The 30th anniversary of the College of St. Scholastica's annual peace and justice lecture series is a gratifying milestone for Tom Morgan.
St. Scholastica isn't the only place people can find information and opinions about national and global issues these days, but Morgan believes there's something engaging about "seeing it live and in person" that can't be replicated by the internet.
"I'd like to think it enriches the intellectual and cultural life of Duluth. People keep coming so I guess it does," Morgan said.
Morgan, an associate professor of Russian at St. Scholastica, also organizes the college's Alworth Center for Peace and Justice's lecture series as the center's director. The 2018-19 series, "Unraveling the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," begins on Thursday with James L. Gelvin, who has written books about the Middle East and teaches history at the University of California-Los Angeles. Gelvin's talk, "The Roots of the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute," is scheduled for 7:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday at Mitchell Auditorium at St. Scholastica.
Other lecturers in the upcoming series include Phyllis Bennis, a political commentator who supports Palestine, on Oct. 23, Michael Brenner, an American University professor who supports Israel, on Feb. 12, and Scott Blakeman and Dean Obeidallah, who promote tolerance using comedy, on March 26.
Morgan's work on the lecture series is one activity among his decades of work promoting peace in the Twin Ports that has included being a member of the first contingent to visit Duluth's sister city of Petrozavodsk, Russia, in the 1980s. Local peace activist Brooks Anderson said he invited Morgan to join the Petrozavodsk trip because he respected his judgment. Morgan has a commitment to Duluth and wants to make a difference in the city, Anderson said.
"I think Duluth is a special peacemaking place and Tom is one of the reasons that's the case. You can just always count on him to be taking part in making his own initiatives or supporting others," Anderson said.
Morgan recalled the first time he heard from Anderson about traveling to Petrozavodsk: He didn't say "yes" immediately, but agreed after some convincing.
"The Cold War is still raging. This is even before Gorbachev. We had 40 years, from the end of World War II until the 1980s, to get this resolved and nothing's happening and we keep building more bombs and threatening each other," Morgan said.
He explained that the media was only focusing on geopolitical issues at the time, not the work of everyday residents of both countries, and Anderson's idea was to travel to the Soviet Union to do "citizen diplomacy." Morgan spoke Russian and had experience in the Soviet Union during graduate school.
"One thing led to another and the next thing I know, I'm flying to Petrozavodsk with Brooks and another citizen group," Morgan said.
They "hit the jackpot" with that trip to Russia, cementing connections for the sister city program and making the national news for the trip, Morgan said. While Anderson is considered the founder of the Duluth-Petrozavodsk connection, he called Morgan the "heart and soul" of that connection.
"He made it happen. I had to persuade him to be part of it and then he has taken dozens of trips there and has made that a very vital relationship," Anderson said.
Anderson also noted that Morgan was also part of the first trip to Duluth's sister city of Rania, Iraq and has been active in Veterans of Peace, including his work to organize veterans against Gov. Arne Carlson's proposal to locate the retired USS Des Moines in Duluth's harbor in the late 1990s.
"That's sort of indicative of how I see Tom working - he did something that made a huge difference and I think if the Des Moines was in our harbor, we'd be a different city today. We would not be in a position to think of ourselves as a peacemaking city," Anderson said.
Following the trip to Petrozavodsk, Morgan received a call from Larry Goodwin, who was St. Scholastica's vice president of academic affairs at the time, with a job offer to start a Russian program at St. Scholastica and further develop St. Scholastica's peace studies program that was just taking root.
Morgan had an interest in public affairs because of his work as a journalist and his work with Anderson. He had also done some "soul searching" after serving in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Quoting President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Morgan said, "If this is how international affairs works and how it's going to lead to this, two awful wars in Europe in 20 years, then we're doing something wrong. There's something wrong with the way the whole global system is set up. I kind of felt that way too."
30 years of lectures
The lecture series at St. Scholastica was still in its formative stages, with only one lecture per year, when Morgan began working at the college. He said St. Scholastica gave him the freedom to organize the series as he saw fit and he ran with it.
The series now includes four to six programs per school year, each year focusing on a single theme. Theme ideas are based on a pressing topic at the time or suggestions from community members. The theme of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for this year's series came as a suggestion from a local Christian group that was studying the conflict and Morgan ran the idea by a local rabbi before choosing it.
When he travels, he feels like Duluth is "kind of an outpost" and the lecture series is a way to bring in voices to talk locally about issues occuring in the nation and world. Discussing one topic over several lectures also helps residents explore a complex topic.
"I hope, especially I hope this for the students, that the program helps us understand the complexity of issues. If peacemaking or bringing justice was easy, it would be done. But we don't have it, I think we all agree on that," he said.
He added that he also hopes that the lecture series helps attendees understand each other when they have opposing viewpoints, which demonizes the other side's opinion.
"The other side of whatever side you're on also has a point of view that's worth hearing. I take my inspiration in part from Gandhi, who said everybody has a piece of the truth. He didn't say that truth was relative, but he said none of us have it all. We all have a piece of it so we need to hear from everybody and not just people on our side of whatever the issues are," he said.
People have found a few of the lectures controversial over the years, but Morgan points out that he wants to tell both sides of an issue - an instinct he still has from his days as a News Tribune reporter.
"My hope is that people come to hear both sides, but they don't always and that, I guess, is human nature. ... If you're going to all of these in any series, if you don't hear something that makes you mad or you disagree with, then I'm not doing my job. I think the audience over the years understands that," Morgan said.