolution instruction, including at its Dispute Resolution Research Center.

However, school officials said in a press release that the Center for Enlightened Disagreement aims to have an impact far beyond the realm of business.

The center will be run by a pair of conflict resolution experts: Eli Finkel, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg and of psychology at the Northwestern Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Nour Kteily, co-director of the school's Dispute Resolution Research Center and professor of management and organizations.

Finkel, author of the bestselling book "The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work," is also the director of Northwestern's Relationships and Motivation Lab. He's long studied politics, polarization, and romantic relationships — and is set to apply that work at the new center.

"Disagreement is the lifeblood of innovation, but it can run amok," Finkel said in the school's press release. "We founded the center to push people, organizations, and societies to harness the power of disagreement while minimizing its perils."

Kteily, a negotiation and conflict resolution expert who studies how social inequality and hierarchies can exacerbate conflict, underscored the importance of healthy disagreement.

"Any healthy group, organization, or society requires disagreement," Kteily said in the release.

"That's how we home in on the best and most rigorous ideas. Too often, though, we get lost in caricaturing and alienating those who disagree with us, spurning the opportunity to learn and benefit from our differences in perspectives. The Center for Enlightened Disagreement will serve as a hub for developing and disseminating cutting-edge research and evidence-backed practical tools to help us do better."

The new discourse center at Kellogg comes amid a nationwide conversation over campus free speech — an issue that is set to play an important role on college campuses in 2024. The issue of free speech has become a flashpoint on college campuses in recent years, particularly amid discourse over the Israel-Hamas war.

Campus free speech policies have remained in the spotlight this year. In February, the American Bar Association moved to require law schools to adopt, publish, and adhere to written policies that "encourage and support the free expression of ideas" for faculty and students.

The new Northwestern Center for Enlightened Disagreement aims to help undergraduate and graduate business students "integrate diverse opinions toward organizational progress and success" and bolster inclusivity in the workplace, according to the release.

"Kellogg and Northwestern are deeply committed to addressing the growing barriers to discourse that hinder our progress as a society, not by seeking to eliminate disagreement but by embracing it as a virtue," Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli said in the release.

"Kellogg faculty have for decades been driving advances in conflict resolution, negotiation, and how to bridge ideological divides. Now is the time to expand this work, which has never been more essential."

The Center for Enlightened Disagreement is only the latest effort by Kellogg to make an impact well beyond the world of business education.

The school is also bringing together physicists, economists, and sociologists as part of its Ryan Institute on Complexity, an effort launched in 2023 to use the growing field of complexity science to tackle a wide range of issues.

The field of complexity science studies complex systems and the way different components interact with each other as a whole. For the Kellogg Ryan Institute on Complexity, that will mean using data and artificial intelligence to understand "increasingly complex societal, business, and market challenges," school officials said in a Sept. 6 release.

"Our nation is threatened today by the politics of identity and persistent divisions based on region, class, religion, and educational attainment," Northwestern President Michael Schill said in the school's latest press release.

"We increasingly lack the capacity to understand each other and to empathize with people who seem not to be like us. Solving such problems is what higher education institutions should be about. Northwestern and Kellogg are well-equipped to create models for engagement across difference."