On Tuesday, April 3, Member and Vice Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Henrik Syse delivered a lecture in Main Hall 168 from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. where he answered the question, “How does one find the right Nobel Peace Prize laureate?” He also addressed other inquiries voiced by the audience, which consisted of a mixture of West Chester University students and faculty. Among the faculty members was Professor Kevin Dean, the dean of the Honors College here at West Chester University.
Prior to the beginning of the lecture, Dean thanked Syse on behalf of West Chester University’s Honors College and Honors Student Association. Dean said, “[Syse] arrived last night, he leaves tomorrow midday and his one stop is West Chester University.” Syse later returned the thanks, stating, “I have been so well taken care of … my thanks to you, Kevin, symbolizes my thanks to the community here.”
Syse opened up his lecture saying, “Back in Norway, it’s now 2 a.m.,” joking that if anyone were to fall asleep in the next hour, it should be him. Syse explained he joined the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in 1991, but before that he served as a lieutenant in the Norwegian army. Most members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee are former politicians or highly regarded scholars in their respective field. Syse, for example, has his doctorate in philosophy. Even though being Norwegian is not a technical requirement to be on the committee, committee members have historically always been Norwegian.
Syse emphasized the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize is a global prize, belonging to everyone. The prize, according to him, remains special because it shines a spotlight on people and organizations who are working towards a more harmonious world. He explained that it carries the capacity to set a standard for norms that either mitigate the effects of war or advocate for the reduction or abolishment of violent methods of conflict-resolution.
In his explanation of the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Syse described its founder, Alfred Nobel. Besides being the inventor of dynamite, Nobel was a well-known, wealthy, Norwegian industrialist during his life. The constitution that the Nobel committee analyzes when considering nominees is the will of Alfred Nobel, written shortly before his death in 1896. In Nobel’s will, he outlined five different awards to be given: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. (In 1969 a fifth medal was added in memorial of Alfred Nobel, specifically aimed to spotlight successful economists.)
When Syse began addressing questions from the audience at 9 p.m., one student asked whether or not any more medals would be added in addition to the pre-existing set. He responded in the negative, saying that adding multiple new medals might diminish the unique quality of receiving the Nobel Prize. Some questions regarding the actual process of picking a nominee were unable to be answered, causing Syse to respond with, “I’m not allowed to say.”
Earlier that day, Syse had met with a group of honors students for breakfast, discussing an honors course, called the Nobel Peace Leadership Series, which explores leadership strategies through case studies of former Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
“The WCU Honors College began its connection with the Nobel Peace Institute when we hosted the 2015 Summer PASSHE Honors International Program to Norway. A key component of that program involved studying lessons of leadership from recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Thanks to the efforts of Norwegian Honors alumni Carl Korsnes (2014 – philosophy and political science double major), we arranged a full day program with staff at the Institute and members of the Nobel Committee. From that meeting we were given a special invitation for students at WCU to participate in the selection of a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Dean.
“Our first nominee,” Dean continued, “Saber Hosseini, for the 2017 prize was generated through the Honors Student Association. In Fall 2017 we created an Honors seminar that partnered with the Division of Student Affairs in order to involve more student participation campus-wide. Under the leadership of Jackie Aliotta, the Assistant Director of Leadership and Involvement, we inaugurated the Nobel Peace Leadership Series. Thirty-two students participated in the NPLS and studied the history and logistics of the Nobel Prize, learned leadership lessons from past recipients and winnowed down a field of potential candidates to three who were then narrowed to one by members of the seminar.”
Dean also said that the Honors College will again partner in Fall 2018 with the Division of Student Affairs to offer the Nobel Leadership series and, “hopefully broaden the scope to involve more students campus wide in the selection process of a nominee for 2019.”
One student asked Syse if world peace could be achieved and if so, how it could be accomplished. After some thought, Syse answered that legislature is necessary to achieve peace, followed by cultural changes and the adjustments of individual mindsets. He continued on to say that, in his opinion, it is impossible to abolish conflict from the face of the earth. However, he said there are many ways to mitigate conflict and negotiate for peace. His last words before concluding his lecture were, “I’m optimistic.”
Domenica Castro is a second-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in Spanish. ✉ DC874612@wcupa.edu.