Skip to Content

Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Lecture Series
Great Decisions is the longest-running and largest grassroots world affairs educational program of its kind.

Each year, the Great Decisions program brings citizens together for lectures and small-group discussion to share ideas and opinions on the issues affecting our global future. 

The way it works: The Foreign Policy Association picks eight themes related to major issues in the arena of US foreign policy and international affairs. They publish the Great Decisions book with chapters by experts in the field to be used as a springboard for group conversation with Great Decisions Discussion Groups. Discussion Groups, like a book club, are self organizing and can meet anywhere you are (in classrooms, community centers, libraries, senior centers, and workplaces) to engage in spirited discussion of world affairs. 

Every winter, the Council presents the eight-week Great Decisions Lecture Series in partnership with Portland State University’s International Colloquium that features a wealth of perspective and opinion from diplomats, policy experts, academics, and foreign service professionals addressing the topics in the Great Decisions book. This program is free and open to the community at large.

2016 Great Decisions Lecture Series

Great Decisions Returns
Fridays, January 15 — March 4, 12 p.m.

Venue TBD
Cosponsored by World Affairs Council & Portland State University's International Studies Department

The perennially popular Great Decisions lecture series returns in January, presented in conjunction with the International Colloquium at Portland State University.

January 15
Cuba and the U.S.

The U.S. announced in December 2014 that, after decades of isolation, it has begun taking major steps to normalize relations with Cuba. The announcement marks a dramatic shift away from a policy that has its roots in one of the darkest moments of the Cold War — the Cuban missile crisis. Although the U.S. trade embargo is unlikely to end any time soon, American and Cuban leaders today are trying to bring a relationship, once defined by antithetical ideologies, into the 21st century.
Speaker: Blair Woodard, History Department, University of Portland

January 22
The Koreas

At the end of World War II, Korea was divided in two. The northern half of the Korean peninsula was occupied by the Soviet Union, the southern by the United States. Today, North and South Korea couldn’t be further apart. The North is underdeveloped, impoverished and ruled by a corrupt, authoritarian government, while the South advanced rapidly to become one of the most developed countries in the world. With such a wide gap, some are asking if unification is possible, even desirable, anymore?
Speaker: Mel Gurtov, Professor Emeritus, Political Science and International Studies, Portland State University

January 29

As a record number of migrants cross the Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in Europe, the continent is struggling to come up with an adequate response. Although Europe’s refugees are largely fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and parts of Africa, their struggle is hardly unique. Today, with the number of displaced people at an all-time high, a number of world powers find themselves facing a difficult question: how can they balance border security with humanitarian concerns? More importantly, what can they do to resolve these crises so as to limit the number of displaced persons?
Speaker: TBD

February 5
Middle East Alliances

From a proxy war in Yemen to an ongoing civil war in Syria, a number of ongoing conflicts have shaken the traditional alliances in the Middle East to their core. As alliances between state and non-state actors in the region are constantly shifting, the U.S. has found itself between a rock and a hard place. In a series of conflicts that are far from being black-and-white, what can the U.S. do to secure its interests in the region without causing further damage and disruption?
Speaker: Dr. Thomas Bartlett, Former Chancellor Higher Ed. Oregon, New York, Alabama, Former President American University, Cairo, Former President of Colgate University, Former President of the Association of American Universities.

February 12
Climate Change

In the past few years, the American public has become more aware of the damage wrought by climate change. From droughts in the west to extreme weather in the wast, a rapidly changing climate has already made its footprint in the United States. Now, it’s expected that the presidential election in 2016 will be one of the first ever to place an emphasis on these environmental changes. What can the next president do to stymie this environmental crisis? And is it too late for these efforts to be effective?
Speaker: Angus Duncan,  Chair, Oregon Global Warming Commission; President and CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation

February 19
The Future of Kurdistan

Kurdistan, a mountainous area made up of parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, is home to one of the largest ethnic groups in region: the Kurds. Now, most in the West know them for their small, oil-rich autonomous region in northern Iraq called Iraqi Kurdistan — one of the U.S.’ closer allies in the Middle East and a bulwark against the expansion of the so-called Islamic State. What does the success of Iraqi Kurdistan mean for Kurds in the surrounding region?
Speaker: Nawzad Othman, CEO of The Othman Group; founder and former CEO of Otak; former Chair, Board of Trustees, World Affairs Council of Oregon

February 26
The United Nations

On the eve of the international organization’s 70th birthday, the United Nations stands at a crossroads. This year marks a halfway point in the organization’s global effort to eradicate poverty, hunger and discrimination, as well as ensure justice and dignity for all peoples. But as the UN’s 193 member states look back at the success of the millennium development goals, they also must assess their needs for its sustainable development goals — a new series of benchmarks, which are set to expire in 2030. With the appointment of the ninth secretary-general in the near future as well, the next UN leader is bound to have quite a lot on his or her plate going into office.
Speaker: Vandy Kanyako, Coinflict Resolution Program, Portland State University

March 4
The Rise of ISIS

Born out of an umbrella organization of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burst onto the international stage after it seized Fallujah in December 2013. Since then, the group has seized control of a number of critical strongholds in the country and declared itself a caliphate, known as the Islamic State. Still, the question remains: What is ISIS, and what danger does it pose to U.S. interests?
Speaker: Nawzad Othman, CEO of The Othman Group; founder and former CEO of Otak; former Chair, Board of Trustees, World Affairs Council of Oregon

The 2016 Great Decisions Lecture Series takes place Fridays, January 15 - March 4, 12 p.m. at Portland State University.  The venue for the 2016 Great Decisions lectures is PSU's Academic and Student Recreation Center (ASRC), Room 001 (1800 SW 6th Avenue, Portland, OR 97201). Free and open to the public, no registration required. 

Recent Great Decisions News

Great Decisions
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 12:45pm

2015 Great Decisions Videos Now Available Online

The 2015 Great Decisions Series is in full swing, but if you’ve missed a lecture, or can’t make it to the weekly events being held at Portland State you can watch videos of each one after the fact directly from the Multimedia Video Archive of the World Affairs Council website. In most cases, videos will be available within 2 weeks of the lecture. Read More ››

Great Decisions
Wed, 02/13/2013 - 10:30am

2013 Great Decisions series videos now online

Videos of the 2013 Great Decisions lecture series at PSU- now in progress- are available online. Read More ››

Upcoming Great Decisions Events

There are not currently any upcoming events for this program.

Hosted by Spiretech