By George Mauzy
Twenty-five years after its creation, Ohio University's Baker Peace Conference has remained true to its original mission to serve as an academic discussion on issues related to world peace.
The annual conference, which kicks off Thursday, was created after former university president John Baker and his wife, Elizabeth, discussed the idea of starting a peace studies program at Ohio University with then-president Charles Ping.
According to John Baker's comments in the 1995 book, "John C. Baker, An Oral History," he and his wife presented the idea to Ping because of their growing concerns about the Cold War and the threat of a nuclear war. He also said that while working at Harvard University, he and his wife discovered that peace courses were not taught at universities as a liberal arts subject and decided at that time to support peace programs upon retirement.
Ping suggested the couple start an endowment for a peace program, which eventually became the John and Elizabeth Baker Peace Studies Endowment and led to the hosting of the first Baker Peace Conference in 1984. The Contemporary History Institute sponsors the event.
Ohio University Trustee Professor of English Literature Samuel Crowl, who chairs the Baker Peace Studies committee and helped plan the first conference with Contemporary History Institute founder John Gaddis, said the Bakers were passionately committed to peace.
"The Bakers made a wonderful combination, because Mr. Baker looked at peace from the academic side, while his wife was more of a peace advocate," he said. "Visiting them was always a treat because he would pull me aside to talk about the political issues surrounding peace; while she would want to talk about the Peace Pilgrim -- the woman who walked across the nation for many years to promote peace."
Although the peace conference has continued to serve its original purpose, Crowl said it underwent some necessary changes in the 1990s.
"After the Soviet Union collapsed, the world changed," Crowl said. "The focus of the conference was shifted away from solely discussing the Cold War and more toward environmental issues related to world peace. Since that time, topics have expanded to include peace-related issues like oil and coal and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Crowl said this year's topic about the impact that China and India are having on the security, stability and economies of the rest of the world was first discussed about 18 months ago.
"China holds most of the United States' debt and India is at the forefront of taking advantage of new technologies," he said.
Crowl said that although the Baker Peace Conference has been successful, he would like to see more students attend.
"Mr. Baker always hoped the conference would raise the social consciousness of Ohio University students. That was always his wish and I hope this year many students come out to engage in the discussion."
This year's Baker Peace Conference kicks off on Thursday when former U.S. diplomat James R. Lilley delivers his keynote address at 7:30 p.m. in the Baker University Center Theatre. He will discuss the U.S.-China relationship and share some of his war experiences.
On Friday, the conference concludes with two panel discussions in Baker University Center Ballroom A. The panel on international security will take place from 9:30 a.m. to noon and the panel on social and economic stability will take place from 1:30 to 4 p.m.