An Introduction to Presidential Decisionmaking

An Introduction to Presidential Decisionmaking

Ms. Danielle Gray
Fall 2014 reading group
1 classroom credit

Drop Deadline: September 16, 2014 by 11:59pm EST

This discussion/reading group will examine the process through which presidents arrive at major decisions. The goal is to give students a real-world perspective on how presidents make major policy decisions and the processes they employ to advance their agendas once they have reached those decisions.

Students will be assigned weekly background readings (providing relevant historical background and highlighting current events related to the week’s topic) to help them develop an understanding of the competing equities and considerations that any president takes into account in confronting questions such as when to act unilaterally, how to advance major pieces of legislation in an era of divided government, and how to responsibly balance presidential priorities with norms to protect the institution of the presidency. Several legal themes will also be highlighted throughout: students will consider how the decision making process is impacted by fundamental questions of executive power and structural limitations on the exercise of that power; separation of powers; and civil rights and liberties.

Although the discussion group/seminar will cover a range of policy areas, each class will focus heavily on the process that led to various decisions – and factors that can prevent major presidential initiatives from being enacted or implemented successfully (from Congress to communications efforts to the courts). Drawing on contemporary case studies, several current and former government officials will be invited to participate as guest speakers.

Prerequisite: Enrollment is by permission of instructor. Interested students should email a CV and statement of interest to Ms. Gray at by no later than Monday, August 25.

Note: The reading group will meet on the following dates: 9/15, 9/29, 10/20, 11/3, 11/17, 12/1.

Subject Areas: Legal & Political Theory, Government Structure & Function