When former Secretary of State and University Provost Condoleezza Rice announced her return to Stanford, students’ reactions were mixed. While some on campus disagreed with her work within the Bush administration, others looked forward to having such a central figure of the U.S.’s recent foreign policy on campus. This quarter, Dr. Rice is teaching a seminar titled, “Challenges in American Foreign Policy,” which covers much of the same discussions and dilemmas she faced first hand in her eight years working for former President George W. Bush.
The seminar, which has roughly 30 graduate and undergraduate students, is different from most classes at Stanford, as it situates students in the role of policy makers. As one student in the class, who preferred to remain anonymous, explains: “We are divided into groups, and are tasked with deciding what policy route should be taken – for example, how to keep Afghanistan from devolving into chaos after the Soviet withdrawal or how to help Russia as it transitions to democracy.”
According to another student, who also chose to remain anonymous, the class discussions revolve around the assigned reading, with the students doing most of the talking. The day prior to each class, which meets for three hours nine times during the quarter, students must write a three to five page analysis of the readings. Dr. Rice reads the essays before the class meets and uses them to determine the course of the discussion.
Weekly essays are only a part of the class’ assignments. Throughout the quarter, students have to read an 800 page course reader and five books: Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, Samantha Powers’* A Problem from Hell*, Steve Coll’s Ghost Wards, and Craig, Gordon and Alexander’s Force and Statecraft.
Despite the extensive amount of work, both of the aforementioned students are glad to be in the class. As one notes, “Only when you do all the readings can you really engage in the class discussions. We discuss some of the biggest questions in modern U.S. foreign policy such as the fall of the Soviet Union, humanitarian intervention, and terrorism.”
The quarter-long class concludes with a 48 hour crisis simulation, where, as stated in the class’ syllabus, students assume the “role of a policy maker (presidential adviser, ambassador, etc) in confronting a hypothetical crisis situation or negotiation session modeled on a contemporary foreign policy issue.” The assignment asks students to clear the end of the quarter’s ninth week of any other appointment. After this, students must write a reflection on the simulation, which is designed to expose students to the challenges associated with decision making and crisis management.
The topics discussed, as stated in the syllabus, hope to respond to the question, “How [does the United States] confront enemies whose ambitions are unrestrained by any rational calculations or strategic interests?” At the beginning of class, states one of the previously mentioned students, Dr. Rice emphasized that students should feel completely comfortable proposing and defending any argument, regardless of where it lay on the political spectrum. Furthermore, there are several readings critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, including An Unnecessary War by John Mearsheimer.
The readings also include Rice’s Foreign Affairs essays “Promoting the National Interest” and “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for the New World.” Additionally, students will read and discuss former President George W. Bush’s September 20, 2001, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, and President Barack Obama’s December 1, 2009, Address to the Nation on the Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
**Student’s grades are made of their class participation and weekly writing assignments, which count for 40% each, and a final paper reflecting on the 48 hour crisis simulation, which counts for 20%. One of the aforementioned students considers the class to be challenging but the grading to be fair. Graduate students are graded more rigorously than undergraduates.
When contacted for additional information on the class, teaching assistant Cameron Bell stated that Professor Rice wanted her class to be just like any other, meaning they would not be revealing information on the class size or the number of applications received.
Applications for the class were released in Autumn Quarter, and asked students to demonstrate that they had extensive previous knowledge about international relations and American foreign policy.
Regarding the possibility that some Stanford students might protest against Professor Rice during her class, one of the interviewed students states that there have been no incidents or protests. However, the class location is not published on the syllabus, and office hours are held by appointment only.