Western Michigan University Cooley Law School has created a new course in partnership with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, one deserving of commentary as even discussion of the word “leadership” is ever more woefully mired in its antithesis. The program may have even better use in the general community or as addition to the varied leadership programs currently used by business and legislative leaders.
It is particularly interesting to note the Cooley coursework was the germ of an idea at the new DeVos Learning Center in the Ford presidential museum. Barbara McGregor, museum education specialist, approached Cooley about a potential partnership to increase the museum’s educational offerings. McGregor, Cooley professor Victoria Vuletich and WMU professor Norman Hawker brainstormed that collaboration, creating “Leadership in Times of Crisis.” Each of the three courses place students in the shoes of Ford’s cabinet members while simulating some of the tougher decisions President Ford made during his presidency.
Interestingly, the Business Journal reported Vuletich said, “It became very clear that leadership is a great need. There are plenty of politicians and very few statesmen in today’s day and age, and we wanted to address the question of, ‘How do you craft thoughtful people who can effectively deal with complex situations?’” Vuletich added a “true statesman” like Ford was a natural fit.
Members of the general public were included in the first class — along with nine Cooley students — and asked to sit around the museum’s replica of the White House cabinet table and advise Cooley professor Devin Schindler, who acted as Ford, on Nixon’s pardon. The assembled cabinet drew from historical background and information provided by the museum to argue for or against the pardon of the nation’s only president to resign from office. McGregor noted, “They didn’t have to come up with the exact answer, but it was more an exercise of thinking it through from an ethical perspective and looking at the decision from all sides.”
The program, based on the actions while under fire of Michigan’s only U.S. President, presents Ford’s hometown of Grand Rapids as a place of higher learning in this national (and international) dialogue and, certainly, offers depth to the U.S. Presidency and especially the often overlooked issues he faced, as well as why he is universally remembered as a statesman and world leader of high regard.
Ford himself said on the occasion of his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal on Oct. 27, 1999, “Some people equate civility with weakness and compromise with surrender. I strongly disagree. I come by my political pragmatism the hard way, for my generation paid a very heavy price in resistance to the century we had of some extremists — to the dictators, the utopians, the social engineers who are forever condemning the human race for being all too human.”
Another famous quote from John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. President, comes to mind: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
The DeVos Learning Center program at the Ford Museum accomplishes far more than fulfilling its educational mission; it is the highest and best use of a treasured resource and a treasured statesman. It transcends every generation.