Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Strategist Takes Over Klain’s Seminar


John Neffinger, media and communications strategist, will take over Ron Klain’s (CAS ’83) government seminar “Presidential Debates,” after Klain was appointed the U.S. Ebola czar by President Obama.

“I’d like to congratulate you on picking a professor as able as Ron Klain. Unfortunately for the class, but fortunately for the country, President Obama also recognizes his ability and so we have to re-calibrate a bit on the course. We’re saved by the fact that John Neffinger has generously agreed to step in and take over, putting us on track to continue with a great class,” Michael Bailey, professor and chair of the government department, wrote in an email to the 21 students in Klain’s class on Wednesday.

Neffinger is the president of The Franklin Forum, a nonprofit communications organization that provides media training and debate preparation for progressive candidates and nonprofit advocacy organizations. He co-founded KNP Communications, where he helped clients to develop effective communications skills.

He co-authored “Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential” with his partner Matt Kohut, and he has lectured at Harvard Business School and Columbia Business School. Neffinger has earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School.

“I’m particularly pleased that John has such deep experience in preparing candidates for debates. This means he has lived the often harrowing process of debate preparation many times over which will give him particular insight into the presidential debates you are studying in the class,” Bailey wrote in his email.

According to Bailey’s email, the course will continue as originally planned on the syllabus, and the class will continue to meet on Monday evenings.

There will be an outside speaker this Monday, and Neffinger will begin teaching Nov. 3.

After news broke of Klain’s appointment to coordinate the United States’ Ebola response last Friday, Klain discussed the future of the course with his students during Monday night’s class session.


“When the president called, giving up this class was one of the top things on my mind,” Klain said to his students Monday.

Students in the class lamented the loss of Klain as their professor. Klain, a former chief of staff to vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, has taught this course on and off since spring 2012.

Parnia Zahedi (COL ’15) said that Klain has been one of her favorite professors at Georgetown.

“He was one of the most impactful professors I’ve had at Georgetown,” she said. “He cared so much not only within those Monday night sessions but outside of the classroom as well.”

She attributed much of the course’s success to Klain’s dynamism and enthusiasm for the material.

“He would make class so fun, between giving us a chance to negotiate debates ourselves, to role playing different debates, so I’ll really miss how interactive he made the entire experience of being a student,” Zahedi said.

Klain’s students particularly praised him for his accessibility. According to Zahedi, Klain often ate dinner with groups of students at The Tombs before class, encouraged students to come to his office hours, and invited his students to come to his office in DuPont Circle if they ever wanted to meet with him.

“It’s astonishing how incredibly accessible he is. First day, he just gives out all his contact information to his students,” Dan Marrow (COL ’15), another student in his class, said.

Marrow explained that Klain designed the course himself and then chose to teach it at Georgetown so that he could teach at his alma mater.

“This is a class that he built, he chose to teach here, and you can tell he really loves being over here,” Marrow said.

Marrow and Zahedi said that Klain expressed interest in reconnecting with his students, either individually or as a class, after the course is over to reflect on the material together.

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