Teaching about the United Nations: Drawing on the Expertise of the UN Secretariat

Article excerpt

Many universities and colleges offer courses that deal one way or another with the United Nations--some focus exclusively on the Organization; others deal with it in the larger context of international organizations. In all of them, faculty members are concerned with teaching about the United Nations and aim to cover a broad range of topics, including the nature of the Organization and the functions of its major organs and bodies, its place in the larger realm of international relations and its major achievements and failings. Faculty and students involved in these courses can draw upon a very large and rich body of literature and documentation for teaching and research. It is much less common to find courses that draw on personnel directly involved in the work of the United Nations. Yet, this is one area where it has much to offer.

Indeed for almost thirty years, the Marquette University seminar at the United Nations has drawn upon the expertise of UN Secretariat staff, as well as diplomats, to learn about the world Organization. Hailed as a great success by participating students and dignitaries, it offers students an intensive two-week study programme at UN Headquarters in New York. During the first week, UN staff brief the group on their work in the various important areas the United Nations addresses, such as peacekeeping (and the more recent efforts at peacemaking and peace-building), disarmament and arms control, development, world health, food and population problems, human rights, refugees, international law and the environment. The financial situation and reform of the United Nations system, especially of the Security Council, are also addressed. These briefings have always provided ample opportunity for dialogue between students and Secretariat personnel. Rich in substance, they bring to life the materials that the students have already read and discussed as a group.

The briefings, readings and discussions during the first week of the programme provide the necessary background for a lively and intelligent dialogue with diplomats, which is the focus of the second week. The objective has always been to get briefings from a good cross-section of Member States, so that students hear different viewpoints on the many political, economic and social issues dealt with by the United Nations.

Larger UN missions sometimes host the briefing; many, in fact, are quite willing to do so, especially when the group consists of mature and serious students who have been well briefed beforehand. When specific important political issues or significant international disputes have occurred--e. …