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Peace, and University Opportunities

Peace, and University Opportunities

One of the striking things about the recent, unlamented presidential campaign was the absence of much reference to peace. At one of the debates, Romney used the term, which I found encouraging, but as far as I could tell Obama, the Nobel awardee, did not. At a point when we’ve ended one war and are about to end another, and at a point when a number of experts claim that the world is in fact suffering from fewer conflicts than usual, the subject might certainly have seemed relevant.

In the past, of course, Americans used to be too eager to talk about peace, without adequate substance behind the hope. Hence Woodrow Wilson, and then in the1920s our naive contribution to the Kellogg-Briand Pact. So I’m not urging that we return to an era in which unrealistic hopes for world peace become a propaganda staple.

We have become, arguably, a society a bit too firmly fixed on military approaches (which can of course contribute to peace; this is a legitimate part of a potential new conversation), more focused on real or imagined insecurities than on peace goals. So a university role in encouraging some more explicit conversations, and debates, about peace might be appropriate, and not too contentious or partisan.

George Mason is certainly equipped to contribute. We have a flourishing Peace Ops Masters program, in the School of Public Policy. We have a world leader in our School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, with degree programs at all levels and lots of actual, constructive activity in conflict situations—for example, in Africa. We’re including a segment on conflict analysis in our Global Problem Solving consortium, though I have to note it takes a back seat to the much greater interest in environmental issues. More generally, I think many in the University think that our various global collaborations, though bent on specific academic areas, contribute to greater understanding and harmony as well.

But I wonder if we could do a bit more to encourage wider discussion of peace goals and modalities at a time when, again, national policy seems to be changing a bit. One specific notion, which I grant could turn out to be a hollow gesture if not done well, would be a peace symposium annually as part of our successful International Week. I’d like to give that a try, but I’m open to other ideas as well.

We have, after all, a lot of interest in seeing the university make active contributions to various global problem areas. We see entrepreneurship as relevant here, as well as specific programs like our growing activity in public health. Can we—should we—also try to work peace goals more prominently into our self-conception? I welcome comments and suggestions.