Economic Development and Higher Education

Lunch lectures focus on international issues

March 7, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Need an educational lunch to break up your day?

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan will begin its Downtown Lecture Discussion Series at noon Tuesday, March 11, at Gillette Auditorium in the Fifth Third Bank Building, 111 Lyon St. NE.

The downtown series —running March 11, 18, 25 and April 1 —offers participants the opportunity to hear speakers from the Monday night Great Decisions series held at Aquinas College.

In a way, the discussions are coming home, said Dixie Anderson, World Affairs Council of Western Michigan executive director.

“The lectures used to be downtown in the evening at the Gerald R. Ford (Museum),” Anderson said. “So, we’re going back downtown for the half of the series. It’s the same speakers and topics as the Monday evening discussions.”

The noontime series offers a new avenue for people to hear the Great Decisions lectures, which this year will focus on business-oriented global and foreign issues. The programs last an hour, which includes a 25-minute moderated discussion followed by an audience Q&A. 

Anderson said surveys were returned indicating an overwhelming desire for the sessions to be held downtown at lunch time to better serve corporate members who couldn’t make it to the evening series at Aquinas. There also are some educational members from area schools who receive credit for attending the lectures, she said.

The discussions are $5 for members and $10 for nonmembers.

This year’s four downtown lectures were chosen specifically with the business clientele in mind.

“These four topics have been intentionally placed in the Tuesday lineup in March because of strong interest among our corporate members,” Anderson said. “The discussion and question-and-answer session for each of these sessions will be more business oriented.”

The March 11 discussion, “Turkey at a Crossroads,” will be presented by Jerry Leach, a retired U.S. diplomat, teacher and nonprofits leader. It will include topics such as the “growing chasm” between the East and West, clashes between secular and religious groups, and protests.

On March 17, Reza Marashi returns for the third time in two years. Marashi is an expert on Iran and most other Middle East countries. This topic will be the “Unintended Consequences of the Arab Spring.”

“The first two subjects are simply two of our more controversial topics,” Anderson said. “We very rarely repeat; that’s how good Reza is. There is a ton of interest in what is going on in the Middle East. And now, there is a ton of interest locally in business in Turkey, with what Dr. Leach is talking about in Turkey.”

Walter Bastian will discuss “U.S. Trade Policy in the Western Hemisphere” March 25. Bastian is the U.S. Department of Commerce’s deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere.

“For now, we stuck specifically with topics on trade and business,” Anderson said. “Bastian is the perfect business topic. He’s a senior official in Washington and talking on trade policy in Latin America. That’s a biggie.”

James Fallows, who writes for The Atlantic, will finish up the downtown series April 1 with “IsChina Opening Up or Closing Down?”

Anderson said she’s been reading Fallows’ new book, “China Airborne,” which compares the aerospace industry in China to the rest of the country’s economy. She said he came up with the discussion title to leave it open because topics on nations can change quickly.

“There is so much interest in China among all of our members,” Anderson said.

She said the downtown series may be expanded in the future.

“We hope to get a good audience in downtown Grand Rapids and are looking at expanding the lunch sessions to all eight topics featured in the full Great Decisions series, if there is enough interest,” she said.

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