In a talk Thursday morning in Gaston Hall, Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili spoke about his nation’s recent and radical successes in its battle against corruption.
Opting to speak without notes rather than to deliver the speech he had prepared, Saakashvili fondly recalled the time he spent at Columbia University, lauding the United States for what he saw as the “sense that everything is possible” for immigrants. “Ultimately for us,” he continued, “America is…an inspiration to the people.”
However, Saakashvili painted a grim picture of his own country under and immediately following Soviet rule: afflicted with poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and widespread corruption, he declared that Georgia was at that time “the classical definition of a failed state.”
In 2003, Saakashvili led a protest movement against fraudulent parliamentary elections, eventually culminating in the Rose Revolution. Overwhelmingly elected to the presidency a few months later, Saakashvili and a team of fresh, idealistic Georgian politicians set out on a quest to eradicate corruption in their country, in his telling.
Their bold reforms saw dramatic results. Saakashvili boasted that Georgia, once the nation with the highest crime rate in its area, now vies with Iceland for the title of the safest country in Europe. Georgia’s reliance on Russia for energy has declined, and according to Saakashvili, Georgia’s bureaucracy is the second-most efficient in the world.
Just in time for a month of heated GUSA campaigning and the sometimes subjective media coverage that accompanies it, TIME Magazine Managing Editor Rick Stengel spoke to Georgetown’s chief political organizations on Thursday night. Brought by the Georgetown Lecture Fund, and co-hosted by College Democrats and College Republicans, Stengel dealt with the heated topics of bias and subjectivity in the media, freedom of information, the concepts of “right” and “wrong,” the need for transparency, and how all of this relates to the world’s major news outlets.
Stengel initiated in the part-lecture, part-discussion with the decree that he should not be quoted, that “all of the following is to go off the record,” and that those hoping to relay the words to subsequently come out of his mouth should definitely check with him first. This dictatorial opening with a partially humorous motif was met with the nervous giggle of some of the audience. To a filled auditorium in Reiss, Stengel began to riff about his often unexpected beliefs on the absence of objectivity, the importance of the tablet age to news sources, and the lack of funds to political campaigns.
“Newspapers and magazines can try to be be objective, but they’ll only end up pretending to do so,” he proclaimed. “The best path a journalist can take is getting all of his or her information straight, and to leave that unbiased. To tie it all together, he or she should give their opinion on the matter. Transparency is the best option.”
Stengel spoke on his work throughout the years with political campaigns, how the news-to-tablet phenomena spawned a rather close relationship with the recently deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs, his work with The New Yorker, which he described as a magazine that “appeals to a certain set of people,” and deals with issues “that are not necessarily current, but definitely important, and highly conceptual.” Perhaps most shockingly in the lecture, Stengel confessed that political campaigns do not get enough funding, at least relatively.
Speaking to roughly one hundred Georgetown staff, students and guests yesterday in Copley Formal Lounge, Turkey’s Ambassador to the United States Namik Tan proudly defended his country’s commitment to Western values of democracy, transparency, the rule of law, respect for human rights and free markets. Hosted by the Institute of Turkish Studies, he also reminded his audience of Turkey’s unique position at the intersection of Europe and Asia.
“The global agenda is currently witnessing important trends,” Tan declared, “The historic transition in the Middle East and North Africa comes to the fore with global ramifications.”
Tan, who has served in Moscow, Abu Dhabi, Jerusalem and Washington in addition to holding senior positions in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spent most of his time addressing Turkey’s relationship with the United States and with the European Union. When he did discuss the Middle East, it was often in relation to Western countries.
Describing the US-Turkey relationship, which has become one of the most important bilateral axes in the world in recent years, Tan used three words: “Robust, relevant and resilient.” While acknowledging that the two countries have not and will not agree on every issue, the ambassador emphasized shared values and interests.
Tan also called for a “new regional order” based on democracy, peaceful coexistence, equality and dignity. Referencing Syria, Tan said, “We stand by the legitimate demands of the Syrian people and our goal is to protect the people of Syria.” He expressed Turkey’s desire to see increased stability in Iraq, and emphasized that his government wishes to work with “all the components of the Iraqi people” to ensure shared prosperity and security. He said Turkey would be “an inspiring role model” for other Muslim-majority countries in the region.
Hans Rosling, an international health scholar and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation, spoke to a crowd of more than 200 on Monday night in Copley Formal Lounge.
Provost James O’Donnell invited Rosling to speak on campus seeing the Karolinska Institute professor speak in Sweden this summer. O’Donnell was not surprised to see the size of the audience, which spilled into the corridor outside of the lounge.
“We got the largest room available tonight,” O’Donnell said during his introduction. “You’ll be glad you came.”
Rosling, who founded Gapminder in 2005 with his son and daughter-in-law, used his hour-long speech to dispel the assumption that today’s world should be divided between “the West and the rest.”
“There is no dichotomy anymore,” he said. “It’s all a mindset.”
On Monday night in Gaston Hall, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu discussed Turkey’s diplomatic objectives and their relevance for the United States.
Sponsored by the Lecture Fund, the International Relations Club, the McDonough School of Business, the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and Eastern European Studies, and the Institute for Turkish Studies, Davutoğlu’s address focused on the restoration he believes is necessary in the region surrounding Turkey and in the mentality of Turks themselves.
Davutoğlu praised President Barack Obama’s multilateralism and strategy of international engagement, and presented Turkey’s foreign policy of “zero problems” with its neighbors.
“I know very well it is impossible to have zero problems,” he admitted, but his plan of “proactive peace diplomacy” would nevertheless “try to prevent crisis before it emerges.”
Former CEO of IMG Sports and Entertainment Peter Johnson spoke to 150 people in Copley Formal Lounge on Monday about his experiences working in the sports industry.
Johnson, who was invited to campus by Georgetown’s Sports Industry Management program, was named the “Most Influential Agent” in 2004 by Sports Business Journal. He attributed his success to his strong work ethic and his ability to present himself well.
“It’s not what you know, it’s what they think you know,” Johnson said.
Yesterday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick spoke in Gaston Hall about how development economics must adapt to meet the challenges of the modern world.
Citing a desire to democratize the field, Zoellick, who has run the Bank since 2007, advocated a policy he calls “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions,” which encourages transparency, receptivity, and, honesty between economists and the outside world.
In the wake of the global economic crisis, Zoellick said the Bank needs to be more humble; in his opinion, economists need to recognize that they simply don’t have all the answers.
On Monday morning, Georgetown welcomed another member of Barack Obama’s cabinet to Gaston Hall—Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan’s visit, sponsored by the School of Continuing Studies and Parenting Magazine, focused on engaging parents in their children’s education.
After opening with a pithy compliment directed toward the University (“I feel smarter every time I come to Georgetown,”) Duncan dove into a keynote address and town hall discussion that focused on the parents’ roles in education.
For a political figure, Secretary Duncan was surprisingly candid. He claimed to be envious of some other countries’ educational problems, for example. Compared to a country such as South Korea, which considers its most difficult educational problem to be parents who are too demanding, the United States simply lags behind. Stateside, Duncan noted, complacency runs rampant among many American parents.
Duncan often referenced the idea that parents too often “[look] out the window rather than in the mirror.”
Instead, he encouraged parents to see the flaws within both other schools and their childrens’ schools.
Duncan then told the audience that we can no longer “[create] schools that are good enough for someone else’s children, but not good enough for our own.”
While wrapping up his address, Duncan also took a few swipes at the prevalence of technology in our society. He cited studies that have found that children spend six hours a day watching television, while spending a mere 25 minutes reading per day.
Citing a predecessor in the Department of Education, Duncan offered eight magical words to education reform: “Please shut off the TV, I’m trying to read.” (Editor’s note: That’s right, the Secretary of Education counted incorrectly.)
Duncan concluded with a short question-and-answer period consisting of parent activists asking questions ranging from accountability issues to the healthiness of school food.
The recorded webcast of the town hall can be found here.
They were reading textbooks intently in the stairwell of Gaston Hall before the event, and proofreading their essays as they waited to be let out of the Hall afterwards, but despite being in the heat of finals season, Georgetown students had packed Gaston Hall by 11:15 a.m. to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak about the Obama Administration’s Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century at noon.
“[It's] one of those quasi-legitimate reasons for taking a break,” Clinton told the audience of students, faculty, administrators, and press.
Before she began her remarks, Clinton praised Georgetown for the thought and research its members contribute to the subjects of human rights, interreligious dialogue, and international relations.
“Thank you for training the next generation of civil rights advocates,” she said, adding that she was grateful that all students, even those who were not focused on these issues, “leave this university with [an appreciation for them] imbued in their hearts and minds.”
Clinton was introduced by the International Relations Club’s Jasdeep Singh (SFS ’10) (or “Jas,” if you’re the Secretary) and University President John DeGioia, who called Clinton “a champion of human dignity and human worth both here and abroad … especially of women and children.”
On Wednesday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared in Gaston Hall as part of the Common Word Between US and You: A Global Agenda for Change Conference. The gathering at Georgetown, intended to encourage dialogue and promote peace between Muslims and Christians, comes after similar events at Yale Theological Seminary and Cambridge University in 2008.
Blair appeared as part of the World Leaders Forum alongside former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia (and former Georgetown Professor) Anwar Ibrahim, former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik, and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina Mustafa Cedric. Riz Khan, host of the Al-Jazzera program that bears his name, moderated the discussion.
Each of the panelists gave a short speech, punctuated by good-humored jokes from the moderator Khan.
“I want to say how humble I feel in the presence of so many holy people. I think I’ve been brought along to balance it out a little,” Blair said.
Gaston Hall was filled to capacity at the start of the event, with mostly conference participants on the floor and students in the balcony seating.
All of the participants emphasized that peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims would be critical to achieving harmony in the twenty-first century.
“The way forward involves the pursuit of working together—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—in a universal community of the human race, a harmonious and enriching experience of living together among people of diverse religions and cultures,” Anwar Ibrahim said.