Breaking down academic stovepipes

Symposium Magazine recently interviewed several students who had taken part in Yale’s Grand Strategy Program, the subject of “Fox, Meet Hedgehog” by Euny Hong. This week’s blog discusses their experience in the program.

“Grand Strategy” has surged in popularity in large part because it departs from the traditional class formats and the established boundaries of any one major, according to students who took part. Classes are run in a “Socratic” style, rather than a typical lecture format, and “students can get popped with a question any time, which does a great job of keeping people on their toes,” according to Harrison Monsky ’13, who is now an assistant editor at Foreign Affairs.

“You’re tested in that moment, and then you can get caught in a trap,” he added. “But it’s great, because you’re in a seminar where professors really care.”

Another distinction: Grand Strategy is not just a multi-disciplinary program, with professors and students drawn from different fields. Its professors reject the quantitative approach that political science has taken since the 1990s. Instead of running regressions, students study particular individuals as they made key decisions, and then discuss what those episodes teach about leadership.

“As a political science major, I found it refreshing,” said Meredith Potter ’13, who now works at the State Department. “A central point of Grand Strategy is that it’s completely unrealistic to explain human behavior as a regression.”

Prof. Charles Hill, a long-time senior diplomat who is now on the Grand Strategy faculty, emphasized this point to students at the start of the program, added Potter. “His argument is that if you want to understand strategy and leadership, you can’t aggregate data – you have to look at the ‘outliers’ like Hitler and Stalin,” she said. “Political science doesn’t help you in that respect.”

‘There is definitely pushback by the professors against the current approach in political science,” agreed Monsky. “While everyone comes away with different views on what grand strategy is, the uniting principle is that the program breaks down the stovepipes you find elsewhere, including political science.”

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