When U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-Carmel) called UC Santa Cruz “the greatest university in the world,” he was only half-joking.
Last Monday, Farr presented Chancellor George Blumenthal an award in recognition of the campus’s ongoing contributions to the Peace Corps. This year, 52 UCSC students joined the Peace Corps as volunteers. The campus made the second-largest volunteer contribution out of any medium-sized college in the country, and 18th out of all colleges nationwide.
“Maybe at other schools people are more selfish, and would not want to join the Peace Corps,” fourth-year Jason Robins said. “Maybe it does say something about the type of people we have on this campus.”
Historically, UCSC has been an important contributor to the Peace Corps, with a total of 665 volunteers over the years.
In 2002, Farr introduced a Congressional bill to double the size of the Peace Corps.
“The bill is there. What we need is [Obama’s] help on making sure the money is there,” Farr said.
At the moment, the Peace Corps recieves $330 million a year from the federal government. Farr wants to raise their funds to $400 million by the end of 2009 and to $600 million in two years’ time.
Fortunately for Farr, Obama’s plan for universal voluntary public service pledges to double the ranks of the Peace Corps — from 7,800 to 16,000 volunteers — by its 50th anniversary in 2011.
Advocates hope increasing funding will make the Peace Corps available for more Americans. The running joke, Farr said, is that the Peace Corps is more selective than Harvard. As for Obama’s promise to support his bill, Farr asserted that he is “going to hold him on his word, for that.”
Vice chancellor of student affairs Felicia McGinty understands both the importance of the Peace Corps in today’s world and the dedication required to spend two years in service, she said.
“It’s easier to talk about these things than it is to actually do them,” McGinty said. “The folks who [volunteer] are not just scholars, and they’re not just thinkers. They’re people who are committed to making a difference.”
Jim Hagan, who volunteered in the Peace Corps in India from 1966 to 1968, attended the awards ceremony on Monday.
“Those two years had the greatest impact on my life,” he said. “It was phenomenal.”
As a Peace Corps pioneer, Hagan remarked on the character change between Peace Corps volunteers of the past and the present.
“People are much more qualified to go out there [now],” he said. “It was fairly experimental at the time. I went over as a healthcare worker and ended up a chicken farmer.”
In the same vein, Farr said that “the passion has not shifted, and neither has the goal.” And one of the main goals of the Peace Corps is to increase American interest and understanding in foreign affairs. Foreign aid, including the Peace Corps, is only 1 percent of the nation’s budget, Farr said.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy envisioned 100,000 Peace Corps volunteers around the world at all times. If this were the reality, Farr said, “Do you think we would be in Iraq and Afghanistan right now?”