As students from the University for Peace (UPEACE) promenaded across the stage last week at their graduation, every one of them was on the cusp of change.
So was their university.
In August, UPEACE, whose campus is located outside Ciudad Colón, west of San José, will get its third rector in four years, John Maresca. A dual U.S.-Italian citizen, former soldier and career diplomat,Maresca also served as a consultant for the oil and gas company Unocal.
Maresca, 70, is the founder and director of the Business-Humanitarian Forum, an international nonprofit association registered in Geneva, Switzerland, dedicated to encouraging private organizations to engage in activity for the public good.
He comes to UPEACE at a delicate moment, as the university tries to continue with the momentum of its revitalization of the last seven years, while at the same time struggling with budget shortfalls and cost-cutting.
As UPEACE is an institution that has tended to criticize U.S. foreign policy,multinational corporations and globalization, the selection ofMaresca as the new rector has caused a bit of a stir,with at least one professor choosing to let his contract expire in protest.
The Tico Times recently sat down for a chat with the new UPEACE rector. Excerpts:
TT:Why the University for Peace?
JM: I’ve spent substantial time trying to work out peaceful solutions to conflicts, and I do think that the kinds of things I’ve been trying to do over my lifetime are very much in the scope of the curriculum of this university.
What kinds of things?
Well, avoiding conflict, resolving conflict, trying to pull things back together after conflict, trying to focus interest in areas where conflicts are either a possibility or where they’ve happened.
I actually spent some time trying to mediate conflicts. I was in the battlefield a lot and I concluded there that basically the governments of the world and anyone who could bring influence to bear should make sure conflicts don’t happen.
But you have a unique approach.
What I’m doing now (at the Business- Humanitarian Forum) is focused on bringing the private sector into the picture, because I think (it) has a lot of influence, a lot of resources.What it does uniquely in the way the world is organized is it creates jobs.
And I say it quite often: People need jobs. You can give people water, you can give people a house, you can give people education. But even after giving people all those things they will still need a job.
So the private sector, which is the creator of jobs, by and large in the world, has an important element to play. So I thought about what I could do in the area of involving the private sector in a positive way in dealing with some of these problems so that’s really where all of my previous experience has led me.
How did you end up so interested in the private sector?
Well, I went into the private sector for a period and I learned a lot and I saw what the private sector can do. Globalization is the dominant evolution, the dominant force in the world today, it’s fair to say, and it’s not something we’ve created by government policy. It was created simply by business doing its thing – finding products that were cheap, selling products where they can.We have to try to correct what’s bad and try to draw in what’s good.
It seems like that approach would create a significant change in focus for the university.
It is not the dominant element, obviously, at UPEACE. But it’s not necessarily the dominant element anywhere. Clearly, it is states that have the leading burden of responsibility in this area. It is the states that helped form and are members of the United Nations (that) have undertaken these international agreements. But states have problems too. They have their own limitations on what they can do.
In meeting some of the problems, you need all kinds of resources. That’s why you need nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector (as well).
The thing about UPEACE which is interesting is that it brings all these elements together and makes a coherent logical pattern and a basis for educating young people in his logical whole of how you deal with conflicts. There is a cohesive approach. I think that’s what’s attractive and unique about UPEACE.
There is a pretty strong contingent at the university that is very critical of neo-liberalism, globalization and private corporations.
Everybody has their own ideas. That’s one of the nice things about an intellectual community, is that you have a lot of ideas. I think that strengthens an intellectual group. Exchange of ideas is human nature and the nature of our societies, and it’s what makes those societies go on. So I think it’s great that there are different sets of ideas.
Where do you see UPEACE today, and where would you like to take it in the future?
I think the success of the revitalization program has been really phenomenal and striking. The university is not as well known as it should be, that’s for sure, but those who know it have a very good image of it, and I think that’s the accomplishment of the people who have been associated with it during the past five to seven years.
Building on that, I think the university still has a huge mission and challenge before it. The mandate clearly is a worldwide mandate.
How you achieve that is problematic. I think there are many things that could be done in addition to what’s being done here.
For example, I don’t think they’ve reached the peak of the numbers in the student body that they could have here. I think there should be a deliberate effort to offer doctoral degrees, which requires a lot of very specific structuring that would make it possible to offer serious doctoral degrees. And I think there has to be a very serious effort to bring down the cost of coming here.
In terms of fundraising for the university, do you have any particular plans?
I think it will be the biggest part of my job, because the university does not have a solid, ongoing financial basis. In the first instance, I think the countries that created it have a responsibility toward it – it’s up to the members of the United Nations who created the university to begin with to give us the means to carry out the mandate that was given to us.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be asking (wealthy states) to make a contribution.
The United States?
The United States is the first country.
The United States has not carried out its responsibility with respect to this institution, and I think I have to right away see what can be done there.
What about funding from the private sector?
The private sector has not been recruited enough here. Of course there are concerns, genuine concerns, about where private sector money comes from. In the organization of which I have been head of since 1999 we have our own rules. We would not accept funds from certain types of organizations and I think UPEACE even more so, because of the nature of its mandate and objectives.
But the private sector is huge and varied and within the private sector there will be considerable interest in helping this organization, and that I think we should welcome.
This means foundations, it might also mean companies or private individuals.
In terms of academics, do you have any particular plans for changes or additions to the curriculum?
I think the curriculum they have now is excellent. I said earlier that the mandate is to reach out to people around the world. These days, young people are often not in a position to go somewhere else for their studies. They can’t leave their jobs for economic reasons.
This university, to really carry out its mandate, has to reach out to them. I think distance learning – it’s a shorthand term for a lot of different kinds of tools, teaching tools and so forth – is rather true to that.
I gather you had a meeting with the faculty last week.How did that go?
I think it went pretty well. They asked me a lot of questions, and I answered. I have nothing to hide. I’m actually quite proud of my path, so I’m happy to answer questions about it. I’m in a phase where I want to learn more, so I’m really more interested in learning what they have on their minds than telling them anything. I’m not in a phase where I want to tell the university what to do.
Most of the things I’ve been telling you are already established as directions for the university, and I think all the things that have already been established are great.
How does your military service square with your position as the Rector of the University for Peace?
I don’t regard myself as (a military man), really. I did serve in the military, but it was at a time when everybody – at least men – had to face the draft. It was the middle of the Vietnam War.
Somebody told me (at the faculty meeting), “You look like an American patriot.” I actually don’t think it’s a bad thing to be a patriot. Gandhi, for example. Martin Luther King. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be a patriot. As far as military service is concerned, I don’t find that either irrelevant or a disqualifying factor.
UPEACE Rector Choice Criticized
Costa Ricans took a rare interest in the University for Peace (UPEACE) last month by loudly protesting, in the pages of the daily La Nación, the selection of John Maresca for rector over a Costa Rican candidate.
First, a column by Julio Rodríguez decried the selection of the U.S.-Italian citizen over that of former University of Costa Rica (UCR) Rector Fernando Durán, who was also a candidate (the full list of candidates is secret.)
Then, Costa Rican Security Minister Fernando Berrocal, a member of UPEACE’s Council, openly criticized the choice, first in an article in La Nación and a few days later in an open letter to the UPEACE Council in the newspaper’s opinion pages.
Nonetheless, Berrocal was in the platform party at the UPEACE graduation July 6. He said afterward that the Council meeting – which had taken place a few days before the graduation – was “excellent,” as the Council had decided to make the hiring process more transparent.
“There is no written procedure,” Berrocal said. The private, nonprofit University for Peace is located in Ciudad Colón, west of San José, on land donated by the Costa Rican government.