President Bruce Benson's newsletter
Dear Alumni and Friends,
While our university has many things in common with the top institutions in the country, there are also things that set CU apart. Headlining that list is the venerable Conference on World Affairs (CWA) at CU Boulder, which film critic and frequent participant Roger Ebert once called “one of the most remarkable events in America.” It celebrates its 70th anniversary with this year’s conference, April 9-13.
I invite you to join us for the event. Biographies of the 110 invited speakers will be available on the CWA website, with the 2018 schedule of more than 200 sessions to be posted in March.
The conference was the brainchild of highly regarded CU sociology professor Howard Higman, who set out to put on a one-time conference to address topics related to the nascent United Nations. But it was such a success that it returned and became a long-running, unique showcase for thought, culture, technology and contemporary issues. It’s not a conference in the traditional sense, but more of a festival of ideas. Over the years it has featured luminaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Joe Biden, Henry Kissinger, Ted Turner, Arthur Miller, Molly Ivins, Steve Wozniak and a host of others.
In 2016, before his keynote address, I asked Apple co-founder Wozniak why he attended. He said he liked the diversity of ideas there and hearing people who think outside the box, which he certainly does.
One of the hallmarks of the conference is spirited discussion and debate not only on the issues of the day, but also on the human experience in all its complexity. The CWA imposes no topical boundaries. The approach complements who we are as a university – a place where ideas rise or fall in the crucible of civilized discourse and informed argument. John Griffin, a political science professor who became CWA director after longtime director Jim Palmer’s retirement, is intentionally building on the conference’s reputation as a platform for robust discussion.
It’s critical that we foster conversations that engage people across the intellectual spectrum. The conference program committee is actively seeking those diverse voices, which make for a much more interesting and engaging event. We welcome your ideas for speakers and/or topics, which you can share here.
Griffin is also working to expand the role of students in the conference and considering how it can enhance the student experience and prepare tomorrow’s leaders. The CWA is contributing to a broader campuswide effort to challenge students to engage. The conference is a great way to connect things students are learning in classrooms with events and issues beyond the borders of campus.
Having students interact with conference participants also inspires and motivates them. Many of the speakers are national or world leaders in their fields, and they often have the dream jobs our students aspire to.
Likewise, the conference is great for our alumni, as well as the families of our students. It’s a source of pride that our university has hosted such a unique and high-profile event for 70 years, but it’s also a great reason for alumni to return to campus and connect with their alma mater, and for the parents and grandparents of our students to visit Boulder in springtime. For who can’t attend, many CWA events will be live streamed this year and archived on the CWA website.
One of the great things about the conference is that is remains open to the public free of charge. The CWA is an efficient use of resources since speakers do not earn speaking fees and are not reimbursed travel expenses. It also connects the community with our campus – many speakers are hosted by local families. Still, putting on such a wide-ranging event is a considerable expense, and while the university supports more than half the CWA’s budget annually, we also welcome your contributions. You can help to support CWA’s 70th year here.
As the Conference on World Affairs celebrates a milestone anniversary this year, I’m optimistic it will remain as vibrant as ever, thrive in the future and become even more relevant for students and the community. It has been a wonderful forum for big ideas, creative expression, informed debate and engagement. The CWA is one of those things that sets CU apart.
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