Teaching Policy Writing After the Election

I invited Alex Ralph, one of our writing instructors, to write a post about policy writing and why we think it is such an integral part of a policy education. His thoughts are below. Thank you, Alex!


The Saturday after the election I participated in an orientation session for prospective graduate students considering applying to the Ford School. I’ve done a few of these faculty panels before, but this year the questions were not the standard ones—about degree requirements, say, or just how fretful a student should be about the quant workload. Instead, from the very beginning of the Q&A, it became clear that the prospective students, like many of us on the panel, were grappling with the purpose of public policy following a stunning election result.

None of us on that panel should have been surprised by the questions—How does the Ford School teach leadership? In light of the election, how do Ford School faculty account for any disconnect between policy analysis and its reception? The election, after all, was pretty much all any of us had been talking about. And in fact, a number of us in the facultariat, myself included, were in need of shoring up our own convictions about the purpose of our work.

To the questions at the panel, I gave an answer that I often give, though in this case with greater emotion and perhaps less eloquence. Specifically, I talked about how Ford School writing instructors prioritize an engagement with opposing points of view. We do so, I said, in the spirit of intellectual generosity and also as a self-check to our own ideas. No matter our political beliefs, our convictions gain persuasiveness through challenge: we must examine them against the strongest arguments of our opponents. This, as I told the prospective students, embodied much of our Ford School writing pedagogy. If your goal is to persuade, you must seek out the legitimacy of an opposing view and then battle it.

If in theory, this sounds fine and good, albeit a tad macho—a MMA steel-cage match of ideas—in my non-teaching life these last two weeks, I’ve struggled to follow my own über-rationalist policy writing advice. Ultimately, it took a recent writing workshop session to help me articulate why, despite the shock of an election whose results I find particularly dire, I continue to value the role that good policy analysis and prose can play.

At the end of this recent writing session, the student, echoing the questions at the orientation session, asked if I thought facts and analysis mattered, or was it the manipulation of facts and analysis that really determined public policy. Now such a question is probably better answered by someone far above my pay grade, but give a writing instructor an invitation to pontificate and look out.

My answer consisted of two parts. First, policy writing must always strive to hold in mind that we are all more complex creatures than a single identity marker can capture. If, as policy students and policy professionals, we must draw upon data in order to think through generalizable points, we also know that the sheer mystery of the human heart will usually elude neat classification. Terms may obscure as much as they reveal.

Second, as I told this student, it is my belief that we can’t over-worry about the reception to our work. Yes, you can’t naively assume that what you deem to be the strongest evidence will automatically persuade others. It behooves us to think hard about how we present information. But even if our best ideas don’t win the day, that doesn’t free of us of the obligation to continue to put those best ideas forward.

Thus, I said—beginning again to believe it myself—we must continue to engage with differing points of view. And we must continue to try to write and think as clearly and honestly as we can. If, for no other reason, than to be our very best selves. For, ultimately, it is also our own souls we must try to save.

Student profile: Matt Kretman

9/1/15 Ford School headshots

I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. and was always passionate about politics and public service. I also always dreamed of going to Michigan and attended here as an undergraduate, where I majored in political science.  After college, I returned to the D.C. area and had the opportunity to work for Congressman Chris Van Hollen, my home state representative from Maryland.  I spent more than 5 years working for him in a number of capacities, including as the Director of Outreach for his House Leadership office, and as a Senior Legislative Assistant where I advised him on a range of issues, including national security, immigration, and judiciary policy. In 2015, I decided to return to the University of Michigan to pursue a dual Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration degree to learn more about public management and policy analysis.

As a student at Ford, I am very interested in the intersection of public policy and business and have focused my policy interest on economic development.  After I graduate, I would love to help a city or a region smartly invest in business to help stimulate the economy in a way that helps people across the spectrum.

Q – Favorite Ford School class or professor? Why?

My favorite class was microeconomics and the applications it had for public policy.  Learning how to construct a CBA, how to measure externalities, and how to develop frameworks to solve complex policy problems was incredibly helpful for what I want to do after I leave Ford.

Q – Best thing about the Ford School?

The people!  It is so satisfying to come to class everyday and be surrounded by people who are passionate about public service and helping the community.  In addition, everyone at Ford has an insatiable intellectual curiosity and as a result, I am constantly learning not only from my classes, but from my peers.

Q – What’s your favorite place, at U-M, or in Ann Arbor or Detroit, to take an out-of-town guest? Describe it.

Aside from the Big House (Go Blue!) I love visiting the arboretum.  I try to visit at least once every season to see the change in the scenery.  Plus there are so many trails that I have never taken the same path more than once.

Q – Favorite quote? 

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” – JFK

The day after

If you are in the U.S., this morning you woke up to a country rocked by the tumultuous events of yesterday. Perhaps those of you living in other parts of the globe were also surprised by the election results. One of our students walked into the office this morning and said “I’m so glad to be in policy school where everyone wants to talk about this.” Our dean, Susan Collins, sent a statement to our community today about the importance of the work going on here. I thought you might enjoy reading a portion of her letter.

Dean Collins says, “We here at the Ford School are privileged in the sense that we can do so much more than simply hope for a better nation, for better leadership. Every day we can prepare students like those who modeled our values so well last night (at our community election watch party). We can study, write, teach, and engage. We can become the citizens and public servants that our great nation deserves and so desperately needs. Individually and collectively, we can act with strength and civility to keep moving forward.

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama said that ‘no matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning’. Like the sun, we all rose this morning. We called our friends and loved ones, we got our kids ready for school, we resolved in our own way to keep working at it–to keep building the fair, just, peaceful America that we hold in our hearts.”

Regardless of your party affiliation or political beliefs, I think many of us are weary from this grueling political season. It is my hope that we will get better at civil discourse and mend the divides in our society as well as the divisions with our global neighbors.

All the best, Beth

Student profile: Krisjanuardi Aditomo

Kris croppedMy name is Krisjanuardi Aditomo and I am from Jakarta, Indonesia. I graduated from Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia, with a degree in Industrial Engineering. I had been working for the Central Bank of Indonesia since then, until right before coming to the Ford School. Because I am sponsored by the Central Bank, I was able to waive the internship requirement. So instead of doing internship, I spent my time traveling in South America (Chile, Peru, and Colombia) and some part of the US last summer. I also worked for the University of Michigan International Center during the summer as a peer advisor for the 2016 International Center’s Summer Orientation. My policy focus is economic development, especially in developing country.
Q – Public policy isn’t one of the most obvious career paths. Describe the path that brought you to it. 

I was working for the Central Bank of Indonesia before coming to Ford School. In the past, the majority of employees in the Central Bank chose to continue their study either in economics or finance since it’s the core competency needed as a central banker. But, Central Bank is not a research institution. Central bankers are policymakers. They also need to know how to make a policy. That is why I decided to pursue further study in public policy.

Q –  Favorite Ford School class or professor? Why? 

This question is quite hard to answer. There are several classes and professors in Ford School that I like. But if I have to choose one, it will be Kathryn Dominguez. I took her International Financial Policy class last semester and it was a tough course. But the way Kathryn teaches made it less difficult to understand. Also, the way she interacts with students made the class atmosphere less intimidating. Occasionally she brought snacks to class, too. She is amazing.

Q – Best thing about the Ford School? 

Best thing about the Ford School is the diversity of Ford School community. Each student has a different policy interest. There are also various kind of classes provided by Ford School. Even in core classes like Statistics and Microeconomics, we touched various aspects in the discussion; from politics to environment, from economics to human rights. Ford School helps you broaden your knowledge and point of view. I learn a lot in Ford School.

Dia de los Muertos vigil – guest post by Students of Color in Public Policy (SCPP)


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Dia de los Muertos (DDM) or Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration of life and death rooted in indigenous and Spanish/Catholic traditions. It is a day to honor the lives and pray for the souls of loved ones who have passed away. Altars are built and decorated as ofrendas or offerings to honor loved ones with flowers, candles, and pictures. DDM is a day of remembrance and a promise to never forget those who have passed. In observance of DDM, SCPP and OIP have come together to create an ofrenda that honors the life of those who lost their lives due to systemic violence.

Above is a picture of the altar, located on the second floor hallway of Weill Hall – it included pictures of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo and Eric Garner. These are only a few of the victims of systemic violence, but our hearts and prayers go out for the entire Black/Afro-diaspora community.

The goal of Students of Color in Public Policy is to ultimately use this, and future events, to demonstrate and continue to build unity between people of color. We continue to stand in solidarity with the immigrant community, the Muslim community, the Native American community, the LGBTQIA community, the Black community, and all others battling with systemic oppression.

In solidarity,

SCPP Executive Board

Think you might be a future Fordie?


UN Spirit Day photo large

Thank you for visiting our admissions blog! As you explore your potential graduate school path, we hope the information provided here will give you a taste of life as a Ford School student (aka Fordie).

The entering class of masters’ students for Fall 2016 numbers 116 students. You can see a variety of demographics in the list below.

  • Incoming class size: 116
  • 11 MPA students
  • 105 MPP students
  • Average age: 27
  • Age range: 22-48
  • Non-U.S: 29 percent
  • Students of color (U.S. only): 41.5 percent
  • Female: 52 percent
  • Male: 48 percent
  • Years of work experience: 3.6
  • Countries of origin: 14

These numbers demonstrate the wide variety of paths that students take before entering the Ford School. In this class, the range of undergraduate majors range from the more traditional (economics, political science) to those that are less common (civil engineering, astronomy and architecture). Our students worked as teachers, researchers, journalists and community organizers. I am often asked the question “How would you describe a typical Ford School student”? My answer is this – they are committed to improving some aspect of our society. Their passion may relate to education, environment, housing, energy, economic development or some combination thereof but it is always about improving the lot of others.

In addition to the posts on this blog, I wanted to extend a couple of invitations to learn about the Ford School in other formats. First, we will be hosting a graduate information session on Saturday, November 12th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Faculty, staff and current students will participate. We hope you will join us if your schedule allows. You can register here.

If you are not able to visit in person, our current students, led by our Students of Color in Public Policy and Out in Public student organizations, are conducting our Pipeline Initiative (PI) program, assigning current students to serve as mentors to prospective students through the application process. If you are interested in signing up to participate in PI, you can do that at this link.

If there are questions you would like us to address in future posts, please contact us at fspp-admissions@umich.edu.