Laurier professor heads academic association on the United Nations

Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Alistair Edgar has been appointed for a second time to the position of executive director of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS). ACUNS is an international professional association of scholars and practitioners that examines the United Nations and the organization’s operations and system at large. ACUNS was founded at Dartmouth College in 1987 and currently holds roughly 600 individuals and 51 institutional members in over 50 nations worldwide. It has been hosted at Laurier since 2003.

ACUNS draws together academics to discuss the operations and function of the UN. “It really is a forum for debate and discourse around what is happening on the international stage,” explained vice-president: academic and provost Deb MacLatchy. “It gives our faculty members an opportunity to be a part of that dialogue.”

According to Edgar ACUNS, rather than functioning as a think tank of likeminded individuals working through a particular perspective, collects those whose opinions oppose to engage in discussion. “We’ll have people that are very critical of the UN or this UN or this secretary general or this issue,” he said. “We try to keep all these people working and communicating with each other and provide venues where we can do those sorts of things.”

While he assesses his job as executive director of the association as “pushing paper around,” including fundraising and overseeing ACUNS’ publications, Edgar spoke to the impact his involvement has on experiences he brings to his classes. The opportunity to attend conferences with interesting and important international figures has given Edgar a depth of experience to bring to students, though he will only be able to teach a single course each year and has none this year.

“I was at a conference in Nuremburg, Germany with the international prosecutor for the international criminal court and older guys who’d been lawyers at the Nuremburg tribunals after the Second World War,” he gave as one example. “I’d be talking to all of these people, they wouldn’t know me from a hole in the ground, but nonetheless I was in that venue and able to talk and listen to those people and I could bring some of those things back to my classes.”

Edgar also noted the significance of hosting an international body such as ACUNS at Laurier. “What it did was put a smallish university that had an active program of internationalization on the map of scholars around the world who look at the UN,” he said, adding that ACUNS’ presence aided in securing government funding in the development of Waterloo’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

MacLatchy echoed Edgar’s point, saying, “If you look at the previous universities that have hosted ACUNS, they’re top-level U.S. institutions.”
She continued, “It exemplifies the point that we are very strong as an institution in international relations, global governance, international security, peace and conflict.”

Both MacLatchy and Edgar made note of the development in international affairs scholarship at Laurier and nearby, including at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. The continued presence of ACUNS at Laurier speaks to that trend of growth in the field and what it will mean for years to come.

“We’re the first place that ACUNS has stayed for two terms, and that was a vote of confidence by our membership, an international board of governors, on the job that we’d done for five years and on what we said we could do for the next five years,” Edgar said.