Sunday, November 22, 2009

Park University: International Heaven

From the Parkville Luminary, 11-20-09

Where can you taste Bulgarian and Uzbeki food, watch Spanish and Korean movies, and hear a presentation about understanding Islam? If you were at Park University last week, you know the answer.

All of the hubbub was in celebration of International Education Week (IEW), which is held annually to “celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide” and to recognize “programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.” IEW is a joint State Department-Education Department program.
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Among the many highlights last week was an art display featuring the work of soon to be world-renown Azerbaijani artist, and Park graduate student, Orkhan Miralayev. His pieces are unique and museum quality, and run the range from delicate still lifes to engaging miniatures. Of course, I’m probably a bit biased here, since one of Orkhan’s miniatures, a captivating ancient battle scene, hangs proudly in our living room. His work was proudly displayed beginning last Monday, and will be on display this coming week as well in the Millsap Foyer, the entrance to the underground.

International Education Week festivities continue this weekend at Park. Tonight is the spotlight event—a world festival, featuring displays, music, dancing, and best of all, food from around the globe. I’ve been to this captivating event many times, and it is literally one of my favorite meals of the year because the cooks use actual native recipes provided by Park’s international students. The after-dinner entertainment of music, dancing, and culture is also spectacular. The table displays and dinner are 4:30-7:00 in the Thompson CafĂ©. The cultural performance follows dinner, and is being held in the Chapel. Tomorrow’s IEW finale will be a blast—a soccer match featuring South African players competing against African players at 11:00 a.m. at Park University’s Hemingway Field.

Of course, if you know Park University, you know that every week is international education week, since international education may be what Park does best. We have students from over 100 countries, which gives our campus cosmopolitan feel that few other universities, big or small, possess. We have a number of great international programs, including wonderful study abroad opportunities (a group just got back from a great trip to Germany!), a world-class international music program, and an internationally-minded faculty that imbeds international elements into their coursework.

In fact, a great idea is being launched to further capitalize on Park’s international cache. Called the Global Museum: A Walking Experience of International Culture, the attraction will feature display cases of artifacts and artwork from various countries. The cases would be scattered about campus, and visitors will have a printed guide and be able to take a walking tour. Some of the cases have been purchased and some materials have been donated, but they’re looking for more donations. Contact me at the email address below if you’re interested in helping out.

One more thing I love about international education week is an opportunity to remind my students how lucky they are to attend Park, where they can experience the world without ever leaving Platte County. This last week, we had fun with the State Department’s International Education Week Global IQ quiz ( The 15 question cultural geography IQ quiz included the following questions:

Bengali is the official language of a densely populated Asian country in which over 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Name this country.
A. Bangladesh; B. India; C. Sri Lanka.

Monte Alban, once a center of Zapotec culture, is located in Oaxaca, one of the southernmost states in what country? A. Venezuela; B. Mexico; C. Peru.

These were among the easiest questions. I got 13 out of 15, and an electronic pat on the back indicating that “Secretary of State Clinton might have a job for you.”

While that’s nice of you, Secretary Clinton, I think I’ll stay put here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The UN: Not perfect, but effective

From the Parkville Luminary

Can you name the organization that keeps the peace in 35 countries, has aided more than 30 million refugees fleeing war or famine, and has made safe drinking water available to 1.3 billion people during the last decade, yet is considered a failure by some Americans?

If you guessed the United Nations, you correctly pinpointed that most maligned and misunderstood of institutions.

A ballroom full of Kansas Citians, including a contingent from Park University, gathered last week to honor UN Day, and to celebrate the often-ignored contributions of the United Nations.

A list of the UN’s accomplishments is a mile long, but includes negotiating 172 peaceful settlements that have ended regional conflicts; facilitating free and fair elections in 45 countries; spending $800 million a year through UNICEF, primarily on immunization, health care, nutrition and basic education in 138 countries; alleviating chronic hunger and rural poverty in developing countries, providing credit that has benefited over 230 million people in nearly 100 developing countries; helping entrepreneurs in 25 countries find financing for new enterprises; pressing for universal immunization for polio, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria and tuberculosis ­and achieving an 80% immunization rate, saving the lives of more than 3 million children each year; reducing child mortality rates (halved since 1960; promoting women's rights by supporting programs and projects to improve the quality of life for women in over 100 countries; and eradicating smallpox through vaccinations and monitoring. ( )

I have seen with my own eyes the tremendous contributions of the UN, and the brave sacrifices of its workers, in the Republic of Georgia, Moldova, and Uganda, among other places. In areas where there is hunger, like Uganda, the World Food Program is there to provide sustenance. In Moldova, I volunteered for UNICEF, which outfitted a youth media centre that gives kids a chance to hone their media skills while working for positive change in their society.

Of course, we seldom hear about these successes, but instead, only the UN’s failures. Yes, the UN has had its share of debacles, and they are often noteworthy, like inaction in the face of genocides in Rwanda and Sudan. The UN’s critics are quick to jump on these failures, or to highlight the corruption and inefficiency that undoubtedly exist within the organization’s ranks, and use them as a reason to marginalize the United Nations. Fix what’s wrong with the UN, certainly, but don’t undermine support for the million things the UN does well.

The UN’s American critics have been particularly vocal. Much of their criticism is founded on the spurious notion that the U.S. somehow loses sovereignty if it chooses to act as part of an international coalition, especially when those actions occur through the UN. This is nonsense, of course, and one need look no further than the Iraq debacle as evidence of the folly of unilateralism. Indeed, just the promise of an America that embraces multilateralism and respects international organizations like the UN was enough to fuel President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite the negative press, and the drumbeat of criticism directed at the UN from the right, “79% of Americans view strengthening the United Nations as a ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important foreign policy goal, according to a 2007 poll. Indeed, 72% support ‘having a standing U.N. peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the United Nations.’ There is currently no standing UN peacekeeping force, only ad hoc forces organized from scratch and donated by countries each time there is a need. (

If you agree that the United Nations is an asset that should be strengthened, there is a local organization, the United Nations Association of Kansas City, that is always looking for internationally-minded members. Go to for details. It’s time to spread the word about the good works, and unlimited peacemaking potential, of this most august of world bodies.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kudos to the Parkville Rotarians

Hats off to the Parkville Rotary Club, which just sent $1000 to an elementary school in Arua, Uganda to alleviate hunger. There is a famine in the area, and this money will be used to buy school lunches for the kids, many of whom are lucky to get one meal a day. Thank you!
Preaching Patience

From the Parkville Luminary 11-6-09

At our house, our favorite character in “Willa Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is Veruca Salt, the spoiled girl who constantly whines “I want it nooowww”. As you recall, this bad attitude leads to trouble, specifically, Veruca impudently snatching some experimental gum and turning into a giant, juicy blueberry.

My wife and I use Veruca’s story regularly on our impatient son, much to his chagrin.

Veruca’s story is equally applicable to groups attempting to sway public policy, like, for example, the gay and lesbian rights movement.

Gay rights activists: You would not look good in purple.

“I want it nooowww” sentiments seem to run rampant in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community. This disenchantment exists despite more progress in this area last few months than during eight years of the previous administration, including extending federal hate crime laws to cover homosexuals. Also, “Obama has expanded some federal benefits to same-sex partners, but not health benefits or pension guarantees. He has allowed State Department employees to include their same-sex partners in certain embassy programs available to opposite-sex spouses,” according to the Associated Press (10-29-09).
Still, a few weeks ago, negative sentiments were on display at an equal rights rally in Washington, D.C. attended by thousands. One newspaper account of the rally characterized the attendees as “impatient and discouraged” by the lack of progress on key issues like don’t-ask, don’t tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Washington Post reported, “Attendees expressed complicated feelings about Obama….Many people said they were disappointed by what they see as a lack of action on key gay-rights issues…”

Rather than emulate Veruca, the wisest policy for supporters of LGBT rights would be to exercise a little patience and understanding.

The president is swamped with health care reform and Afghanistan. Half of politics is 90% timing, as Yogi Berra might say, and the timing isn’t right yet to tackle the key LGBT issues. For a lesson on timing, examine the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark legislation, which outlawed public segregation, would not have been possible a year earlier, while JFK was alive, nor a year later, when the goodwill towards JFK’s agenda after his assassination had largely evaporated.

President Obama will be a more effective, empowered advocate for LGBT causes if he has a few months to pass health care and articulate a vision for Afghanistan. Once he does these things, Obama has pledged to tackle don’t-ask, don’t tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act.

These are vital issues not only for the LGBT community, but for all Americans who value freedom and equality. As long as any of us is subject to discrimination or bigotry, our society can never be considered free. Years from now, those who currently oppose gay rights will be scorned the same way, decades later, that we deride the bigots who opposed civil rights in the 50’s and 60’s.

However righteous the cause, political realities and expediencies can not be ignored. The supporters of LGBT rights must allow the president to get his feet underneath him, and allow him to get a few noteworthy successes under his belt, before he deals with these admittedly contentious issues.

Don’t forget, in “Willy Wonka”, the patient Charlie came out the winner, while Veruca was rolled off to oblivion.