UO Degree in Mediation Rooted in Middle Ground

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

Michael Moffitt knows a fight when he sees one.

He can name it, categorize it, discuss it and diagnose ways to end it.

As a mediator, Moffitt has resolved conflicts ranging from international aid for African nations to a lawsuit over a house cat left ill by a carpet cleaning chemical.

This fall, he and other University of Oregon professors will launch a new interdisciplinary master's degree in conflict and dispute resolution at the University of Oregon School of Law to teach others to tackle the problems of the world.

Moffitt - who at age 36 is considered an old-timer with his 15 years of experience in the field - believes that people with conflict resolution skills truly can change the world in ways big and small.

"Absolutely. No question about it," he says. "I really do firmly believe doing this well can change the way people think about how they interact with each other."

Conflicts fall into categories and mixes of categories. Different types of fights require different approaches to break the stalemate and resolve the problems.

"What this field can do is provide context. Every person in a dispute conceives of that fight as utterly unique from every other fight," Moffitt says. "What this field can do is provide context for what to do. I can go in and say you are in a fight of this kind. Once you've diagnosed why the fight isn't settling, you've just made it remarkably easier to under- stand."

Moffitt discovered his interest in dispute resolution while working for the WK Kellogg Foundation when the group was granting money for inner city developments. The grants generated complex conflicts over land use and other issues. The foundation took it seriously and paid people to solve those problems.

"It fascinated me," Moffitt says. "It is intellectually challenging. It's socially important. It seemed cool."

But it's such a new field, few colleges offer undergraduate programs. When he returned to Marietta College in his native Ohio, Moffitt began piecing together classes to help him understand conflict resolution.

"My big `Ah ha!' moment in all of this was realizing almost everything I studied seemed to me related to conflict resolution," he says. …