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Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry leads final Spring 2017 Master Class

What would you do to prepare yourself for a four-hour crisis simulation in which you and 23 peers each played a key role in the Executive Branch?  How about acting as White House Press Secretary while one of the most accomplished people ever to hold that title peppers you with questions?  That’s what we did during our final academic week this spring!

To begin, on Monday the students heard a basic introduction to international relations: first, an overview of social contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau), and second, an overview of realism, liberalism, and other key IR theories.  The students asked themselves questions like “why do governments form in the first place, and what does that have to do with how governments ought to interact together?” “what is the proper role (if any) of the United Nations?” and “is it right for a country to risk its own citizens’ lives in order to promote human rights?”  Several case studies from earlier this summer (perhaps most notably our Rwanda case study) echoed through the conversation.

Then on Wednesday we welcomed former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry to the Academic building.  McCurry served for nearly four years as Bill Clinton’s Press Secretary and was at the podium when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke (“I’m not going to parse the statement” was his most famous line).  In small groups, our students researched real-life issues, wrote brief statements about them, and elected one member to serve as a mock White House Press Secretary.  Each Secretary then read her or his statement and then took nearly ten minutes of grilling from McCurry, who acted as the White House press corps.  His questions were incisive, aggressive, and 100% real.  Each Secretary got the opportunity to think on her or his feet (a key SEGL skill) in front of the person one leading historian has called the best press secretary since the 1950s.

On Friday, the students put their crisis management knowledge to work in the crisis simulation.  Over the course of the simulation, the President and her (yes, her!) team learned important information about a series of international and domestic issues that required tough decision making under time pressure and also public relations skills.

Our faculty acted as members of the domestic and international community in videoconferences, videos, leaked “intelligence,” and in person (at the height of the action, the President was required to spend ten minutes reading a bedtime story to her child…).  We won’t spoil the details for future terms; suffice to say, lives were lost, lives were saved, ethical decisions were bandied about, and the President’s final press conference was hard-fought but successful–perhaps in part because of McCurry’s mentorship earlier in the week.  For many reasons, it was a fitting final Ethics and Leadership exercise for an outstanding group of developing leaders.

May 26, 2017

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