As former U.N.expert, non-governmental organization board member, chairman and faculty member of the former community development department at MU, the disaster in Haiti has weighed heavy on my heart and mind. Its sights and sounds torture me from this distance. I can only imagine the impacts on the senses of those directly engulfed in this terrible assault on their lives. In earlier times, I would have been in Haiti by now. At this time, I can only send donations to those who are providing the much-needed assistance to the devastated and vulnerable people of Haiti and urge others to provide the needed resources to address this disaster.
I have an idea that could motivate and enable universities to engage in assisting the Haiti crisis while engaging in preemptive Missouri disaster-related issues and programs. MU once held a symposium on the future for several days. The symposium was spearheaded by the now defunct Community Development department. Presentations, programs, demonstrations and curriculum exhibits by departments and particular faculty members as well as student projects and papers were all focused on the future. Almost all of the colleges and universities within the system, as well as colleges and universities outside the system, joined this effort.
We were able to bring in relevant keynote speakers, including the director of NASA, world-renowned futurist Robert Theobold and chancellor Barbara Ulling.
I propose that a similar effort be launched regarding disasters, natural and man-made.
There are few places that are not vulnerable to some kind of disaster.
Missouri, for example, is located on a fault line. Tornadoes, floods and potential man-made disasters have and will plague it. All of these potential disasters might affect our transportation and distribution systems. Food, water, medical facilities and supplies might be affected. Our government economic and educational systems could also be impacted. Psychological, spiritual and social systems might be impacted as well.
I see this proposal as a challenge to the university to directly steer some of their intellectual research and developmental acumen to maximize its potential to address potential disasters.
I believe the university has the capacity to address most issues intellectually, creatively and rigorously without the taint of political or economic bias possessed by governmental or corporate organizations. The university possesses a wealth of talent and mental resources that are ripe to be harvested and channeled for disasters like those faced by Haiti now or Missouri later.
The crisis in Haiti can be used as a wake-up call for preparedness in Missouri. Through a joint effort around this disaster in Haiti, we can express our ability as a world-class university capable of responding to issues anywhere, particularly Missouri.
Our present chancellor is a former Peace Corps volunteer who should be sensitive to Haiti’s needs and the potential impact a program like the one being suggested could have on Haiti and Missouri. The president of the university has a propensity to involve the university in public-private partnerships that might see possibilities in this proposal.
This proposal, or partial responses to it, might offer a substantial contribution to the people of Haiti and the people of Missouri.
William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeretis for MU.