I took Condoleezza Rice’s winter seminar, “Challenges and Dilemmas in American Foreign Policy,” in 2012 and worked as a teaching assistant for the course the following year. I also took her global management course as an MBA1, and my classmate Michael Ruderman
has posted a wonderful answer based on that experience. So I wanted to add a few insights based on my time in the seminar:The Course
The course is a ten-week seminar in international relations that examines key issues in U.S. foreign relations in the last quarter-century: the end of the Cold War, the dilemmas of humanitarian intervention, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the September 11th attacks, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, nuclear proliferation, international economic policy and governance, and the role of foreign assistance and democracy promotion.
In the first class, Professor Rice introduces the “Three I’s” framework for explaining why an event may have occurred: Interests, Institutions, and Ideas. While acknowledging that all three matter, she emphasized that pointing to “all of the above” is insufficient for budding students of political science and public policy. Rather, we need to determine which explanation has the most explanatory power.
This led to a course that throughout proved to be rich in argument among students and professor. Did the Soviet Union collapse because its economy had weakened or because its ideas about Marxism-Leninism no longer had traction? Why intervention in the former Yugoslavia but not in Rwanda? And of course — Why did the U.S. go to war in Iraq? Teaching Style
Most students are intimidated on the first day of class with the former secretary of state. (One classmate, who had worked in the executive branch before enrolling in graduate school, addressed her as “Madam Secretary”: She smiled and reminded him that “Madam Secretary” was now Hillary Clinton.) I was no exception.
But as Rudy noted in his answer, she is gentle and approachable. She briefly spoke about her own background — including a note about how after eight years under the lights, she is grateful to be back at Stanford — and asked each of the students to explain why they were taking the course, making mental note of every student’s name and background.
In that first class, she reviewed different approaches to IR theory, but follow-on classes focused on discussion and debate. Professor Rice introduced key themes at the start of every class and moderated the discussion, with an emphasis on drawing out arguments about those themes. Often, based on her reading of student papers, she would call on students whom she knew had differing views and ask the students to voice them.
In the second half of the class, students would split up into teams to solve a policy problem (e.g., “It is December of 1979 — You are the NSC Senior Director for Soviet Affairs, and the Soviets have just invaded Afghanistan — What course of action will you propose to the president / to his/her national security adviser?”) Professor Rice would play the role of the decision-maker, or of the press if the decision would be announced publicly. She delighted in asking substantive but difficult questions that put students on the spot, enabling students to see just how hard it is to resolve competing considerations and be a good policymaker.
Students were put on the spot substantively, but never personally. I nodded in reading Professor Rice’s memoir when she observed: “In the classroom, I was always careful not to put a student down for a comment, no matter how inappropriate. To do so is to freeze the rest of the students, who will fear humiliation.” Only when a student misstated a fact or mischaracterized a position without giving the issue a second thought (e.g., stating blithely that “Colin Powell opposed the war in Iraq”) would she politely but firmly correct the student.
I should add that Professor Rice was herself on the spot for much of the course, with several weeks devoted to decisions that she participated in making. Anybody thinking of taking a course with Condoleezza Rice surely wonders: (1) Does she offer her own views? and (2) Does she acknowledge the views of others?
On the first question, the answer is yes — But often only when asked directly on the subject and / or at the end of a given class session, so as not to crowd out class discussion. She would sometimes chuckle and say — “This is becoming a press conference!” — when she was asked one too many “What do you think?” questions, but would always answer before shifting the discussion back to the class. And at the end of the weekly simulation exercise, students often posed the question that they had grappled with to her, and she would take the time to answer even if class had run five or ten or fifteen minutes past schedule. (“As a student of Russian politics and with 20+ years of hindsight, why do you think the Cold War ended?” “Is a world without nuclear weapons realistic?” “What should we do in Syria?”) Students always approached her with questions after class as well, and discussed the issues at greater length in office hours. In those weeks when the subject was one where she had firsthand knowledge, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, she would be forthright in explaining her views, often with a story from the Oval Office.
On the second question, the answer is not a “Yes-but” but an unequivocal “Yes.” Professor Rice noted on the first day that she expected students to challenge some of the decisions that she had helped make in government, and indeed that she would be surprised if they did not. Her only caveat, as noted above, is that anybody marshalling facts for an argument challenging a decision that she made should be prepared to justify the accuracy of the facts when making the argument. She observed, with a smile, that she reserved the right to push back if challenged, and in several cases she did — which is what I think any student who had the opportunity to take a class like this would want. In my class, for example, we had a robust debate about the Afghanistan war strategy and whether the war in Iraq had in fact diverted resources that could have turned the tide in Afghanistan. On the question of how strongly the United States should push for transitions to democracy abroad, several students disagreed sharply with Professor Rice’s view. And both when I took the class and when I worked as a teaching assistant, we had an uninterrupted and vocal three-hour discussion on Iraq. In both instances, Professor Rice dispensed with the planned policy simulation exercise on Iraq so that the discussion could continue. She was not shy about explaining the decision, but I also remember how she ended the class. She asked simply: “Now that we’ve had this discussion, any final thoughts on what you would have done?” It reminded me that, even as she called on her experience, she approached the course not as a stateswoman or historical figure but as a university professor.
A final note on teaching style: Professor Rice loves simulations, believing that they are one of the best ways to show what policymaking is actually like. In the global management class that Rudy wrote about in his answer, she lectured for two sessions to each business school section, and one of the two sessions was devoted entirely to a simulation on the Iran nuclear weapons issue. In the winter seminar, the capstone 48-hour simulation was the first year of a conference on Afghan reconciliation talks, and the second year a summit devoted to the future of Syria — complete with news reports, intelligence assessments, and back channels. Professor Rice runs the simulation on both Friday and Saturday, keeping tabs on negotiations among the delegations, introducing new developments, and — on one occasion — bringing the parties back to the table after both sides had walked out. After several weeks of in-class exercises, I found the crisis simulation to be a wonderful way to test what I had learned about policy and politics, from the pre-simulation drafting of general policy guidance to the nuts-and-bolts of crafting a diplomatic agreement under pressure. Grading and Evaluation
As valuable as the seminar discussions and simulations were, my favorite part of the course was the grading and evaluation. How could this be? Because of one remarkable aspect of this course: Professor Rice reads, comments on, and assigns grades to every student paper, every week.
Professor Rice explained why she did this on the first day of the class. After a decade in Washington, D.C., she said, she understood just how much a short, two-page, well argued and well written memo can influence key decision-makers, not excepting the president. So she viewed the seminar as an opportunity to critique and improve our writing, prodding us to get to the point, develop a clear argument, support with persuasive evidence, consider counter-arguments, and if needed, make a recommendation — all in concise fashion.
As a result, every student submitted a paper of 3 to 5 pages every week, which she would return with hand-written comments. The comments were gentle but did not pull punches. My first paper, I learned, “starts strong but seems to lose focus.” In another paper, I missed a key element of the question, she wrote, though “what you do discuss you do well.” She offered detailed comments on the arguments — When I wrote in support of “global zero,” she asked for a more robust defense of how such a proposal would function, given that we cannot disinvent knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons — but also on the writing. (One paper came back with positive comments but also this nugget: “Too many quotes.”)
While I would wait with trepidation after class each week as the papers were distributed — often after staying up well into the morning the previous day to write the paper, and that after plowing through the 500+ pages of assigned reading each week — I knew that, in having my papers evaluated in this way, I had received an incredible gift. I have always (and still) dream of working for a national security adviser or secretary of state one day. The feedback not only sharpened my policy thinking but encouraged me to write in a clear and direct manner that would promote good decision-making.
I also liked the papers because they offered students a way to get to know the professor through our work product. While I am a reasonable public speaker, I — like many students, I am sure — often find myself finding the exact words I wished I had used to explain my position in class just after the class ends. With the papers, each student had time to make a considered argument, and Professor Rice would see how our arguments developed from week to week, often citing what we had written previously several weeks later.
As for the grades themselves, they tended to be very reasonable, but getting an A on a paper required real effort. (When I did receive an A grade, I felt the way Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly did when he received an A on an especially difficult assignment in college: “I think I can get my head through the door.”) The comments tended to be much more valuable than the grade itself. Given that many professors outsource grading to teaching assistants, the fact that Professor Rice read and graded all of the papers herself and does so year after year is, in my view, the most distinctive part of the seminar. Final Thoughts
The course is not for everyone. It is a lot of work, and even those who admire Condoleezza Rice may not enjoy the work if they do not love reading, writing, and talking about foreign policy. But for those who do, the course is an incredible way to extend your knowledge, building on all of the previous books read and courses taken to test one’s ideas with one of the most seasoned practitioners in American history. (There are often guest appearances from other practitioners: Stephen Hadley helped run a session during the first year, and Henry Kissinger made a brief appearance during the second year. Professor Rice also co-taught a one-week course with former British foreign secretary David Miliband in Fall 2011, entitled “Crisis Management on the World Stage.”) Professor Rice is accessible to students, and though she keeps a busy schedule, most students see her in office hours two, three, or even four times during the course. As a confirmed Democrat who opposed most Bush administration policies, I discovered that I loved taking her course and would give the class my highest recommendation.
Read other related questions on Quora
:Read more answers on Quora.
via Quora http://ift.tt/1fZDCyb