A Bonding Experience

The strengthened ties between Emory and The Carter Center are helping turn theory and knowledge into action

By John D. Thomas

It's not every day that a former President of the United States lectures to an undergraduate political science class, so a buzz of excitement runs through the overflow crowd in White Hall as Jimmy Carter enters. The course is titled Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Public Policy, and President Carter is there to give an overview of The Carter Center (pictured below), the NGO he and his wife, Rosalynn, established fourteen years ago.

"When I left the White House in 1981 after my involuntary retirement, I was one of the youngest surviving presidents in this century," President Carter tells the rapt class. "I had been through the White House, and I didn't know what I was going to do. Rosalynn and I discussed it quite thoroughly. No president had formed anything other than just a library. But I wanted to carry out some of the programs I had begun as president but had not been able to fulfill."

Out of their discussions, the Carters founded The Carter Center in 1982 as "a place where people could come together to resolve their differences and solve problems." Located in a lush, thirty-five-acre park about three miles west of the University, the center is involved in about a dozen diverse programs in three major areas: international democratization and development, global health, and urban revitalization.

Over the years, The Carter Center has acted as the catalyst in a number of successful efforts, including the near eradication of Guinea worm disease, a debilitating illness that has caused incredible hardship in Africa and Asia; monitoring the fairness and accuracy of democratic elections in countries such as Panama, Nicaragua, Ghana, and Zambia; helping to avert a U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994 by negotiating the return to power of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the nation's first democratically elected president; and addressing myriad problems of urban life in Atlanta through The Atlanta Project.

Even though The Carter Center and Emory have collaborated and shared resources for many years, recent developments have brought the two much closer together. In the fall of 1994, after five years of discussions, The Carter Center became a separately chartered, independently governed member of the University community. One of the reasons behind this move was to assure the center's viability after President and Mrs. Carter are no longer involved in its operations. "How is The Carter Center going to survive without me to raise money or to use my name for mediation?" asks President Carter. "One answer is that we form a marriage with Emory, and it's worked out quite well. We did it in such a way that both of the organizations benefit. . . .

"We're very proud of the new relationship, which is in the youthful stage but is destined to grow as the years go by. We have increasing access to a tremendous academic institution, with research and a reservoir of knowledge and experience that's equal to any in the nation. On the other hand, Emory has access to an organization that is extremely active in dealing with the very subjects that are taught [there]. The legal, medical, social, and human kinds of problems that we face in The Carter Center's work every day are the same things Emory is addressing in a theoretical, academic fashion on campus."

According to Mrs. Carter, "Emory is a great university, and The Carter Center is a one-of-a-kind institution, and if you bring them together it's going to be a really special place, unlike any other."

One of The Carter Center's primary tenets is that the organization does not duplicate the work of others, and that concept is reflected in the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the center and Emory. "The benefits to the University of having a center that not only focuses on international issues but also provides a laboratory in the field to test theory and knowledge are unique," says Carter Center Executive Director John Hardman. "From the center's standpoint, having the academic link is vitally important because President Carter has made it clear that this is not a research institution. Therefore, being able to pull from a research base at the University really makes the combination stronger. There is a synergy there and an energy that doesn't exist anywhere else."

University President William M. Chace, who was a member of The Carter Center delegation that monitored the first-ever Palestinian general elections in January 1996, says he wants to continue strengthening the bonds between the center and Emory. "I see The Carter Center as a platform for many of the things we want to do internationally, either with visiting scholars or our faculty using The Carter Center as a platform for their study and work abroad," he says. "And I would want to see more of our students using The Carter Center in years to come. President Carter has certainly committed himself to a strong relationship with Emory. It's going to be stronger, it's going to be better, it's going to be deeper, and I think the more we are able to knit together the resources of the two institutions over time--and I know we will--the better both will be."

Even though plans are in the works to strengthen the bonds between the University and The Carter Center, a number of links are already well established, including the center's internship program. Initiated in 1986, it has been ranked among the nation's top one hundred internships for the past five years. Some one hundred and twenty undergraduate and graduate students intern at the center each year, and approximately half of them are enrolled at Emory.

According to Joyce Jones, education coordinator at The Carter Center, the internships give students a chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom. "It's an opportunity for them to have a real-life experience," she says. "While they are having the academic experience in class and talking about theories of conflict resolution, for example, to come here and observe and do research on, say, what's happening in Burundi and Rwanda, and to hear the ambassadors and the program directors talking about conflict resolution with real leaders is a unique opportunity."

Jones says writing and researching are two of the main responsibilities of Carter Center interns. For example, if a trip is being planned to monitor an election or mediate a conflict, interns might have the task of pulling together a briefing book. President Carter says such information is invaluable for the center's efforts. "Undergraduates and graduate students at Emory do much of the work in analyzing these conflicts," he says. "So in a couple of days I can have a briefing on a particular conflict that I would say would be equal in quality to what President Clinton can get. . . .

"We couldn't perform at The Carter Center at any of its current levels without the student interns. These are not young people who are assigned mundane tasks like filing papers. They are intimately involved on the cutting edge of mediation, health, conflict resolution, agriculture, human rights, and democratization of countries through the monitoring of elections. They participate in every aspect of The Carter Center's work, and we rely on them almost as members of our staff."

Ian Jefferson, a College senior majoring in political science and Russian who just completed a summer internship, helped research conflicts in the Baltic states. Last April, he traveled with a Carter Center delegation to Estonia to take part in a conflict-prevention workshop. "That was without a doubt the pinnacle of my [college] experience," he says.

The bond between The Carter Center and Emory is also being strengthened inside the classroom. The political science class Non-Governmental Organizations and Public Policy, which was offered for the first time last spring, was team taught by Emory professors and Carter Center fellows.

"The course introduced students to the relationship between theory and practice, between ideas and policies, and to the new and expanding role of non-governmental organizations and how they need to apply theory in order to improve the lives of people," explains Professor of Political Science Robert Pastor, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program at The Carter Center. He organized and led the class with Steven Hochman, associate director of programs at the center. "In order to succeed at integrating policy with theory, we deliberately tried to make sure that every lecture had a professor from the University and a representative from The Carter Center, one developing the theory and one developing the specifics in policy making. I always insist on translating theory into practical consequences right away. To me, theories are alive. When they are abstract and detached they die. They have to be continually rerooted to the real world."

Students aren't the only ones benefiting from Emory's stronger ties to The Carter Center. Starting this fall, Emory faculty will have an increased role in the center's activities through the new Faculty Liaison Program. "Several years ago, at one of President Carter's Town Hall meetings with faculty, concern was expressed that input was not being solicited from the Emory faculty," says former Faculty Council President Luther Smith, an associate professor in the Candler School of Theology. "A number of faculty felt the Emory faculty was not being included, consulted, or utilized in any significant way, and some of us on the Faculty Council felt it was important to see if we couldn't bridge this misunderstanding."

The program will pair faculty members with specific Carter Center programs on a one-year, rotating basis. According to Marion Creekmore, The Carter Center's former director of programs, one of the most important things the program will accomplish will be to raise awareness about The Carter Center's programs on the Emory campus. "By having one or two faculty members in each program for a year, very quickly, within two to three years, it will help a much larger number of faculty to know what The Carter Center is trying to do," he says. "It will also help The Carter Center identify people on the Emory campus who have both the interest and the expertise that can be quite beneficial to the programs. And once we get the people in both institutions educated about each other, both the programs of The Carter Center and scholarship at Emory will be enhanced."

One more recent development that is tying the University more closely to The Carter Center is President Carter's recent decision to resume teaching and lecturing at the University on a more regular basis. Appointed University Distinguished Professor at Emory in 1982, President Carter cut back his classroom time in 1991 to concentrate on the urban revitalization programs of the newly formed Atlanta Project. Now that the dynamic of The Atlanta Project is changing, President Carter has agreed to lead eight sessions with students and eight sessions with faculty and staff during each academic year. According to Steven Hochman, who also works as the faculty assistant to President Carter, "Our goal over a couple of years is to have President Carter [meet] with every division of the University."

President Carter says he is glad to be back teaching more regularly. "I've missed being in the classroom," he says. "I consult with the professors before I teach to get the latest developments in academia, and it keeps me on my toes. But also I learn at least as much, if not more, than I teach."

President Carter says Emory students are unafraid to question or challenge him about his actions in the White House or at The Carter Center. "It's a vivid demonstration of democracy," he says, smiling broadly. "I think that before I lecture in many of the classrooms, the professors and the students get together and say, `What are the most vivid questions that we have in a historical or political science sense concerning an issue or event?' Sometimes [it was an event that was] highly secret at the time. For the first time it can be revealed to the public, and I always let my hair down and tell it just the way it was, sometimes for the first time in history. In addition, the students' probing questions about The Carter Center's purpose and the work we do here open up a new avenue of understanding between the Emory campus and The Carter Center."

That rapport between the University and The Carter Center, says President Carter, is something he knows will grow in the years to come. "One of our biggest expectations--it's not just a dream--is to multiply greatly the number of students and professors on the Emory campus who are associated with The Carter Center's work."

Click here to return to Autumn 1996 contents page.

Click here to return to Emory University Home Page.