Q & A with Sara Cobb, Director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

Posted: September 9, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: The Daily Gazette is publishing interviews with 11 deans, 2 institute directors, and the vice president for University Life focusing on what was successful in their departments last year and what the George Mason community can expect this year. This is the 12th article in the series, which will conclude with an interview with President Alan Merten.

By Fran Rensbarger

Sara Cobb is completing her second year as the director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), an internationally recognized school of conflict resolution research, theory, and practice.

Can you give me a year-in-review for this past year, and talk about some of the things that were successful at ICAR?

First of all, we received a large gift commitment to create and endow the James H. Laue Chair in World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution. For that position, we have selected Mark Gopin from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy. He will also be the director of the new Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution, which was also created by the same gift.

Sara Cobb
Sara Cobb

We have formed a collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences toward the creation of an undergraduate major in conflict analysis and resolution. We hired new faculty, including Marc Goodale, formerly the Marjorie Shostak Lecturer in Anthropology at Emory University, and co-author with June Starr of Practicing Ethnography in Law: New Dialogues, Enduring Method as assistant professor of conflict analysis and resolution, and anthropology; and Linda Johnston, field program coordinator of the applied practice and theory program, who earned her Ph.D. at ICAR, and was assistant professor at Antioch University in Ohio for two years before returning here.

Our research funding has increased, and we have projects funded from a variety of sources, both public and private. We have many faculty members and students focused on practice-based projects, such as the dialogues being held to foster community resilience, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And we have new courses on terrorism, and had a book published by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency within the U.S. Department of Defense.

How have the budget cuts over the past couple of years affected ICAR? How have you been able to overcome some of these challenges?

We are trying to reduce the impact of the cuts through grants and contracts, but this takes infrastructure, so we are stretched thin administratively. We did not cut staff or faculty, so we cut OTPS, again trying to manage the cuts with external funding. The ICAR faculty has worked hard to make this funding appear and deserves credit for helping ICAR survive the cuts.

What are some of your goals for the upcoming year?

First, we need to develop a master plan for Point of View, following a marketing analysis and the creation of a solid business plan. Point of View is the planned international research and conference center at Mason Neck on land donated by the Lynch family last year.

We also need to complete the development of the undergraduate major in conflict analysis and resolution, and get it approved so we can roll out in the fall of 2004; and then complete the design of our certificate program, and roll that out in the fall of 2004 as well.

We have a fall conference in the planning stages that will help us elaborate the research agenda at ICAR, focusing on our four streams of research and identifying research questions within each of these streams.

Finally, we need to work closely with the ICAR Advisory Board toward the development of funds for student scholarships, as we need to fund more ICAR students.

What are some of the challenges you face?

We face several challenges, a primary one being funding for students. We also need more funding for research.

On an academic level, we struggle with the integration of theory with research and practice. As an applied program, it is difficult for our faculty to do all three of these concurrently.

We are also working on the development of Point of View, with the leadership of the new Rice Chair, who has yet to be named.

Where do you see ICAR in five years?

I see the institute as not significantly bigger in regard to enrollment, but with significantly more funding for students–a 100 percent increase is my goal. And overall research funding will have increased at least by 50 percent.

I also expect to see a significant number of retirements of senior faculty, which will challenge ICAR to attract new junior faculty as well as senior scholars in order to maintain the excellent reputation we have.

Our undergraduate program at George Mason in conflict analysis and resolution will be attracting students by then, and will be providing a place for graduate students to learn to teach and mentor. And the certificate program will have increased our professional ties to the policy community in Washington, D.C., so ICAR may be more involved in policy decisions than it is now.

In five years, Point of View will be a place where scholars and practitioners can and do gather to address conflicts.

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