Politics: It’s 2020, and to be successful, MBAs simply must know their way around a public policy debate — whatever the subject.
That’s where The Washington Campus comes in. Since the late 1970s, this nonprofit, nonpartisan consortium has held intensive courses for business school students in the nation’s capital focused on the intersection between business and public policy, and more recently on health care policy, featuring luminaries from both worlds.
Luminaries? Try civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. California Senator Dianne Feinstein. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. And that’s just a few of the names on the politics side. Among TWC’s Business & Policy faculty are senior executives from Procter & Gamble, Ernst & Young, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There have been dozens more over the years, too many to list. All speak candidly in The Washington Campus’ unrecorded, off-the-record setting — helping to bridge the gap between the worlds of business and politics with invaluable insight, freely given.
“Students get real, unvarnished insight and experience, and they realize when they hear the speakers talking that this is not a prepared speech,” Mike Lord, president of The Washington Campus, tells Poets&Quants. “There’s no streaming or recording. In this day and age where more and more programs are going online or hybrid, like part online, part in-person, the value of face-to-face experiential education is higher than ever.
“The whole reason you come here to Washington, D.C. is, you literally could not get this education anywhere else. You have to be here to experience it. You also have to be here to talk to the speakers because it is all in-person and it’s off the record. You get some incredible insights. I sit through many of the sessions and think to myself, ‘Wow, I wonder if we should be talking about this?'”
A GAP IN BUSINESS EDUCATION TO FILL
Politics impacts everything — but it especially affects business and vice versa. Understanding this is essential to a well-rounded MBA education, which was the epiphany of Bill Seidman, founder of The Washington Campus.
Want tax breaks for your business or industry? You’d better learn what it’s like to lobby Congress. Looking to forecast political and public reaction to natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or deadly viruses? What about the realities of business in wartime versus peace? Talk to the experts who have been there before. Seidman and other veterans of the Gerald Ford administration, temporarily out of power after Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter in 1976, wanted to create a place where the intersection of politics and business could be discussed in a frank, pragmatic way, to give current and future business executives a better understanding of the dynamics of government and public policy. In 1978, The Washington Campus was born.
“Bill has a fascinating history because the genesis was in the Ford White House and you can literally map out the offices of the people who are some of the key founders of The Washington Campus,” Lord says of Seidman, who later became the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation under President Ronald Reagan. He died in 2009. “Their offices were all right next to each other in the Ford White House. So David Gergen, Roger Porter, Bill Seidman, Donald Brown, Dick Cheney. When Ford lost to Carter and they were trying to figure out what they should do next, this was one of the things that they did in combination with the business school deans and with the executives that they all knew and worked with. So it was a combination of public officials and business school deans and business executives. They just saw this need, to fill this gap in business education.”
Since its founding, more than 40,000 have participated in TWC seminars and courses. The consortium of member schools has grown to 17: Arizona State University, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles (which returned to the consortium in 2020 after a hiatus of a few years), Emory University, University of Florida, GVSU Seidman College of Business, Howard University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, University of New Mexico, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Northeastern University, The Ohio State University, Purdue University, Rice University, University of Texas-Austin, and Texas A&M University.
AMID VIRUS SCARE, TWC STEPS UP FOR CREDIT-HUNGRY MBAs
The Washington Campus’ offerings include a variety of mixed-school, open-enrollment courses, as well as custom, single-school, cohort programs. The consortium has about eight MBA Business & Public Policy programs per year, including three this month, each running five days and highlighted by well-known guest lecturers; in the past, the roster has included former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean and Michael Steele, former chair of the Republican National Committee, among many others. Generally, these courses have about 100 attendees. There are also open EMBA programs slated for June and October, and health care policy courses in August (MBA) and September (EMBA); these courses are smaller, with about 25 students in each. The Washington Campus also offers graduate Accounting and Public Policy capstone courses, as well as a limited number — in 2020, just one, in late May — of upper-level undergraduate and honors courses.
But as the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 sweeps across the U.S., forcing business schools to cancel overseas trips and curtail domestic activities, The Washington Campus finds itself filling another role: backup plan.
“We’re getting waves of students from a variety of schools joining us last minute here in D.C. due to their international trips being cancelled,” Lord says in an email. “It’s not easy to come up with a last-minute three-credit alternative, especially an experiential one, and also especially for students approaching graduation. So we’re accommodating as many of these ‘diverted’ students as we’re able, and also even generating some new sessions and programs to try to help further. We’ve got some of these students here this week, and a lot more coming the next two weeks as well, and also for our two May sessions.”
TWC had long had four March MBA programs scheduled: three “Managing Business, Public Affairs, and Public Policy” courses and one “Managing Health Care Policy” special section. It also has two already-scheduled May MBA D.C. courses. Now, to accommodate the flood of last-minute interest, it is offering new programs as well.
“I have the ‘good fortune’ of taking the lead of putting together new programs on short notice,” Lord says. “But it’s nothing I’m not used to. A couple of years ago, I was in Panama, and a previously canceled China EMBA group emailed me that half of their group finally was able to get their visas after all last minute, and they’d be arriving in D.C. on Sunday. This was on Wednesday. I can’t say I was able to enjoy my trip to Panama as much, but we had a full, great program ready to go within 48 hours. I admit I did have my computer and phone with me poolside and may have also ordered a few drinks.”
Even before the recent coronavirus scare, Lord says, TWC has noted a trend away from international trips being an integrated, mandatory part of some MBA programs, instead of being featured as optional electives. “As MBAs increasingly are working professionals, so many already have substantial international experience — or they are international students, in which case being in the U.S. is an international experience,” he says. “In other cases, MBAs’ employers are prohibiting them from traveling to places like China, etc., or health and safety concerns come into play, as currently. A couple of our schools recently made their international trips optional, for example, and offer our D.C. options as alternatives. We’ve also seen more schools make our D.C. courses integrated and required, especially for programs such as health care E/MBAs.”