- Harold Isaacs:A Benevolent and Open-Minded Leader
I came to Georgia Southern University as a new Assistant Professor in the fall of 1992 when Zia Hashmi was the Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) Executive Director. As I was the Department of History’s new Asianist, Zia was anxious to get me involved in the ATWS and, especially, for me to meet the organization’s founder, Dr. Harold Isaacs. The two men had worked closely together to take the organization from its origins as the “Third World in Perspective” lecture series on Isaacs’ Georgia Southwestern University campus to the level of a professional organization. They, along with Bill Head, wrote the constitution and split duties with Zia becoming the organization’s first President and then its first Executive Director and Harold serving as the Editor of the Journal of Third World Studies (JTWS) and ATWS Treasurer.
I met Harold for the first time at the 1993 ATWS conference at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. He was every bit as gracious as I expected, and he showed a genuine interest in my academic work. He welcomed my participation at that conference and when Zia suggested that I could write and edit a newsletter for the Association, Harold welcomed the idea and invited me to attend the organization’s Executive Council meeting. There, he introduced me and the [End Page 59] idea of a newsletter and asked if there were any objections to my becoming its editor.
It was impressive that such a well-respected man would welcome me so quickly and would take up Zia’s suggestion without hesitation. Time and again, Harold Isaacs showed the same openness and encouragement to me and other people who came forward with suggestions and proposals that would benefit the organization. He always supported people who offered to do real work for ATWS. There was qualification to my story, however. In this example, Zia immediately added that the cost of the newsletter would be shouldered by Georgia Southern and would not be a burden to ATWS. Harold was always concerned about the financial stability of the professional organization he founded and nurtured.
As Zia Hashmi’s three year term as Executive Director was winding down, he approached me about succeeding him. Not fully realizing how big that job might be, I agreed. Once Zia had my commitment, he approached Harold who seconded my appointment. Once more, Harold was open to change – especially when he was reassured that the resources Zia brought to ATWS from Georgia Southern University’s Center for International Studies would continue. So, once again, I saw Harold’s openness in working with and nurturing a new generation of ATWS members.
During my two three-year terms as ATWS Executive Director, I came to know Harold very well. He and I had long phone conversations (there were no short phone conversations with Harry) about the organization and its members, what we were going to do next on a range of issues and, most importantly, what we could do for the poor and disadvantaged of this world. I will give just one example to illustrate this concern. Harold was very interested in seeing ATWS gain observer status with the Economic and Social Council of the [End Page 60] United Nations (ECOSOC) so that members might have a means to participate directly in decisions that would affect the Third World. He and I, along with Zia who continued his support for the organization, worked hard to see ATWS accepted in an “Observer” status to that UN body. I then recruited Lauren Eastwood of SUNY Plattsburgh to be our representative.
While these personal examples were important to me, a far more critical and telling instance came during the 1997 ATWS Executive Council meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. Since this happened quite a while ago, I may be inaccurate about some of the details and others can correct me, but I think that anyone who was present will agree that at close to six hours in length, this was by far the longest meeting of the organization’s history. There were some important concerns that made for lively and...