Published: Mon May 12, 2003Political science professor Michael Gunter doesn’t limit himself to the campus of Tennessee Tech University when it comes to his expertise in international relations and Middle East politics.
In fact, he recently made an historic visit to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to attend an international conference about the U.S. war in Iraq, and he plans to spend the summer teaching two courses at the International University in Vienna, Austria.
" Cyprus had been divided into separate Greek and Turkish sectors since 1974 — similar to how Berlin was divided after World War II — and on the very day I arrived, those borders were opened," he said. "It was a very emotional experience to see the Greeks and the Turks on Cyprus interacting with each other after having been divided for nearly 30 years."
Some people even returned to the ancestral homes they’d been forced from to find that the occupying family of the opposite cultural group had preserved their letters, photographs and other personal and sentimental items, Gunter said.
" But because both cultural groups each speak a different language that’s largely unknown to the other, they were having to communicate in very basic, broken English," he said.
Gunter himself had been invited to the officially unrecognized Turkish sector of Cyprus to present a paper about the future of the Kurds in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
" It took 18 hours and four separate planes for me to get to that area of the island because only one flight goes there each day, and it leaves at 9 p.m. from Istanbul," he said.
In spite of the travel difficulties, however, Gunter was pleased with the conference and impressed by the people he met, including Rauf Denktas, the president of Turkish Cyprus, and Tarek Ismel, the international relations scholar from the University of Calgary who’d invited him.
" It was interesting to be in a country small enough that I had the opportunity to talk about foreign policy with its president while I was there. That wouldn’t happen to visitors in the U.S.," Gunter said.
" And I had known Professor Ismel by reputation for many years," he continued. "This was my first opportunity to actually meet him, though, and I was very impressed by his levels of integrity, knowledge and professionalism."
Teaching summer courses last year at the International University in Vienna, Austria, also impressed Gunter so much he decided to repeat the experience again this year.
" Vienna is the third home of the United Nations, so the university plays a major role in training international diplomats — and being invited to teach a couple of courses there was right down my alley," he said.
" The administrators seem to like the American style of teaching, which incorporates more opportunity for question and discussion in addition to lecture and reading," Gunter continued.
Last year, he taught undergraduate courses in international human rights and peacekeeping.
" We debated the very issue of President Bush acting unilaterally against Iraq without U. N. approval, which is illegal according to the guidelines of international law," he said. "Therefore, I tend to hold a critical opinion of American foreign policy — but I found that my own opinion is mild compared to those of many Europeans."
Lingering memories of the devastation Europe suffered during World Wars I and II might be a factor contributing to such critical opinions, he said.
" There were also a number of students in my classes from the former Yugoslavia who could give first-hand accounts of the fighting in their country," Gunter added.
This year, he will teach an undergraduate course in international organization and a graduate course in peacekeeping.
" Expanding my own experiences not only benefits me — it also benefits my students at TTU and the entire university," he said. "I’m so dedicated to teaching, in fact, that I’ll be in a classroom in Vienna later on the same day my plane lands on the ground."