Preview: Conference on World Affairs

(Josh Shettler/CU Independent)
(Josh Shettler/CU Independent)

Coming to CU’s campus April 6-10, the Conference on World Affairs will bring 100 participants from all over the world to speak on over 200 topics. The event was started in 1948 by then-sociology professor Howard Higman, and has since grown in scope and attendance.

Piper Jackson-Sevy, advertising and media liaison for the CWA, said that Higman was known for being outspoken and often disregarded what everyone else thought. She said he even had the gall to call the White House and demand that Henry Kissinger himself attend the conference. He did.

The list of impressive speakers who’ve attended in the past is long, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Miller and, of course, Kissinger. The list this year includes Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist at the Miami Herald; Michael Elliot, CEO and president of the anti-poverty organization, ONE, and Valerie Plame Wilson, the former CIA operations officer who was burned by the journalist Robert Novak, among others.

Roger Ebert called it, “The conference on everything conceivable.” The New York Times said it was “a week-long extravaganza of discussion and debate.” Whatever you call it, the CWA has become a bit of a sacred tradition in Boulder.

The wide range of accomplished speakers delving into unique topics mirrors Higman’s off-the-wall approach to developing what quickly evolved into a widely respected tradition, now catering to 77,000 attendees.

Every year, the participants are chosen largely based on connections. CU does not pay the speakers, nor does it pay for their airfare, meaning most of the speakers attend on their own vacation time. Given the largely positive experiences that they have, recruiting new participants is never a problem. 

CWA allows 60 percent of the attendees to be repeat participants from the previous year, with 40 percent constituting new people and new ideas. The recruits send in topics they think would be interesting to talk about, some sending in five and some sending in close to 100. From there, a committee sifts through the myriad of options to pick what fits best.

When the conference began, the only topics discussed revolved around international affairs, but it has since evolved to include anything and everything. There are eight overarching topics, including international affairs, politics, media, science, technology, business, human condition (which incorporates topics like homelessness and gay rights), student interest (which can be anything from beekeeping to fire-dancing) and arts and literature. Essentially, anything goes.

At any given time during the week-long CWA, eight panels will be happening at once in buildings all over campus.

Students are also given priority entrance, given that their class schedules often don’t allow for them to stand in long lines. With a CU ID, students are able to bypass the community member line to see the speakers that interest them most.

Students will be given even more special treatment on Monday, when the CWA will host a brunch at the UMC fountains at 10 a.m.. All of the CWA participants already in town will be in attendance.

“They’re pretty much there to talk to and engage with students,” Jackson-Sevy said. “It’s a really incredible opportunity. Just bring your student ID.”

Visit or for information on panels, topics, times and locations. Every event is free and open to the public.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Maggie Wagner at

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