Sagan wins Gerner teaching award

The International Studies Association has awarded CISAC Co-Director Scott Sagan the 2008 Deborah “Misty” Gerner Innovative Teaching in International Studies Award for his simulation exercise that he has taught to Stanford undergraduates for the last decade through PS 114S “%course1%.” The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) simulation, which Sagan developed, helps students understand the complexities of international negotiations as they relate to national interests. The Gerner award recognizes an instructor “who has developed new or significantly refined effective teaching in the discipline” with particular emphasis on “pedagogy that engages students with issues of war [and] peace.”

Under Sagan’s guidance, the simulation has been successfully exported to Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Reed College and the University of California-Berkeley. “Students tell me the simulation is the highlight of their academic experience,” said Ron Hassner, an assistant professor of political science at Berkeley who is a CISAC visiting professor.

As many as 150 students, acting as delegates to an international negotiation on a nuclear weapons issue, participate in the three-day simulation. Sagan tries to make the exercise as realistic as possible—students are required to dress formally and adopt the language and posture of diplomats during private negotiations and plenary meetings. In preparation, students research and write memoranda outlining the goals that should guide their assigned country’s behavior, and what strategies their delegation should adopt to achieve its goals. Delegates also receive briefings and guidance from heads of state who are played by faculty and visiting scholars with experience in the real world of diplomacy and arms control negotiation.

Guest participants have included Ambassador Thomas Graham, President Bill Clinton’s special representative for arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament; Ambassador James Goodby, Clinton’s special representative for the security and dismantlement of nuclear weapons, chief negotiator for nuclear threat reduction agreements, and vice chair of the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty talks; and Keith Hansen, a member of the U.S. negotiating team for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Traditionally, a law student has played the role of a UNSC undersecretary for legal affairs, to guide students through the process of drafting an international agreement. “Aside from enriching the learning experience, contact with these diplomats also contributes a solemnity and realism to the simulation,” said CISAC visiting Professor Ron Hassner, a Berkeley assistant professor of political science who teaches the class.

At Berkeley, almost 500 students have participated in Sagan’s simulations. Three years ago, Hassner said, Graham was so impressed by the students’ achievements during the exercise that he invited two student “ambassadors” to join him at the May 2005 NPT review conference in New York City. “These students had never been on an airplane, let alone visited the United Nations,” Hassner said. “Students tell me the simulation was the highlight of their academic experience.”

The award is named in honor of Deborah J. “Misty” Gerner, a University of Kansas political science professor and an internationally noted expert in Middle Eastern conflict who died of cancer in 2006. She was 50 years old.

For more information about the award: Deborah Gerner Teaching Award.