The university in the latter 20th century and early 21st century has been primarily a place where young people are trained to play managerial or professional roles in society. Too often these roles have been shaped by corporate rather than societal needs. Universities must have far higher aspirations than to train middle managers for the corporate world. We live in a time when there are serious dangers threatening humanity, often dangers of our own collective making and cleverness. We need new socially-concerned models of leadership, not based upon the corporate or military hierarchical models. The university has a great responsibility to generate such new models of leadership.
Humankind has lived uneasily with nuclear weapons for nearly 70 years. These weapons do not make us safer. In fact, they threaten the very survival of humanity, including even that of their possessors. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long been warning humanity that we must abolish these obscenely powerful weapons before they abolish us. Yet, despite promises and legal obligations of the nuclear weapons states to pursue negotiations in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, more than 16,000 of these weapons still exist on the planet and some 1,800 of these remain on high alert ready to be fired in moments. One nuclear weapon could destroy a city, a few nuclear weapons could destroy a country, a hundred nuclear weapons could bring on a nuclear famine, a few hundred nuclear weapons could end civilization, and a larger nuclear war could lead to the extinction of most or all complex life on the planet.
In the Nuclear Age, our technologies have become powerful enough to destroy humanity. This applies not only to nuclear technologies, but to other powerful technologies as well, such as the burning of fossil fuels for energy, which is impacting the Earth’s climate with predictably dangerous consequences for planetary life. Other great global issues, in addition to nuclear war and climate change, include population growth, pollution of the oceans and atmosphere, food and water shortages and mal-distribution, nuclear wastes, inequality of resources, poverty, terrorism and war as a means of resolving conflicts.
All great dangers in our time are global or potentially so, and consequently their solutions must also be global. No country, no matter how powerful, can solve global problems alone. We are all dependent upon one another for survival.
One critical missing element in the university curriculum is a focused awareness of the great global dangers of our time, dangers that threaten civilization and the future of the human species. To fill this vacuum, I have suggested a universally required course, “Global Survival 101.” Such a course would provide an introduction to the great issues of global survival in the 21st century. It would raise awareness of these dangers and educate students on key elements of world citizenship – including knowledge, responsibility, stewardship and participation – needed to safely navigate through and end these threats.
I would envision such a course to be solutions-oriented, and to provide hope that, with cooperative efforts, global solutions are possible. Present generations must be a voice for and must act for future generations that are not yet here to speak and act for themselves. Based upon such a curriculum element, the leaders of tomorrow must step up and become the leaders of today. The World University Consortium could pioneer in establishing such a course or a broader set of interrelated and interdisciplinary courses.