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Woodrow Wilson School: "An Air of Affairs"

Conference Program Encourages Studies in Specific Public Issues

By Craig K. Comstock

Soon after the death of its greatest president, Princton University established the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs--dedicated, in the words of a memorial plaque, to a "leader in education and the affairs of state" and to the "prophet of a new world order." Throughout its 29 years, the School has concerned itself primarily with undergraduates, for, although a promising graduate division has developed since the War, the unique strength of the School lies in its rigorous and attractive program for juniors and seniors in Princeton College. From a mass of applications, fifty students in each class are chosen to undertake research, writing and even speaking on the public affairs of the time.

The School is much more than a "current events round table;" it requires each concentrator to fulfill a carefully planned course schedule in the four sponsoring Departments--History, Politics, Economics and Sociology--and to approach current problems with a broad, inter-disciplinary back-ground.

The core of the School's program is the "Conference," a method of teaching particularly useful in the field of public affairs. Intended to "train students in the investigation of domestic and international issues, in public speaking and debate, and in the art of group deliberation and decision," each Conference runs for one term and considers such topics as "The United States and European Integration" and "The Role of the Government in Developing Nuclear Power." Each term of Conference requires the concentrator to prepare a long research paper, and eventually to defend it before a group of undergraduates.

Even though it involves more work than most Departments, the School each year attracts about twice as many applicants as it can admit. In recent years, from 70 to 130 sophomores have applied for the 50 available places. To the delight of the college admissions office, the School attracts to Princeton intelligent students, interested in public affairs who might otherwise have gone, say, to Harvard (which has no similar undergraduate program.)

When a sophomore is accepted into the School, he must plan his courses for the next two years "in such a way as to form a purposeful and consistent program." To help in this planning, the administration has appointed an Undergraduate Program Advisor, Professor W.D. Carmichael. "Without an apparatus to patrol course selection," says Carmichael, a former Rhodes scholar, "concentration in the School could become aimless." His students, who range from "better-than-average to extremely good," Carmichael explains, are "carefully shepherded" in their approach to these "fascinating, challenging issues of public policy."

The School offers three basic fields--Government and Economic Life, Government of a Democracy, and International Affairs,--as well as a number of more specific topics such as The Near East, the Far East, or Latin America in the Modern World. If a student chooses to work, for example, in Government of a Democracy, he may select his courses from a list which includes Public Finance (Economics), English Constitutional History (History), Public Opinion (Politics), and Urban Sociology.

Although a concentrator draws up his course program with the aid of the Undergraduate Program Advisor, the courses themselves are offered by the several departments which cooperate in the School. In fact, the School's sole teaching enterprise is the Conference Program. Each Conference follows a schedule designed to provide definition of a public policy issue, individual research into its various aspects, formal discussion of all research papers, and finally a resolution expressing the consensus of the Conference.

At the start of each term, the 50 juniors in the School divide into three groups of approximately 17 students. This fall two Conferences are engaged in a study of "Combatting Inflation in the American Government," while the other is concerned with "Recent Changes in British Society" and the future of the British Labour Party. After an organization meeting early in the term, a stiff basic reading list is assigned, and students are given three weeks to complete it.

After the "Constituent Meeting," the broad main topic is divided so that each member of the Conference can study a sub-topic in depth. For example, the Conference on inflation in the American economy, this fall touched on "inflation and income distribution," "the national debt in an inflationary environment," and "public intervention in the wage-price process."

Professor Carmichael calls the next step, "a month in the library." During this period, students are expected to work on well-organized and well-documented research papers of around 40 pages. Considering that a History honors thesis at Harvard is 80 pages, these Conference papers, produced in four weeks, seem a rigorous requirement.

During the next two weeks, faculty members meet with each student for individual discussions on the papers. For the remainder of the term, students read and defend their papers at weekly formal sessions.

Finally, the Commissioners, seniors acting as Conference leaders, coordinate all the material, and help the chairman--a senior of "high standing"--to organize a final report, which is duly filed in Firestone Library.

In recent years, Conferences have dealt with "Democracy in Trade Unions," with "Problems of American Foreign Policy in North Africa," with "U.S. Policy toward Communism in Asia." This spring a diversified choice awaits members of the School, for topics include: "Egypt's Role in World Affairs," "Soviet Aims in Foreign Policy," and "National Security and Individual Freedom (e.g. the Fifth Amendment)."

As a supplement to research, students get new perspectives on their topic from prominent guest speakers. For the Conference on American inflation, the School has invited Arthur Burns (former Economic Advisor to the President), the chief lawyer for David McDonald's Steelworkers Union, and Senator Clark of Pennsylvania. In coordinating top-flight outside speakers with its academic program, the Woodrow Wilson School sets an example which might be followed with profit in Harvard College.

In its unique program, the School faces a number of dangers. First, the Conference could degenerate into a hollow shell, a well-organized outline. But this is unlikely, for students accepted into the program are well-qualified for the type and quantity of work required.

Second, the undergraduate program of concentration--spread over four disciplines--could provide nothing more than a survey of each. "A man could just splatter himself all over without getting very deeply into the complexities of any one field," says Professor Gardner Patterson, Director of the School. "Although we offer a wide area of choice," he added, "we demand that the choices be made with care."

In the organization of the School, two forces tend to work in opposite directions: the participating Departments sometimes exert a fragmenting influence, while the School's administrative staff attempts to unify the program. But this problem is not serious; the School does not have a faculty of its own. Rather, it is a cooperative venture of the various social sciences departments. Patterson doubts that a discipline called "Public and International Affairs" really exists, and the School does not try to develop a new discipline, but to offer an inter-disciplinary approach to certain problems.

The School requires its seniors to spend one term either as a Conference leader, or as a member of a senior seminar. These seminars add a further element of unity to the program. This fall, for example, an editor of the Reporter Magazine has discussed from a journalist's point of view, the "Substructures of Government"--such as the Press and Congressional Committees. An-other seminar concerns Problems of Modern Germany.

Concentration in the School concludes with a senior thesis (At Princeton, no sharp distinction is made between honors students and those who shuffle along in a non-honors program: everyone writes a senior thesis. There is also a three-part senior comprehensive examination,--an essay on a very broad question, a second essay on a set of field problems, and a rather specific question which is not, however, "course-oriented."

But is Woodrow Wilson "liberal arts"? some ask. The officials of the School reply that its program not only belongs in a liberal arts college, but is, in fact, one of the most valuable fields of concentration at Princeton. If the School acted merely to coordinate courses for its "members," it might be criticized as disunified. But the Conference and the senior seminar draw together (the various disciplines), and students presumably gain at least preliminary acquaintance with the tools of the social sciences. And, significantly, they "learn by doing," by applying these several disciplines to important public problems.

Hard-Working Students

The School's morale remains unmatched by any other department at Princeton, Carmichael claims. "Here," he explains, "there is more interest in work than among typical Princeton undergraduates." Absorbed by studies that have both immediacy and breadth, the Woodrow Wilson concentrator does not, Carmichael adds, "regard working as a sin."

Of last year's seniors, three-fifths plan to study law and were admitted to Harvard Law School. But the School's program, while it requires some research similar to law school work, deals with broad questions, not with specific cases and precedents; and it utilizes an inter-disciplinary approach, not a body of jurisprudence. Out of a class of 45, 12 plan graduate study in such fields as business, Soviet studies, and journalism.

Although the undergraduate remains the School's central concern, a new program was devised after the War for graduates interested in public administration. Unlike the college program, the graduate division has competitors: the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts, Harvard's Littauer Center of Public Administration, and Georgetown University in Washington.

The graduate division is small--only 20 men in each of two classes--and its students are usually drawn from other universities. These students are not future scholars and teachers; they are men who plan an active career in public administration.

The graduate division has so far produced only ten classes, but already some of its alumni have attained challenging positions in the Government. One is administrative assistant to the Vice President; another, an assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Disarmament; another works for the Labor Committee of the U.S. Senate.

Like the undergraduate school, the graduate division does not "attempt a survey of the various social sciences. Rather, it selects from each of these fields that knowledge and those technical and conceptual tools and methods of analysis which have proved useful in helping to sort out, analyze, and perhaps solve problems of the sort with which men in public affairs are likely to be called upon to deal."

The graduate school also seeks to provide the student with a "kit of tools," and "in matters relevant to his work, it seeks to teach him some of what is known, how to find more of what is known, and to be search in "what is not known" is not known." But advanced scholarly research in "what is not known is not the concern of these graduate students, who are future "men of affairs."

From this general educational aim, the graduate School has developed certain specific goals: (1) a high degree of proficiency in necessary fields of economic analysis; (2) an understanding of the basic institutions in this and other societies, and historical changes in these institutions; (3) an awareness of the fact that public problems involve a complex of elements--social, political, technological, legal, and administrative; (4) an appreciation of the nature of administrative and political processes, their significance in the formulation and execution of policy, and the importance of ethical values in human relations; and (5) a high degree of proficiency in one of the established social science areas.

If a college "is to do its right service," Woodrow Wilson once said, "it is indispensible that the air of affairs should be admitted to all its classrooms.

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