In the Study of Peace, American University is Lacking

Below is an open letter from the US Foreign Policy Activist Cooperative (USFPAC) to the Dean’s Office at the School of International Service at American University. The aim is to push the university to  adopt a more robust Peace Program at the undergrad level and to ask that the school hire actual peace study experts, rather than – as has been the trend – ex-military, DOD, and defense experts to teach peace from a security perspective. We are asking that students, faculty, staff, alumni, members of the community, non-profit organizations, parents of AU students, prospective students, and so on, sign on to the letter with comments, with the eventual aim of taking these comments and signatures to the SIS administration. Please sign on at our RootsAction petition here: http://diy.rootsaction.org/petitions/wage-peace, and sign and comment on our blog page here: https://usfpac.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/open-letter-to-sis-administration/.

To the Dean’s Office,

The School of International Service (SIS) at American University is a leader in the world of international relations. Year after year, its students are ranked among the most politically active in the country. SIS is routinely listed as one of the nation’s top ten institutions for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing International Relations degrees. Moreover, it gathers a multi-national student body rivaled by few other institutions in the United States. None of this is accidental—it is based on Presidential wisdom. SIS was founded on Eisenhower’s famous dictum to “wage peace.”

Yet, in the study of peace, American University is lacking. Eisenhower’s declaration rings hollow. Proof? SIS does not have an undergraduate Peace Studies program—it’s that simple. The school offers only a graduate-level program in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Within the “Thematic Areas” presented to undergraduates, only one expressly involves peace studies: Peace, Global Security, and Conflict Resolution (PGSCR). Furthermore, of the thirteen courses in this module, only one includes the word “peace” in the course title. By contrast, the terms “violence” and “security” appear in seven course titles. Thus, in ‘title terms’ alone, it would seem that SIS has forgotten its foundation. But what of the instructors?

Regrettably, even the casual observer may identify how poorly “peace” characterizes the academics administering an allegedly peace-conscious program. The faculty members assigned to teach PGSCR courses are comprised mostly of Defense specialists, ex-Military personnel, former State Department or NSA employees, former (or current) members of Washington Think Tanks like the Rand Corporation, militant Zionists, neoliberal corporate advocates, Public Diplomacy specialists, denizens of ruling-class policy groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, and other national security experts of all stripes and honors. While there are a few lonely exceptions – most notably USFPAC member and Peace Studies Professor Barbara Wien—the intellectual and professional demographics of the program are startlingly uniform. Recent SIS hiring has followed this trend. Last December, the university hired two new faculty members—both national-security experts, one of whom is a former General and participant in imperial excursions such as the invasions of Panama and Grenada.

Thus, for the thousands of undergraduate students entering American University each fall and spring, paying high tuition rates to attend the “Peace University,” the central question persists – how does one “Wage Peace” at AU? With only traces and hints of a “Peace Program,” this pursuit looks unpromising. Students interested in studying peace face the frustrating reality of being offered very few courses venturing outside defense and security frameworks. Moreover, undergraduate students are not afforded a faculty with members capable of substantive differentiation between a Peace perspective and the logic of National Security.

The US Foreign Policy Activist Cooperative (USFPAC), a consortium of concerned students, faculty, alumni, community members, and university staff, along with the undersigned, urge American University and SIS leadership to consider the following recommendations:

*Release a public statement either: justifying claims that SIS has a sufficient Peace program OR explaining why it does not.

*Sponsor a bi-semester student and faculty review board to suggest ways of implementing a substantive Peace program at AU.

*Separate Peace programming from Global Security, as these two perspectives are fundamentally at odds.

*Afford anti-war and anti-imperial student organizations the same support offered to National Security focused groups and events. A robust Peace program must be institutionalized both in the classroom and the extra-curricular environment.

*Investigate opportunities for cooperation with other departments at AU to begin building an interdisciplinary Peace program. An example of this is the graduate Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program in SIS.

*Create a ‘gateway’ course committed expressly to the study of Peace.

*Create a faculty committee to advise the Dean on hiring practices to attract Peace-focused academic experts.


The US Foreign Policy Activist Cooperative

April 02, 2020
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