Great Decisions Group Profile: Tucson Great Decisions Association

This week we spoke to Dick Kelbaugh at the Tuscon Great Decisions Association, which supports over 20 groups in the great Tucson area. You can visit their site here

Great Decisions has existed in Tucson as an organized program since the mid-1970s, when Gloria Feigenbaum, with the University of Arizona's Extension Services, organized the first groups in the Tucson area. By 1982, there were about a dozen groups with about 100 members. In 1983, Gloria took a lifetime's planned trip to Israel, and just after her return, died quite suddenly. The U of A immediately dropped plans for the upcoming 1984 season.

Two Great Decisions moderators, Robert Burns and William Robinson, pulled a group of people together. Some of them were moderators; others were participants. Bob Burns agreed to front the money for books and drew up papers for the Arizona Corporation Commission. This small, dedicated band of interested people managed to pull off the 1984 season, and by 1985 the group incorporated as the Tucson Great Decisions Association. Sue Ward, a current board member and immediate past president, is the last living member of that first board and remembers the others with great fondness and respect. They were determined that the organization should survive. It is to their credit and vision that TGDA is now thirty years old.

The formats followed by the Tucson-area groups are as varied as the groups themselves, though the primary focus remains the facilitation of discussion, whether in retirement communities or in homes. Members often take responsibility for leading discussion on a particular topic; but some groups have one person who serves as a regular discussion leader/moderator. Others combine a short group-led presentation, followed by break-out discussions. We have large groups (70-80), and small (8-10). Some groups incorporate the DVD into the meeting at the beginning or end; others show it at a separate time. The one common theme suggested to all moderators is that the discussion processes stay issue-focused and not be partisan or political, and that rules of civility be respected.

Tucson Great Decisions Association sponsors several Tucson-wide events focused on foreign policy issues and cultural awareness: These programs generally include a brunch buffet and a speaker who is a recognized topic expert. Our 2014 Kick-off Brunch, an annual event, had a speaker who spoke about Russia as an ally or competitor, how Russia sees itself and insight into the leadership of Vladimir Putin. Our spring area-wide meeting featured a speaker on Ukraine and Crimea. In 2013, our combined events included “Future of the Eurozone," “NATO and Iran,” and a Middle-East perspective on U.S. foreign policy by a Lebanese professor.

Our corporate goal of the association is to help people be more knowledgeable and interested in foreign policy. We also provide a social network for people with common interests in international relations. TGDA emphasizes the accessibility of international information and helps in the development of the tools to understand it and formulate opinions regarding headline issues.

TGDA also has made entries into the area of overseas travel, tied to foreign policy issues. In 2013, 16 Great Decisions participants toured Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam prior to the examination of the discussion book topic on Southeast Asia. We anticipate touring elsewhere in the future, with an emphasis on issues outlined in the annual discussion guide.

Our board includes retired college professors, sports organizers, election specialists and others from a variety of backgrounds. We seek to improve our ethnic mix and encourage participation by younger people of school age and working age.

Why in TGDA: Our reasons for being here are diverse, but share somewhat of a common theme, that we find the Great Decisions learning process to be energizing. Some of us are here because the work we do sparks a need for maintaining, growing and sharing knowledge about foreign affairs. Some of us have grown into Great Decisions as an outgrowth of our travels and interest in meeting people who are interested in what's going on in the wide world.