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Nobel Conference reinvents itself

Augsburg College looks forward to first year as regular host

The annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum has grown into a major event in Minnesota and Iowa during the past quarter-century. This year’s March 1-3 conference at Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota gives promise of becoming a mega-event.

There are a couple reasons for that, according to event coordinator Maureen Reed. “We listened to our focus group last year. They asked for more variety in the programming. So we’re offering tracks we haven’t had before — centered on education, music, and business, exploring their applications to peace. In addition, we’ve joined forces with the Hubert Humphrey Institute for Public Policy at the University of Minnesota. That’s going to draw a lot of U. of M. students and faculty this year.”

Like a good marriage, there is something old and something new in the reconfigured conference. What is old is that, since its inception, the annual conference has functioned as a partnership among the five ELCA colleges with Norwegian heritage in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa. That makes sense, since the Nobel Prize is offered by the Norwegian government.

Dr. Maureen Reed, Nobel Conference event coordinator; photo provided by Augsburg College

Augsburg College will now serve as the permanent host.

Although the event will no longer move between the five campuses of Concordia in Moorhead, Minnesota; Augustana in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Luther in Decorah, Iowa; St. Olaf in Northfield, Minnesota; and Augsburg in Minneapolis. All five schools will continue to co-sponsor the gatherings.

What is new is that Augsburg College will now serve as the permanent host. The “marriage” is with the Humphrey Institute, whose leadership seems genuinely flattered to have been invited into the mix.

That means, says Reed, that “the activity will extend to both sides of Riverside Avenue. We’ll have sessions on both campuses.”

A more permanent home

In recent years the Nobel Conference has drawn between 800-1,200 attendees. Reed thinks this year that number may double. Typically, 60 percent of the attendees are college students. The other 40 percent comes from the general public. College professors typically require attendance for students in their classes, which helps swell the numbers at the conferences. But few students who show up out of necessity leave with a blasé attitude.

Reed says the results of a survey taken after last year’s conference revealed that 46 percent of those who attended said, “This conference has changed my thinking significantly.”

While some on the other four Lutheran college campuses may feel they’ve lost something by giving up their turn at hosting, the presidents of all five schools agreed there will be obvious advantages to keeping the sessions at Augsburg.

For one thing, a local committee won’t have to reinvent the process every year. Now a coordinator at Augsburg — Reed — will provide continuity from year to year. In addition, bringing high-profile presenters to the conference will be easier, since all can fly in and out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and, essentially, be on site, without having to extend their travel to a campus outside the metro area.

Then there is the Humphrey Institute connection. That should bring a whole new dimension to the event.

A full schedule of honored speakers

This year’s program will feature keynoter F.W. de Klerk, the one-time apartheid champion in South Africa who changed direction and forged an unlikely alliance with Nelson Mandela. (These two men shared the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded by the Norwegian government, in 1993.)

Naomi TuTu

The three-day gathering will feature a galaxy of peace experts. Among others:

• Dr. Alf Bjorseth, an expert in sustainable energy technologies;

• Journalist Adam Hochschild, who will speak about the moral issues related to nations having entered World War I;

• Saki Macozoma, a former detainee, along with Mandela, in the infamous South African Robben Island prison;

• Nobel laureate Peter Agre, an Augsburg alumnus, who will discuss using science to advance humanitarianism;

• Geir Lundestad, the Norwegian Nobel Institute, describing “controversial peace prizes” awarded in the past.

In addition to the several plenary sessions, a wide spectrum of workshops will be available.

A closing “call to action” will be presented by Naomi TuTu, daughter of the noted South African Anglican archbishop.

Says Reed, “We benefit this year from a bit of serendipity. The University of Minnesota had already scheduled a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem on March 1. This is powerful music. It fits perfectly with what we’re about. And now it’s part of the Peace Forum.”

More information about this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum, including the full schedule, an opportunity to register for one or more days ($40 each day for adults), and a link allowing Internet users to stream some of the speeches live, is available at http://nobelpeaceprizeforum.org.

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