CPACS : The first 20 years

The CPACS Posters for Peace Gallery

The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies was established twenty years ago as a result of the inspiration of students and academics with longstanding interests in pacifism and peace studies at the University of Sydney. The idea for a peace and conflict studies centre came in response to students’ protests that teaching at the University covered almost every subject except peace.

CPACS was opened on 16 May 1988 by the Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, with founding President, Dr Peter King, located in the Department of Government and founding Director, Professor Stuart Rees, in the Department of Social Work and Social Policy. Its original line-up of Council members included students and staff from a variety of University Departments in the Faculties of Arts, Economics, Medicine and Science, and several members from outside the University including Stella Cornelius, the founder of the Conflict Resolution Network in Sydney.

As the Centre celebrates its 20th anniversary, we take a look at its remarkable journey – from humble beginnings in the ‘Dungeon’ of the Mills Building to the impressive ‘Posters for Peace Gallery’ and offices in the Mackie Building, from a vision and a ‘passion for peace’ to its current program of innovative research, teaching and advocacy for ‘peace with justice’ in local communities and abroad.

The Genesis

CPACS founding Director Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees

According to Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees, the birth and early development of CPACS were beset by tension and controversy over issues of ideals, politics and priorities. The Centre as it stands today began as a project undertaken by a group of social work students and their university tutor to address a major social issue. The group’s interest in peace studies led them to definitions of peace and the distinctions between negative and positive peace, which influenced their desire to explore relationships of equality.

After its establishment, internal conflict over the Centre’s purpose and priority arose. While some members were determined to jump in and engage in activities immediately, other members were concerned with principles of community work – attention to indigenous resources and careful consultation about objectives, resources and time limits – and did not wish to be hurried. Ultimately however, CPACS’ basic objective was, and is: ‘To promote the understanding and achievement of peace with justice’.

Despite its early struggles, CPACS thrived and, over the years, has experienced considerable change and numerous achievements. The Centre’s growth and evolution is evident in two distinct, yet equally important ways: the scope of its activities and changes to its organisational structure which reflect its role in the community and its significance as an academic centre within the University.

CPACS in the Community

Advocacy of social justice issues has always been a key component of the Centre’s activities. In the early years, social action projects included a campaign to defend policies of universal health insurance across Australia, campaigns against nuclear weapons and the possession of guns, and seminars to raise awareness about the war in Bosnia and the increasing prejudice in Australia against Serbs. A Peace March for Sudan, the rights of refugees, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Iraq have been the subject of more recent campaigns and public events. Today, while community outreach and advocacy remains an important aspect of the Centre’s work, equal focus is placed on its reputable research and teaching programs.

Along with these activities, CPACS has also been responsible for initiating and supporting various projects including the Sydney Peace Foundation, Conflict Solutions Australia, the West Papua Project and the Refugee Language Program. The United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) advocacy and research project is the most recent addition, linking the Centre with the Global Action to Prevent War based in New York and local Sydney-based NGO, Caritas Australia.

CPACS at the University

CPACS Students at a Mediation Workshop

The Centre’s growth is also evident in changes to its staffing and the nature of its activities in relation to the University of Sydney. In the beginning, the Centre was staffed exclusively by volunteers. The Centre’s considerable record of achievement in its work for peace with justice was made possible, despite very limited funds, by the productive output derived from the hard work and commitment of unpaid staff, including the Director and President, other volunteers and students. As the Centre’s scope of activities grew, staffing evolved to include a combination of full-time employees, part-timers and volunteers. In 2003 the first full-time Lecturer was appointed, and in 2007, Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees relinquished his position as Honorary Director and CPACS welcomed Associate Professor Jake Lynch as the Centre’s first full-time paid Director.

CPACS Director Associate Professor Jake Lynch

Since its inception in 1988, CPACS has continued to pursue an active interdisciplinary research program. Past and present research at CPACS reflects the Centre’s commitment to keeping up and engaging with relevant community and international issues. Externally funded research projects have in the past covered such topics as Aboriginal night patrols, nonviolent policing and the effects of racism on Lebanese youth in Western Sydney. With the addition of full-time academic staff and a thriving research student community, the Centre’s research agenda has grown exponentially. Current areas of research include peace journalism; transitional justice and reconciliation after mass violence; the United Nations and peacebuilding; the role of the media in genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect; multiculturalism and Islam in Australia; the role of humiliation in collective violence; corporate responsibility and climate change; and women’s empowerment in post-conflict Peru and East Timor.

Students have always been an important part of the CPACS community. The goal of the students who founded CPACS for a peace studies program at the University was finally realised when several postgraduate units of study were offered through the Department of Social Work and Social Policy in the late 1990s. After a few years these units were transferred to CPACS and the Centre’s Masters coursework program in Peace and Conflict Studies was born. From modest beginnings in 2000 with five units of study and ten students, enrolment numbers and subject choices have steadily been on the rise. The total number of postgraduate units developed by CPACS now totals 24, with a selection of up to 18 of these being offered each year. Class sizes regularly surpass 30 students and total enrolments exceed 500 across these various units of study in any one year. Students come from a variety of disciplines and many countries throughout the world to study at CPACS, and when they graduate pursue careers in the United Nations, government departments, international and local non-government organisations.

In 2007 CPACS launched its first undergraduate unit of study, taught jointly with the Department of History. Attracting more than 100 students in 2008, this senior unit explores the history and politics of war and peace from the Crusades to the War on Terrorism, and from the Peace of Westphalia to the United Nations.

The arrival of Associate Professor Jake Lynch as the Centre’s new Director has furthered CPACS’ drive to expand. The Centre’s vision for growth is apparent in its continual development of new units of study and new modes of teaching. From 2008 the Centre has offered a distance learning program which features online units of study in conjunction with TRANSCEND Peace University and intensive courses offered at the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies.

As CPACS celebrates its milestone 20th anniversary and strives to move forward and expand its programs and influence, let us not forget its history and the values that inspired the spirit and character of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.