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Last Updated: 04/08/2013
Liberty and dignity for all: A conversation with Dr Victor Valle
Lawal Tsalha

Lawal Tsalha talks with Dr Victor Valle, Professor and Vice Rector of the University for Peace, about the future of the university and the meaning of peace.

Sir, we’ll be very grateful if you can tell us your brief biography

My name is Victor Valle, I am from El Salvador, Professor and Vice Rector at the University for Peace, and have been here for thirteen years, since the year 2000.

I came to UPEACE as part of the multinational team in charge of revitalizing the university. I got my doctor of education degree from George Washington University in the United States. I also have a master’s degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh, in the United States. My undergraduate studies are in Civil Engineering, and I have been involved in higher education for forty years now.

Please tell us the story of UPEACE and why it was established in Costa Rica.

The history records that the University for Peace was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1980 after one proposal made in 1978 by the Costa Rican President Rodrigo Carazo, who went to the United Nations General Assembly to propose the establishment of one university for peace. President Carazo lobbied in the United Nations system, and after two years, the United Nations General Assembly established the University for Peace in the country [Costa Rica] which has a very good record in terms of human rights, environmental protection, democracy and many success stories, in human development and social indicators.

The reason why United Nations decided to establish the University for Peace in Costa Rica is because the country is a guarantee of stability for having so important a higher education institution.

Considering the relationship between UPEACE and some countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, how does the UPEACE balance the regional and global perspectives?

The fact that the university headquarters are in Costa Rica and, in general terms, located in Latin America, gives to the institution a great potential to have very fruitful relation with other regions in the world. Because, it is a very well known historic fact that Latin America and Caribbean region collect the whole history of humanity and a comprehensive and worldwide set of cultures.

You have in Latin America the fact that a high percentage of the population has African background. The potential with Asia is also high; you have in Brazil a big portion of population from Japanese origin. You have in all Latin America countries and Caribbean people coming from India and China. You have the history that in the 15th and 16th centuries the European metropolis came to colonize the continent and left a legacy of people and cultures. So that historic fact allows to one university located in Costa Rica to have meaningful and fruitful relations with all regions around the world, because the culture phenomenon is very well reflected in Latin America, I mean the universal culture, the worldwide culture.

What does the future of UPEACE look like?

The future, for me is very promising. We have to be aware that in operational terms, the university is conceived as a graduate university, in the sense that we are not expecting to have a huge number of students. However, if we are able to keep the current graduate programmes that we have, and we are able to build up a very strong network of distance education programmes, we will be able to reach all corners around the planet.

Actually, in face-to-face education in the last ten years, we have hosted students from more than 110 countries. So we have to keep that standard and expand all programmes through distance education methods. And also we have to address the challenge of going further in our doctoral programme and we must have a very strong nucleus of researchers. Because as you know the main role of a university is to create new knowledge, our mandate here is to create knowledge in relation to peace, and mainly international peace. Because according to our charter, the focus of our studies should be international peace in accordance with the principles of United Nations Charter.

In the future, I will hope that we are going to have a very strong university devoted to graduate studies. I hope we will have a university providing relevant and meaningful research and publications in relation to peace and conflict studies around the world.

You mentioned the UPEACE doctoral programme, which is a relatively new initiative, could you tell us more about the motivation behind that?

According to the university theory, a university should emphasize research programmes that support teaching programmes oriented to grant doctoral degrees. It is a major function of a university in the side of the teaching dimension.

The higher teaching, according to the university theory, should be based in research and the research is the backbone of a very meaningful doctoral programme. So to have a doctoral programme for UPEACE, is not only a challenge but is also an intellectual obligation in order to demonstrate that it is offering high quality academic programme.

Can you tell us, what does the word ‘peace’ mean to you?

Peace is a very wide and complex concept. Theoretically, peace can be positive or negative, according to some authors like John Galtung. Negative peace is just the absence of war. But if we want to prevent violence, if we want to guarantee permanent peace we have to work towards positive peace, and positive peace means development, democracy, human right and respect especially to the liberty and dignity of people around the world. In that sense, if you are able to work through education, policymaking and international cooperation, if you are able to work in that kind of peace, you are building up positive peace.

What is your message to UPEACE alumni, present students and aspiring ones?

Every student coming to UPEACE should keep in mind that they have the privilege to become leaders for change with a very humanitarian mind. Coming to UPEACE means that you are aware of the crucial contemporary problems in humanity related to development, security, and human rights. And you should be able to work towards positive peace, towards international peace based on universal human development and human security. Whatever the function you would have in the labour market, it is important to keep in mind that we have to build up international peace, in order to guarantee what I said before, liberty and dignity for everyone.

What is the legacy that you want to leave behind in UPEACE?

My aspiration is to be remembered as a teacher with high sense of commitment in opening the minds of students in order to address problems without prejudice and without negative attitudes towards other human beings.

Thank you sir.

You are welcome.

Lawal Tsalha is a Nigerian journalist and an Intern with the Peace and Conflict Monitor.