Cameron Munter, keynote commencement speaker for the Pomona College Class of 2012, is now speaking to students in a more intimate setting: the classroom. Munter, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Serbia, is currently a visiting professor at Pomona and will be teaching for a three-year term in the International Relations (IR) Department. Munter began teaching a class entitled “Managing International Crisis” this January.
Pomona’s IR Coordinator Pierre Englebert said that Pomona President David Oxtoby facilitated Munter’s hiring in the hopes of bringing in somebody with more policy experience.
Englebert said that Munter’s hiring coincides with the hiring of two other internationally focused faculty members: Bertil Lindblad, who will serve as Pomona’s Senior Adviser for International Initiatives starting later this spring, and a new full-time, tenure-track professor in the IR program.
“It’s part of a growth, not just of the international relations major and program, but a growth of international focus,” Englebert said. “These are all new positions which will have a great effect on the IR major as well as internationalism at Pomona beyond the major.”
Munter is taking an unconventional approach to his teaching by relying more on real-world application than on theory.
“I’m teaching what you would call practical, or hands-on study, rather than the standard, more academic approach,” Munter said.
Munter draws on his experience as a diplomat to give students a sense of what working in the Foreign Service is like.
“We’re getting real-life experience. He uses his experiences in a dynamic way that really shows the decision process,” said Claire Peterson CM ’14, a student in Munter’s class. “It makes the class more interesting and believable.”
Peterson, an IR major, said that Munter’s class is already different from many of her other classes.
“In most of my other IR classes, we read books or articles and third-person accounts. They were nothing like this, where it’s mostly first-person accounts,” Peterson said.
Munter, who started his career as a history professor at University of California, Los Angeles, said that he learned about the Foreign Service like most American diplomats: on the job rather than in a classroom. Munter, however, believes that practical classroom education can be valuable for students, and he said that he has begun to see similar initiatives at other schools.
“I think it’s a way to help gain some perspective on the way the field works,” Munter said. “I think that we are realizing that there’s much to be gained by talking about these experiences. There are so-called professors of practice at colleges like the Kennedy School at Harvard. It’s not very common, but it’s happening.”
Munter’s course will involve students working on specific case studies drawn from books, Munter’s own experiences as a diplomat, or the experiences of guest speakers.
“We’ve been learning the importance of specifics in dilemmas and decisions and how you can’t apply a single theory to every problem,” said IR major Nick Nañez PO ’14, a student in Munter’s class.
One example from Munter’s own life that he said he will likely use in the course occurred while he served as the ambassador to Serbia in 2008. After the United States recognized the independence of Kosovo, protesters burned down the U.S. embassy.
“The question is, how does one understand situations like that? How do you learn from situations like that? What skills you need, what kinds of preparations were useful; what lesson do you draw from this about the craft of being a diplomat?” Munter said.
For case studies, Munter will be drawing on immediate situations that require quick thinking, like the one he faced in Serbia. He will also draw on ongoing and systematic conflicts, which he experienced firsthand while working in Pakistan.
“I hope it will allow students to imagine themselves in these kinds of situations,” Munter said. “So, as they go on and choose careers, they’ll have an accurate notion of taking part in diplomacy.”