Grand Strategy blends a ‘life of the mind’ with a 'life of public service'

Photos of the three individuals who will co-teach about global issues and strategy with faculty members.
This year, the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy will welcome three new practitioners — Evan Wolfson, Victoria Nuland, and Jake Sullivan — to teach side by side with faculty members on issues ranging from social change to geopolitics.

Adding a new intellectual flavor to a revered program is but one part of the vision that Beverly Gage has for the 17-year-old Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, for which she became the director in July.

In her new role, Gage, the Brady-Johnson Professor of Grand Strategy and Professor of History, will continue the long-standing tradition of preparing the program’s students for careers in public service. This year, the program will also welcome three new practitioners to teach side by side with faculty members on issues ranging from social change to geopolitics.

Having a strategy in the world and making an impact on society are the cornerstones of the program,” notes Gage. “Part of my purpose is to build a new cohort of both faculty and practitioners who want to be engaging in these questions.”

The Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy enrolls about 40 students each year. It combines standard classroom experience with opportunities for student-designed summer fellowships. In the fall semester, students will deliver strategy briefings in groups. “The practitioners are an important aspect of the students’ experience as they are people who have had to both give and receive these kinds of presentations,” notes Gage.

What has always really spoken to me about the Grand Strategy Program,” says Gage, “is the chance it allows to step aside either from the news cycle or from focused expertise and ask these big questions about where we are and where we are going, where we have been, and what our national purpose is.”

While the practitioners and the faculty members will be reading and teaching from the same texts, they will be able to offer students different viewpoints based on their own backgrounds. “As a historian, I tend to explore what people were thinking during particular time periods, whereas the practitioners are able to provide the students with timely strategies for solving today’s problems,” says Gage.

The practitioners, adds Gage, “bring a different set of intellectual perspectives. They are also able to provide the students with practical advice about scale and scope in the real world,” says Gage.

Gage, who is a professor of 20th-century U.S. political history, wanted to expand the breadth of the program to include questions about domestic political change and also about change from below in social movement strategy. She will be joined in teaching her module on “U.S. Politics and Social Change” by Evan Wolfson ’78, founder and president of Freedom to Marry and one of the chief strategists of the gay marriage movement. In this module, students will study strategies for achieving large-scale social and political change based on historical examples including the labor, civil rights, and modern conservative movements.

I hope that at the broader level we will be able to underscore the importance of clarity of goal, clarity of strategy, and clarity of the vehicles for achieving that strategy,” says Wolfson, who hopes to teach his students that “there are real elements of success and a playbook of successful tactics to fulfill strategy that students can work with and come to understand. Hopefully they will then implement that playbook with causes they care about.”

He continues: “Our country is really headed on the wrong path in so many ways, and we need the vision, talent, energy, drive, and fresh thinking of students to engage in the work that is urgently needed on so many fronts.”

For Jake Sullivan ’98, ’03 LAW, who most recently served as deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State and was also her senior policy adviser on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, returning to Yale as a practitioner is “an honor” and a chance that he simply didn’t want to pass up.

Yale encourages students to blend a life of the mind with a life of public service — to put ideas to work to make our country and our world better — and the students respond with incredible energy and enthusiasm. How could I miss out on that?”

Sullivan is paired with Nuno Montiero, associate professor of political science, to teach a module on “Geopolitics and the Great Powers,” in which students will study contemporary geopolitics and relations among the great powers, including the United States, Russia, and China.

Beyond the specific subject matter of the course, Sullivan hopes to convey to his students “the real-world headaches, heartaches, and humanity of foreign policy and grand strategy. To take them from the black and white of the course materials to the living color of diplomacy and statecraft.”

The topics the students will study in this module are of great significance, notes Sullivan, because “whether you’re talking about a rising power like China or a decaying power like Russia, the consequences of mismanaging great power relations could be catastrophic for our national security and for global security.” 

Liberal Democracy and Populist Autocracy” is the third module that will be offered to students during the fall 2017 semester. It will be taught by Chris Miller, a historian of Russia and a visiting professor in the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, and Victoria Nuland, who previously served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

The focus of the module taught by Miller and Nuland is liberal-democratic institutions such as NATO, the United Nations, and the European Union and their challenges today, such as the crises of Ukraine and Syria.

I’ve long admired the Grand Strategy program because it gives students a great mix of historical approaches to tough problems and a chance to put themselves in the shoes of today’s strategic decision makers,” says Nuland. “That’s the best way to study international relations, and I’m excited to help challenge the next generation of global activists,” she adds.

Not only are this year’s practitioners looking forward to sharing their experiences and real-world knowledge with the students, but they are also hoping to learn a thing or two from them.

During his time at Yale, Wolfson imagines that his students “will contribute new ideas of additional tactics and ways of achieving success that speak to their generation.”

Nuland says that her students will teach her to be “optimistic about the future that they will lead.”

Broadening the student base is also a goal of Gage’s for the program. “We are hoping to reach out to new groups of students who maybe would not have thought initially that Grand Strategy was something for them because they weren’t planning on going into areas like the State Department. It is a much bigger tent than people realize.”

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Bess Connolly Martell: [email protected], 203-432-1324