Course Spotlight: Diplomat in the Classroom

South Asian politics course brings policymaking to life.

By Linda Chen 13C

Marion Creekmore

Marion Creekmore, a former US ambassador, teaches an innovative South Asian politics course each fall. Photos by Wilford Harewood. 

Marion Creekmore is lecturing on the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over the region of Kashmir when his phone rings. He takes a moment to glance at the number and excuses himself, saying, “Sorry, class. I have to get this. It’s Washington.” 

With more than 20 years of service as an American diplomat, Creekmore is not your average professor. He teaches about India’s foreign policies not only from textbooks; he shares personal accounts of his interactions with India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from his time serving as the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in New Delhi. 

Offered each fall, his “South Asian Politics since 1945” course examines the increasingly prominent role the region is playing in international affairs, with a focus on the historical and current foreign policies of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Creekmore—a distinguished visiting professor of history and political science in Emory College—draws from his personal experience to teach students about the ambiguous and demanding nature of diplomacy. 

“Though I have the degree, I am not the scholar most professors are because I spent 30 years working in diplomatic corps,” says Creekmore, who also serves as ambassador-in-residence at the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning. “I am teaching students about the policies made by a number of people I personally knew. These are real people making real decisions under very difficult circumstances,” he continues, noting how moral evaluations are often made in hindsight. “When you are looking out into the future and deciding which way to go, it is very difficult. But that’s what policymaking is about.” 

Emory has long benefited from the wealth of Creekmore’s diplomatic experience, knowledge, and leadership. He was the university’s first vice provost for international affairs and director of the Halle Institute. He also served as program director of The Carter Center in the 1990s following his service as US Ambassador to Sri Lanka. In his “retirement,” he has rededicated himself to the classroom, teaching courses on India and the wider region each year. 

“Ambassador Creekmore brings a wealth of diplomatic and foreign policy experience to students in his very popular course on India and South Asia,” says Holli Semetko, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Media and International Affairs. “And with the public lectures given by diplomats each year as part of the course, the Emory community gains unique insights about the most pressing foreign policy issues in South Asia.” 

The South Asian politics course brings the material to life by transforming the classroom into an international stage where key figures evaluate, discuss, and propose policy objectives. Students not only examine the historical and current political, economic, and security concerns of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan through articles and books, but also listen and pose questions to diplomats and policymakers. Visiting speakers include Consul General of India in Atlanta Ajit Kumar, Consul General of Pakistan in New York Faqir Syed Asif Hussain, and US State Department Director of Pakistan Affairs Tim Lenderking.

Students work throughout the semester to produce group policy papers simulating how policymakers prepare and present new initiatives. The policy papers propose a five-year plan outlining how a government from one of these countries will seek to advance its key policy objectives toward another. Unlike a traditional research paper, where students write about what happened and why, students must take the knowledge of the past and decide how to move a relationship forward in the future. 

Ajit Kumar with students

Indian Consul General Ajit Kumar answers questions from Creekmore’s students following his lecture at Emory. 

For students such as Pritika Gupta 14C, a history major from Mumbai, the class imparts an appreciation for rigorous political evaluation of the present in light of the past. She says the course added to her understanding of diplomacy and furthered her career aspirations in international finance and Indian politics. 

“I am an Indian citizen with an Indian passport who grew up India, and I do not know anything about the other side of the border, which is what makes me want to go to his class every day and learn something new,” Gupta says. 

SooJin Jeong 14C, an international studies major from Seoul, echoed Gupta’s sentiments despite having no intention to pursue a career in international politics. Instead, she pointed to the practical skills she gained from the course. 

“The policy paper was different from the research papers I’ve written for my other classes,” she says. “The paper taught me how to address political problems in a diplomatic manner, to think diplomatically, and write professionally. These are all qualities I can contribute to my future career, whatever it may be. It’s tough at times, but I always walk out of the classroom with something new.” 

Linda Chen 13C is majoring in journalism at Emory College.

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