My Fulbright in Greece: Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, International Relations

My Fulbright in Greece: Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, International Relations

Nicholas Greenwood Onuf, Department of Politics and International Relations, Florida International University,
Miami, FL Spring 2016

Nick looks back at his Fulbright experience in Greece, his time spent at Panteion University in Athens and other important collaborations that he forged and outcomes of his grant in 2016-2017.

"In many ways, my Fulbright in Athens caps a fifty year career in the academic world. I started teaching full-time in 1966, formally retired in 2005, and have remained active as scholar, teacher and mentor. Before retiring I had the great fortune of teaching abroad— in Sri Lanka and Japan (in Kyoto, three times). Since retiring I have taught in Geneva and Rio de Janeiro, the latter annually, six weeks at a time, for five years. Now Athens. Here I team-taught a graduate seminar with three of my colleagues at Panteion University. It was a terrific experience, and not just because of the smart, engaged students. Of my three colleagues in the classroom, one was a young feminist still learning her craft; over the semester she gained enormously in self-confidence. A second had been a doctoral student of mine in the US in the 1980s and, after returning to Greece, had become a senior professor in my field of study, not to mention a Member of Parliament and cabinet minister in recent years. The third was a young, dynamic scholar who was my reason for applying for the Fulbright in the first place. Let me explain.

Five years ago this same scholar had invited me to participate in a week-long graduate summer academy, which he organizes annually. It was excellent experience in every respect. We became good friends and stayed in frequent contact. When I saw the listing for a Fulbright at Panteion University, we talked about doing a project together. He had been thinking about editing a Handbook of the History, Philosophy and Sociology of International Relations. Handbooks are major undertakings, and no one ever thinks about doing one alone. His interests and mine converge on the history and philosophy of the field, so I made this project the centerpiece of my Fulbright application.

Since neither of us is well-versed in the burgeoning literature on the sociology of the field, we recruited one of his friends, a rising star from Aberystwyth University in Wales, to join us in editing the Handbook. During the year my Fulbright application was under review, the three of us exchanged hundreds of e-mail messages and developed a rationale and table of contents for the Handbook. We succeeded in getting more than fifty leading scholars from all over the world to agree to write 42 chapters. Just before I left for Athens, we secured a contract from Sage Publications in London to publish a 300,000 word volume.

During my Fulbright tenure, my Panteion colleague in this project and I have met dozens of times to draft an introductory essay, take care of various details, remind contributors of deadlines, and so on. Of course we have been in constant contact with our colleague in Wales. I also drafted my own contribution to the Handbook. My Fulbright application made a point of my participation in the same summer academy that I came for five years ago, even though it is scheduled three weeks after classes ended at Panteion University—as I write these words, next week. The three of us will use our work on the Handbook as the basis for our lectures, in effect giving it a trial run just as chapter contributions are materializing in our in-boxes.

During my tenure as a Fulbright Scholar, I gave a number of lectures, workshops and master classes. Here’s quick run-down, just to show how the Fulbright Program’s influence spreads through the host country and beyond.

In April I gave a lecture at the Center for Peace Research and Foreign Policy, Bilkent University, Ankara, under the auspices of Fulbright in Turkey, and I gave the keynote lecture at the annual meeting of the Hellenic Society of International Law and Relations.

During Panteion’s University’s Spring break, I lectured at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco. Then I conducted three master classes in the Department of International Law, European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy, which twenty PhD students took for credit, followed by a public lecture.

In May I conducted a master class for PhD students and faculty members at Panteion University, followed by a day-long master class sponsored by the Navarino Network in Thessaloniki. Junior professors, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from all over northern Greece attended.

In June, I was installed as Honorary Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese, Corinth. I gave a graduation speech, with the university rector, dean, fifteen of my new colleagues, 100 graduate students receiving degrees and their families in attendance. This is, of course, an honor of the highest order in the academic world, and it was an unforgettable experience. In the course of my teaching career I had worn academic regalia to a good many more than fifty graduations, but this was different. My colleagues thought my speech, on ethics in troubled times, suited the occasion, but I’ll never know what the audience may have thought of it. I did have my picture taken with various graduates and while I was speaking dozens upon dozens of times. This I found unnerving—I almost never take pictures myself, avoid the camera when I can, and have no pictures to accompany this report.

At the beginning of July I gave two lectures in Summer School in American Studies, Department of American Studies, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, with support from Fulbright in Athens, immediately followed by a keynote lecture for a several day seminar on the island of Tinos, with a discussion session the following day. I have already mentioned the upcoming summer academy, to be held in Nafplion, Greece. There will be seven sessions over four days, of which I will be responsible for three; graduate students from all over the world are expected. Finally, late in July, I will lecture at the Fulbright American Studies Summer Session, Humboldt University, in Berlin.

I first came to Greece in 1964, when, as a graduate student, I spend a summer hitch-hiking in Europe. The sunlit beauty of Athens and the Greek countryside entranced me. In 1984, my wife and spent three months in Thessaloniki when I was on Sabbatical leave; there we developed a deep affection for the Greeks as a people at ease with themselves, despite the grievous wounds of the last century. Living now in Athens for four months, travelling throughout the country, renewing old friendships, and meeting all sorts of people, we have come to appreciate how resilient the Greeks are. I cannot imagine the people of my own country facing hard times with such grace and good will. Of course my wife and I are aware of how privileged we are and how many people have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. Among them, the staff of Fulbright’s Athens office deserves our unstinting praise, and not just for extraordinary competence. They made us feel like members of a family, and I can think of no greater compliment.

I see myself as a scholar, but, as I read over what I have just written, I realize that my scholarly persona is entwined with my vocation as teacher. My Fulbright grant has allowed me reach hundreds of students. While I am an old fogey and never use social media of any kind, one of Panteion students posted the following on Facebook, which a colleague copied for my benefit:

A lot can be said about people having childhood heroes. Even more can be said about students having academic heroes: those sacred giants, whose names and contributions you first found out about in your textbooks, those gatekeepers of the academic field you chose as your own as well. I consider it a blessing and an honor to be able to attend classes taught by none other than Nicholas Onuf, the father of constructivism in international relations. Every conversation with Professor Onuf, no matter how trivial or deeply philosophical, is a thought-provoking process that can rarely (if at all) be found within the boundaries of any Greek university. A great first generation IR thinker, who taught our second and third generation IR professors, is now passing on the torch to us, regardless of our future choices and endeavors.

I know it sounds like bragging even to reproduce this posting, but its words are the greatest possible reward for my five decades as a scholar-teacher. And it happened in Athens. Thanks to the Fulbright program."


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