Organizational leadership program holds first case competition

KU School of Business
2 min readApr 22, 2021


The KU School of Business Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MS-OL) program hosted its first case competition this spring.

The Donald F. Pageler USS Liberty Case Study Competition tasked students in the graduate program, offered at KU’s Leavenworth campus, to develop a case study exploring leadership as it relates to the USS Liberty.

A United States Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty came under attack by fighter aircraft and torpedo boats of the Israeli armed forces on June 8, 1967, in the midst of the Six-Day War. The attack left 34 crew members dead and 171 wounded, and it severely damaged the ship, but the crew of the Liberty battled to keep the vessel afloat and under power until relief arrived.

KU School of Business alumnus Donald Pageler, a U.S. Navy veteran and a survivor of the attack, established the USS Liberty Case Study Competition to further graduate-level leadership study. Students were encouraged to address a number of different aspects of leadership, including leadership under duress, motivation and influence and self-development. Submissions were judged on criteria including the creativity of the approach, relevance of case questions and answers and the case’s overall educational value. Zack Spear won the competition, receiving a $1,500 cash prize.

“It was a privilege to honor the legacy of the USS Liberty and her crew through this event, demonstrating that the lessons of the past still have a richness and depth that allow us to learn still today,” said MS-OL program director Steve Leonard. “Zack’s case study captures the memory of that day but also provides us with a tool that we can leverage to develop the types of leadership qualities in business school students that may one day be expected of them.”

Zack Spear

Spear, a dual MS-OL and MBA student at the School of Business, was unfamiliar with the USS Liberty prior to the case competition, so he sought out recorded accounts from sailors aboard the ship as well as other primary and secondary sources to try and get an unbiased view of what transpired.

Spear said putting together the entry helped hone his ability to condense and synthesize large amounts of information into a digestible format. He also learned from the leadership exhibited during the attack.

“The kind of leadership I saw there definitely tied into the leadership models we’ve looked at as early as our organizational leadership class,” Spear explained. “For me, what stood out was the importance of transformational leadership both in an event, but also prior to an event that sets conditions for everyone inside of the crisis to act to their greatest potential.”



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