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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 1999

The UN's Culture of Peace

One of the thematic debates held at the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in Paris in October 1998, was 'Promoting a Culture of Peace.'

UNESCO was founded in the aftermath of the second World War, and the preamble to its constitution states that "peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind."

UNESCO's purpose is to promote peace and security in the world through education, science, culture and communication.

CAUT President Bill Graham, a delegate to the conference, took part in the debate and prepared a CAUT resolution for presentation.

The CAUT resolution is to be understood in the light of recent United Nations and UNESCO history. In 1995 the General Conference of UNESCO declared that "the major challenge at the close of the 20th century is to begin the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace: a culture of social interaction and sharing, based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, tolerance and solidarity, -- a culture that rejects violence, endeavors to prevent conflicts by tackling their roots and to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation, -- a culture which guarantees everyone the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the endogenous development of their society."

On November 20, 1997, the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed the year 2000 the International Year for the Culture of Peace. UNESCO then requested those members specially concerned with higher education to help formulate the International Year.

CAUT's resolution, Towards a Culture of Peace, was received enthusiastically by the Canadian delegation, by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, and by other delegates in Paris. The CAUT resolution states: "Whereas, in spite of progress in diverse scientific and technological areas, human society continues to be ravaged by constant warfare; and, the existence and continuing proliferation of atomic weapons and anti-personnel devices throughout the world pose a serious threat to human and animal kind; and, many of the world's nations profit from the sale of arms and weapons; and, the year 2000 has been designated as the International Year for the Culture of Peace; be it resolved that higher education and teaching personnel, together with their institutions, be called upon seriously to contribute their expertise in the various disciplines, scientific and humanistic, to transforming the present culture of war into a culture of peace."

Graham stated that: "the active participation of university faculty members from the various disciplines is an absolute prerequisite to creating a new paradigm of peace and to transforming a culture of war into a culture of peace. Universities have been involved in sustaining a culture of war and perpetuating their nation's rhetoric for war in many ways, through curricula, teaching, and research in the interests of the military. Peace studies at certain universities grew out of concern that the academic community invested enormous resources and some of its finest talent to the rationales and ways of war. But peace studies have been marginalized in many places and cut back or eliminated in others because of the general view in academe that it is not a mainstream curricular area. What is needed, if we are to transform a culture of war into a culture of peace is for scholars in the various disciplines to transform their own disciplines and their research and teaching agendas."

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO, at the urging of CAUT and others, has begun to look at implementing a plan for the International Year for the Culture of Peace. The tasks for higher education to accomplish are too numerous to catalogue and range from problems of energy production and consumption, renewable water resources, the environment, to the direction of an information society, ethical implications of the global economy and market capitalism, and what is happening to both higher education, health care and welfare.

The Commission's preliminary studies cite the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel which CAUT played the leading role in developing. The Commission notes: "at the very time higher education has become critical to the life chances of most people, governments are cutting back public support for it. Post-secondary institutions are adopting more entrepreneurial strategies in this new environment. Most now promote the 'brand recognition' of their names, develop programs with unique selling points for niche markets, enter strategic partnerships with corporations for training and research, and market themselves internationally. Inevitably, basic questions arise like 'What is the purpose of higher education in this new environment?'"

The International Year of the Culture of Peace is intimately linked in its thematic content and importance with CAUT's public awareness campaign, including its upcoming October conference Universities & Colleges in the Public Interest: Stopping the Commercial Takeover of Post-Secondary Education.