On November 18, 300 university presidents, faculty members and students met at the United Nations to launch a new initiative to create partnerships between the UN and academia. Among those attending was a delegation from the University of Bridgeport that included President Neil A. Salonen and Dean of the International College, Dr. Thomas Ward.
Academic Impact (UNAI) is an initiative of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). The United Nations was founded as an organization of states, and DPI was founded as a means to allow the News media to disseminate activities of the UN. However, religious groups, NGOS, and academics also have a interest and a stake in the work of the United Nations. NGOs have been able to achieve consultative status with ECOSOC, but academic institutions have not had a major vehicle through which they could consult or advise UN activities. UNAI is meant to be such a vehicle.
At the event Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put forth his vision for the new organization:
By sharing ideas, across borders and disciplines, we can find solutions to the interconnected problems that cause so much suffering…. We are not asking for your intellectual property. But we are demanding your dynamism, your energy and your commitment…. You get more than the immense personal satisfaction of teaching, learning and individual research. You get the even greater pride of seeing your scholarship help people cope with their day-to-day struggles…. By formalizing our relationship today, we can magnify the already great impact the academic community is having.
Ban noted that a significant history of ties have existed between the United Nations and the academic community. In participating in the opening session, President Salonen met UN Communication and Department of Public Information Undersecretary General Kiyotaka Akasaka and with J. Michael Adams, President of Fairleigh Dickinson University and incoming President of the International Association of University Presidents. In their exchange, President Hall noted the University of Bridgeport’s long history of ties with the United Nations.
In the second morning program, Dr. Ward had an opportunity to speak at the plenary and he suggested that, in the efforts of the UN to address the protection of human rights and women’s rights, universities, such as UB, which had students working in the field on such issues through its internships, might be able to provide an on-the-ground perspective on the effectiveness of INGOs and other agencies in addressing these matters.
The Secretary-General was very accessible to participants following the opening session of the program. Dr. Ward noted on how he, like many other participants, felt privileged that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon took the time to greet him personally. He sensed that this demonstrated the importance that the Secretary General gives to this project. President Salonen stated that he felt committed to doing his best so that UB could support the Secretary-General and President Hall in launching this important initiative. Past projects, such as the United Nations University and the University for Peace in Costa Rica, have shown the important role that academia should play in relation to United Nations initiatives; however, the UNAI broadens the outreach to all universities who hope to support the UN mission and the realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The first UNAI conference is set to be held at the Centro Niemeyer in Asturias, Spain, on 15 December. Named after Oscar Niemeyer, the only surviving member of the team of architects that designed the UN Headquarters complex 63 years ago, the centre opens its doors on the Brazilian architect’s 103rd birthday to host the UNAI conference.