“I changed my flight to make this meeting happen, we raced over to the Pentagon and ended up staying in the meeting for, instead of 15 minutes, it lasted a full hour,” Khademi said. “I had to leave my bags in the lobby at the Stanford house and rent a town car to get to my flight in time.”
Khademi, along with fellow juniors Kelly Gleischman and Kate Powell, were meeting with Col. James Hickey, the army leader of the operation that captured Saddam Hussein, to talk about starting a student-initiated course on military strategy at Stanford. It was one of the many stops on their journey to make their plans a reality.
Gleischman, Khademi, and Powell first started talking about the need to learn about military strategy during their fall orientation at Stanford-in-Washington. Students spent a day in Gettysburg, where they learned about military strategy during the Civil War, including lining up in formations to simulate historical events.
Shortly after the trip, the three of them sat down to talk about how their experience at Gettysburg differed from their regular education. “Stanford really doesn’t have a military class, and we felt like that was a huge hole in our curriculum,” Gleischman said. “As political science and history majors and future policymakers, we need to understand all aspects of national security policy, and military strategy is a critical component of it.”
They decided to organize a student-initiated course (SIC) to teach military strategy in an academic setting. While there are already student groups that talk about issues surrounding the military, Stanford had no way to engage students who had no previous knowledge of the subject.
The three used the resources available to them at Stanford-in-Washington to start preparing for their SIC early, as well as to get feedback from real movers and shakers in Washington. Professors like Larry Diamond, director of Stanford’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), and Randy Shriver, who served as a deputy to Richard Armitage at the State Department, were interested and supportive. Diamond later agreed to be the course’s faculty sponsor and Shriver helped set up meetings in Washington.
“Meetings provided a lot more guidance because we could talk with people actually implementing policy to see how to best present it in an academic setting,” Gleischman added.
Gleischman, Khademi, and Powell decided they wanted to present the military strategy course as a speaker series. Initially, they had contacted Hoover National Security Fellow Army Colonel Joseph Felter to teach the course. However, Col. Felter couldn’t guarantee he would not be deployed to overseas. Thus, the three organizers decided that a speaker-based series organized as an SIC would be appropriate. Despite exceptional planning and their best efforts, SIC denied their application.
SIC lists only two requirements, a faculty sponsor who vouches for the academic integrity of the course and attendance at mandatory training workshops. Diamond signed on as their faculty sponsor and they requested $1,000 for travel reimbursement for the classes’ speakers. SIC denied the course for being too guest lecture-dependent and having too large of a budget. However, the class sponsors were undeterred.
Gleischman, Khademi, and Powell contacted the director of SIC who ultimately reviewed and approved the course with a $500 budget. The approval was both a source of relief and excitement for the organizers. “I’m very pleased that SIC ultimately approved the class,” said Powell. “I think this is a good way of hosting an intellectual discussion about the military and I hope the university will continue to sponsor [this course].”
With the ultimate approval of the course, the sponsors received an “overwhelming” response from faculty and Hoover fellows in support of the concept.
“I was so surprised by the amount of support we have received from faculty members, Hoover fellows and Washington policymakers,” said Gleischman. “Planning this course has been incredible because of that support; we would not have been able to create the class we did without it.”
Once the course was set in stone, they set out on their goal to inform students about the role of the military in foreign policy and how such a policy was ultimately conceived on the ground.
“We started to notice on campus how little dialogue there was about the military. Kate’s a history major, Kelly and I are political science, and even so, even with all of that international relations training and all those discussions of politics, we weren’t really understanding what role the military would play in this and we really wanted to find out how a policy is dictated and then translates on the ground,” said Courtney Khademi, “That you might have a foreign policy, but that you have a 19-year-old kid kicking in the door halfway across the world.”
The class has attracted several well-known and prominent military minds such as Victor Davis Hanson, who spoke on the Peloponnesian War, and virtually all of the Hoover Institution’s visiting National Security Fellows. Speakers such as Major John Moore, an Iraq War veteran and Silver Star recipient, may have left the largest impression on students in the course. Major Moore’s lecture discussed a combat operation involving his tank command in Sadr City and laid bear the brutal reality of infantry and, in his case, armored combat.
From the perspectives of the students in the course, the lectures that involved actual discussion of combat operations on the ground provided for a realization of the direct manifestation of our nation’s foreign policy. For many of the students in this course, they will remain removed from personally serving in the military. However, with three ROTC cadets in the class, the lectures were more related to their career choice than a military-oriented policy discussion. While the organizers wanted to ensure that the lecturers for the course had strong military backgrounds, the organizers pursued a diverse background of students.
“One thing we did try to do in putting together the students in the class was to get people from a variety of backgrounds,” said Powell. “I think we were somewhat successful in that. We obviously have ROTC kids in the class which is great. We’ve got a lot of polisci majors. We’ve got a few more technical: physics, biochemical engineering, civil engineering, biology.”
However, one aspect of the class was lacking in diversity, but not necessarily at the hands of the organizers.
“The fact that three women are teaching [this class], I think that says a lot about the changing face of who is in the military,” says Khademi. “I would like to have a more gender-balanced class. Unfortunately, not that many [women] did apply. …I think if we are going to improve in any sense, it would be from that perspective and also to get a female speaker.”
Gleischman, Khademi, and Powell believe the primary goals they set for this quarter have been met. Their initial hope was to see a glaring hole in foreign policy studies at Stanford filled by this course. However, their course isn’t seen as the end to an odyssey that has incurred its fair share of setbacks and demands.
While all three plan to teach the course next year if it is not institutionalized, they hope to see it become a permanent fixture in the Stanford curriculum with the full backing of a professor. The desire of these three students to create a forum where those with firsthand experience in the armed forces can discuss their role in foreign policy today represents a shift in Stanford’s perception of the military. After 40 years of hostility towards anything associated with the armed forces, the Stanford campus has welcomed a student initiated course focusing on military strategy, tactics, and policy as a means to open a long absent dialogue. Gleischman, Khademi, and Powell see this course as the first step of many to welcoming an understanding of what, and who, the armed forces really are.
“[We] would love to see this course institutionalized. Due to SIC rules, we were required to cap the class at 20 students to create a seminar environment,” said Kelly Gleischman, “which meant that a large number of students who were interested were not able to enroll. I would like to see a lecture class created so that all students can participate and learn about such an important component of national security policy.”