Over the past three decades, the Institute for Global Leadership’s interdisciplinary EPIIC program has explored foreign policy, global politics and security from a different angle each year. The 2013-14 and 2014-15 symposiums focused on the Middle East/North Africa and Russia, respectively; previous topics included oil and water, the politics of fear and the future of democracy.
Though the theme of next year’s conference is largely believed to be China and/or the Asia/Pacific region, Sherman Teichman, the IGL’s founding Executive Director, clarified that while China is an option, next year’s topic is still very much under discussion. The Daily spoke with Teichman about possible topics, as well as EPIIC’s history at Tufts.
The following is an abridged version of the interview.
Tufts Daily: So, what is the confusion about next year’s conference being about China?
Sherman Teichman: [There’s a rumor] that China is the theme that we chose for next year, or the Asia-Pacific region, and that is not so. It may very well be that that is ultimately what we will do, but at this point, we are facing the Institute [for Global Leadership]’s 30th anniversary.
So our Russia forum that was just included this past year was our 30th EPIIC, but our 30th anniversary for the institute itself, which now has many more programs other than EPIIC, is still under consideration. China was the theme that we were thinking of, in particular because we were also mindful that Obama had mentioned that they were now going to be doing a pivot to Asia, and for about 10 years, the institute had done a major symposium on China because we had a very distinctive program with BEIDA [University] … and several Hong Kong universities.
We also thought it was going to be China because we had an overture from the Pacific Command of the U.S. Navy that was interested in creating a special forum with us in Hawaii, with what they call AIRAS, the Asia Institute for Resilience and Sustainability. That’s still alive, but it’s been delayed, and as a consequence we have held off on going back to the China or Asia-Pacific theme.
Very importantly, a project that we began a number of years ago, I think eight years ago, to honor one of our alumni who sadly died after graduation … that program, which was an individual lectureship on China and U.S. relationships and security — because he was very interested in going into naval intelligence and spoke wonderful Mandarin — that program has evolved into what you might see very shortly, which is called the SURGE program, which is on China and the U.S., a very extensive symposium. It’s almost like bringing coals to Newcastle: we don’t like to encroach on other groups sovereignty, especially groups we helped to nurture.
So if EPIIC takes on the China theme, it might overlap with SURGE and other symposiums?
Not necessarily overlap, but detract from those efforts that students put a lot of time and effort into, so for that reason, for the moment at least, the Asia/Pacific forum is not the automatic default theme for next year.
What are some other themes that IGL is considering?
There are a number of themes under consideration: It might be interesting to go back and think about the very first year of EPIIC, which was on international terrorism, 30 years ago. And people wondered then why we were doing that theme, and now of course, there’s no wonder why. Now, of course, we might go back to something we did in 1988, which was the foreign policy of the next presidency, and bring back that theme as we prepare students for the 2016 elections, and what it is that the different camps are going to be thinking of, from the issue of China to the Middle East to climate change or what have you.
So those themes would resonate our history on [IGL’s] anniversary year, but we have many, many different ideas. One of the things our provost has asked us to consider is big data, and we’ve always looked at the complexity of science and public policy as well…
We’re also looking at politics, culture and society; a theme that might be cool that might be called “Memory: the Power of the Past,” which would look at history and truth and reconciliation commissions, shared narratives and all the differences and fractured conflicts where the past is called to justify the future, whether it’s uses and abuses of the Holocaust, or the way in which the legacies of the disappeared in South America — Argentina and Chile — could be understood. So we have a lot of disparate themes.
We’re looking at the concept of violence, which could be a whole range of different approaches, so there’s just a lot afoot right now. We might determine these themes about by the middle of May, and as a customary, we’ll send out a brochure in the middle of August to all the majors that might be interested. We will as well be holding orientation for the incoming freshmen, so they also have a way in which they can interact.
EPIIC’s previous two themes have been region-based. Are any other regions being considered for next year?
It’s a good question. Latin America’s out there, Africa’s out there, there’s perhaps a void in Latin American studies that might make us interested in that. There’s a great deal of interest in [Africa]; there’s a lot of academic coursework done in that. Last year there was virtually nothing happening on the campus [about Russia] beyond the Russian language program.
I think that I myself am more partial to a more theoretical [topic] which can relate to a whole range of areas or countries, and so the theme memory is particularly resonant with me.
EPIIC focuses on topics important to students of IR. What, in your opinion, is the most important field for IR majors to be focusing on today?
We’re part of the World Economic Forum through our Empower program … they’ve canvassed 800 global experts and they tried to take a look at the future challenges, and they range from interstate conflicts to what I think is something that we’ve dealt with in a very interesting way years ago: [in] 1992 we ran sort of a first curriculum of something called International Security: the Environmental Dimension.
So climate change, which is quite contested obviously, and is inherently part of what is a presidential campaign per usual, though in the last campaign Obama mentioned it not once, nor did anyone else. So now I don’t think we can escape this. Climate change is a particularly important security issue; it affects refugees, it affects development. One of my things that I’ve been thinking about is something that I would call C-4/2C-, which is Semtex, like the explosive, versus a two-degree rise in Celsius — what happens to the world’s oceans, what happens to agriculture, food security, and you know there’s a whole range of things that are perfectly reasonable.
It’s a wide open field for [IR majors]. We anticipated doing this in ’92, the environment, security, became a large issue. I think we tried to hit things that are salient.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Two years ago, we got a precedent-setting grant [from the Carnegie Corporation], the first time ever [that it was given] to an undergraduate entity filled with undergraduate students. And [Carnegie grants] are, to my mind, the gold standard for foundations who handle international security issues, essentially saying we’re a proven breeding ground for the education of the next generation of security experts, foreign policy experts.
In essence, we’re trying to fulfill that expectation, and we have decided to be much more deliberate about the way we choose themes.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the Daily incorrectly quoted Mr. Teichman’s description of the SURGE program as “expensive”; in fact, Mr. Teichman described the program as “extensive”.
The Daily also incorrectly named a university with which the Institute for Global Leadership had worked with as Zheda, instead using its correct name, Beida.
The Daily apologizes for these errors.