A colleague forwarded my way a discussion thread stemming from a recent online article focusing on the nation’s war colleges, the professional education of our war fighters and the faculty of said institutions so engaged. It is a relevant discussion as we find ourselves on the precipice of Draconian cuts in defense and, it seems, nothing is being taken off the table (yet) – including our postgraduate and professional institutions. The author of the article on improving PME that generated the thread, Prof. Joan Johnson-Freese (NSA Dept), takes aim at the current hiring practices of the Service’s PME – the Army, Naval and Air War Colleges. Highlighting an increasing trend of PME faculty positions as a jobs program for active duty officers retiring in place, she notes:

The problem snowballs when increasing numbers of retirees — who have little or no experience as educators — are hired as faculty, or, more insidiously, into a burgeoning number of administrative staff positions. The staff positions include assistant deans, associate deans, deans, program directors, special advisors, and “professors” with various titles, whose duties are sometimes — at best — unclear. Often, these jobs are filled without advertising the positions, or as the result of “worldwide” searches that always seem to produce the officer who was sitting down the hall waiting to retire as the only viable candidate. The educational goal of the institutions can be undermined by the desire to use the institutions as a jobs program for retirees. The result: the war colleges increasingly become bureaucracies driven by the bureaucratic goal of self-perpetuation.Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges

(I would note, that the author’s preface reflects the process across the federal government, but especially within the Services and DoD Agency of staffing with position descriptions “tailored” and targeted for a particular individual who will be retiring into that position. Fodder for another time. – SJS)

On the other side of the balance sheet, she asserts that (generally speaking) civilian faculty are often garnered from the ranks of academic “also rans”and walk-on prospects — a few diamonds are found, but for the most part, “stacks of dead wood” would be the order of the day. A third set, the so-called “practitioners” is also identified – notable for the specialized skill sets they bring, but mindful of the “expiration date” this knowledge set carries and its usefulness, absent refresh, as time marches on. Viewed in sum, the mix turns the mission of the PME schools on its head, turning them into holding pens for those marking time to full retirement in comfortable surroundings instead of institutions graduating mid- and senior-level officers armed to critically think, challenge and articulate solution sets in an increasingly complex world. The author does go to some pains to differentiate the Naval War College from the generalized meme and offers a three part solution based on the NWC’s experience which I will touch on later.

My observations here are somewhat colored by my experiences with post-graduate education, both at the Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey) and in JPME Phase 1 at NWC, but as a non-resident seminar student. In the case of the former, as a national Security Affairs (Soviet/East European Studies) Master’s student I had the opportunity to study in a curriculum that had scholars of national and international repute on staff. Included were the likes of Vernon Aspaturian, Robert Bathurst, Jiri Valenta and Kerry Kartchner among others. In the NSA course of studies, there wasn’t any coddling of students and the red pen was definitely wielded - but ultimately, to good effect. We were challenged to set aside orthodoxy and cultural norms, to look at issues from a differing perspective and in turn to press and challenge our professors. My seminar on nuclear weapons and national security certainly epitomized that environment as was the critique of my Master’s thesis on theater nuclear forces and strategies. All of which served good purpose in the approach I took in subsequent tours dealing with strategy and policy on the various staffs I served – less so for my operational tours. The non-resident seminar program on the other hand, with the exception of the national security studies phase, could pretty well be slotted under the practitioner side of the ledger, designed and scoped as it was for the student already in the Fleet and engaged in a full time job – and so while the intangibles of a campus delivered PME at NWC were missed, the concept and value are understood and informed by my NPS experience.

Turning then to Prof. Johnson-Freese’s three part recommendations, let’s examine each in turn:

“PME schools cannot overhaul the military retirement system, but they can limit the number of retirees hired onto war college faculties. One possibility would be to limit such hires to a percentage of the total faculty. This would force consideration of hiring retired officers for specialized talents and future potential, and not just for routine tasks with a nod to past rank taken as immediate qualification for the post.”

As a card-carrying member of the retired cohort I would concur – case-by-case, specialty by specialty. it isn’t closing the door altogether on that group, but rather raising the bar for admittance. Being a present instructor with the rank of Captain or Colonel should not grant entrée in and of itself, yet those who have demonstrated or show potential as teachers and scholars of a high order who come from a military background would presumably still stand to gain placement. This cohort is important because of the validation it offers the PME – that it isn’t just filled with ivory tower dwellers who have not been on the battle line. Conversely, it is also important that the War Colleges do not become another technical trade school – there is a need for diversity in perspective, background and experience that may be shared and imparted to the military students. It was one thing to study, for example, the whys and whereofs of the Czech Prague Spring – it was another matter entirely to study under someone who survived to emigrate and teach about it (and still another matter about filtering those same perspectives). That brings up the next point about the civilian-sourced faculty:

“PME academic faculty need a tenure or tenure-like system that not only gives them a goal to achieve through greater productivity, but allows them to cohere as a stable faculty and participate fully in the life of their colleges. Just as in a civilian institution, faculty should be reviewed after five years for their classroom abilities (considered over the long term, and not just based on sometimes fickle student evaluations), but also as academics serious about their careers, as demonstrated by published, policy-relevant scholarship.

Let me hasten to add that she underscores attainment of tenure is not a guarantee of permanent employment, and that even after tenure is granted, “Being retained permanently should not mean — as it often does now — automatic promotions with accompanying pay raises.” High levels of expectations should be established for scholarly, relevant work outside the class. Insofar as the NWC is concerned, I know there has been value found in several venues, some with immediate applicability to my current line of work. The third recommendation is one I find especially helpful and worth pursuing – because it is also the one most tied to “relevance” as viewed by a customer FO/GO or SES:

“More effort should be made to bring practitioners and experts from other specialized fields to the war colleges, such as the highly successful Secretary of the Navy Fellowships from the 1980s, a program that has since been discontinued but should be revived. However, these fellowships should be temporary and terminal. Outside experts and practitioners should come to the PME system, teach in the core curriculum or offer electives in their field, and conduct research and curriculum development — and then return to their regular posts elsewhere. Otherwise, they might well end up spending their time in PME trying to make their visiting positions permanent instead of serving the needs the fellowship was meant to meet.”

The challenge here might be in the grey area that exists between the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (like CNA and RAND) and the War Colleges, and the Navy’s own Federal Executive Fellowship program. And herein might be fertile ground for active and retired alike who have gained some standing in particular fields to break out of the detailing/contractual lock-step cycle and further explore and expound on an area of concentration – not necessarily as a PhD candidate, but as a post- practical master’s. The flow of such practitioners through the PME institutions would serve to keep the respective faculties up to speed and ensure the curricula maintain relevancy and currency. And perhaps it might just serve as the source of the next maritime strategy.

If we are to keep our PME institutions as viable sources of education for following generations of leaders, relevancy and validity must be ensured, and that starts with the faculty. In the course of the ensuing thread of comments and critique a central theme emerged that a creative tension needs to exist between the two principle factions (active duty and civilian professors) over the focus of effort and that it is incumbent on the senior leaders at these institutions to ensure one side or the other doesn’t prevail. A delicate balancing act to be sure, but that is why they (the senior leadership) are in those positions. Prof. Johnson-Freese offers a model for that management and presumably has instituted it within her organizational reach in her time at NWC. I, and many others I think, would be interested in knowing how that model’s implementation has fared and the particular challenges in implementing it.

Your thoughts?

Update: Some commentary (provided SEPCOR) on Prof. Johnson-Freese’s article in general and the Naval War College in particular is provided below As pointed out by my colleague (who provided the same) “…together with NWC Professor Emeritus Tom Hone’s comment on “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges”, by NWC Professor and former DSDM Department Chair Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, NWC Don Chisholm’s commentary on war college faculties is not only a guide for thoughtful management of faculty at PME institutions in general, but a strong bulwark against past and future arguments in favor of closing the Naval War College.”: 


 A Comment on “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges,” by Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese ( by Tom Hone)

 Introduction: The Problem

The very interesting essay by Dr. Johnson-Freese touches on the heart of the problem faced by the war colleges in its first sentence, where Dr. Johnson-Freese says that the war colleges are “the country’s professional military education institutions.” But there is often a great difference between an educational institution such as a well known liberal arts college and a professional school. Indeed, one of the criticisms often leveled against professional schools of law and medicine is that their programs are too narrow, or too technical, and that therefore they really don’t prepare tomorrow’s doctors and lawyers to learn as they progress through their careers.

In short, there’s a tension between “education” considered in its broadest sense and the sort of advanced schooling that prepares professionals for their careers. This tension dogs the faculties of the war colleges, and it inevitably must. On the one hand, they are supposed to “open and enlarge” the intellectual horizons of their students. On the other hand, they are supposed to help their students prepare to win the nation’s wars, help set the nation’s strategy, and plan and conduct counterinsurgency campaigns.

 The Naval War College’s Solution

The Naval War College (where I taught in 1985-86 and 2006-2009) deals with this tension in several ways. The first is by making one part of the curriculum (the study of strategy) more “intellectual” while making another part (the mastery of joint operations planning) intellectual but also heavily “practical.” You can think of the Naval War College curriculum-and its faculty as well-as spread across a continuum from the highly intellectual to a combination of the intellectual with the art and practice of planning military operations.

Given this continuum, you would expect to see very academically strong instructors, with outstanding publishing records, in the Strategy Department and mostly active and retired military officers with great operational experience in the Joint Military Operations Department-and in fact that is what you do see. At the same time, there are prominent academics even in the Joint Military Operations Department: professors Milan Vego and Donald Chisholm, to name just two.

This illustrates the second way the Naval War College deals with the tension between education (defined broadly) and professional education (which is far more technical and focused): the College “seeds” its operations department with academics, just as the best law and medical schools recruit and retain scholars who bring to their programs the sort of erudition that even professional students need to encounter.

The third way that the Naval War College deals with the continuum that runs from strategy to operations is to encourage and reward cooperation and communication across department boundaries. In my first tour at the Naval War College (1985-86), there was a lot of informal but meaningful contact between my department (then called National Security Decision-Making) and the Strategy Department. Faculty from those two departments even met informally with their colleagues in the operations department to talk about teaching strategies, research, and current issues relevant to the College’s program. There was less of this informal contact in my second tour (2006-2009), but that was because the teaching load was greater, and, in my case, because I was trying to do the research and publishing that Dr. Johnson-Freese advocates.

The fourth way that the Naval War College tries to overcome the problems described by Dr. Johnson-Freese is by rewarding research and publication. I benefited from this during both of my tours teaching at Newport. Both times, my department chairs (in two different departments, by the way) encouraged my research and writing and even did their best to find time for me to study and write. In addition, I always had colleagues who were happy to read and comment critically on what I wrote. That’s why I went back to the Naval War College a second time-because of an atmosphere that challenged me to think and to learn.

The fifth way that the Naval War College addresses the tension between education broadly defined and education defined narrowly is by allowing faculty to come and go. In my case, I never intended to stay for a long time at Newport. Instead, I wanted to (a) gain experience that I could plow back into the curriculum, (b) “get where the action was” as much as I could, given my skills and background, and (c) show I could both publish and manage-that is, combine intellectual work with practical work.

If you’re educating professionals, you can’t treat them like regular undergraduates. You can’t retreat to your special discipline and take refuge there because your students won’t have that option once they leave the war college and go off to make war or prepare for it. Their profession is demanding-intellectually, socially, ethically, and in terms of the demands it makes upon their energy. To be an effective instructor, you need to have had at least some experience like that of your students. That doesn’t mean that you should be shot at and survive, but it does mean that you should have found yourself challenged- seriously challenged-as a thinker and as a decision-maker. My experience with the Naval War College is that the College’s leaders have liked potential faculty with that background, and I think they have been correct to like them.

 The Bottom Line

What it comes down to in the end is leadership, especially from the war college presidents and their department chairs. Dr. Johnson-Freese noted in her essay that when she became a department chair in 2002, she found that most of the active-duty officers in her department at the Naval War College intended to stay as instructors once they retired. Her next act as the new chair should have been to tell every member of her department that this would not be possible and that, in fact, it was not and would not be department policy while she was the chair. Put another way, she faced a severe leadership challenge, and it was her duty to deal with it in such a way as to balance her professional ethics with the need to alter the social atmosphere that existed within her department.

That is never easy to do. I still grit my teeth when I think of some of the management or leadership errors that I made when I was a manager in the Navy and the Defense Department. But it’s what senior leaders get paid for. The chairman of a department at the Naval War College usually has under him or her an outstanding faculty. It’s up to him or her to lead that faculty-to change expectations, if they need changing, and to institute new standards of professional behavior, if new standards are needed.

I would very much have appreciated Dr. Johnson-Freese explaining to me and to her other readers what precisely she did to move her department toward the model that she describes in her essay. I admire the model. I have attempted to “live it.” But it’s not an easy model to implement, and those charged with leading the war colleges need to learn from former successful leaders in those institutions how to make them what they should-and can-be. Perhaps Dr. Johnson-Freese will provide that sort of guidance in a subsequent essay. I certainly hope so.


NAVWARCOL Prof. Don Chisholm on managing war college faculties:

“A major difficulty in attracting and retaining competent civilian faculty is to find those who grasp the “otherness” of the JPME institutions and are still willing to come. I think in Newport, as Tom Hone pointed out, the Strategy and Policy Department has consistently done a spectacular job in this. JMO has been more challenged because the nature of what it teaches (I chaired our faculty recruitment committee for a number of years and experienced this first hand) attracted mostly second-tier PhD’s. We ultimately decided that it was better to hire retired officers with the requisite active duty bona fides and develop them into builders of curriculum, etc. than to go the other route, based on credentialing rather than potential intellectual contribution. I think we have mostly succeeded with this course of action.

The whine from the Air Force civilian professor that made the rounds recently suggested to me, after looking at his vita, that he probably couldn’t get a research university job, “settled” for the Air Force institution and never quite grasped its mission — and for some long time too. More broadly, to some extent this may be explained by the second-tier academic status of some significant number of civilian faculty at JPME institutions, who, at least some of them, evidently could not gain tenured positions in mainstream academia, and yet yearned for some semblance of that life. I viewed (and continue to view) this effort as a subversion of the proper allocation of personnel resources at the JPME institutions.

 When I came to Newport more than a decade ago, I understood that I was shifting from one career to another, even though I continued with the title of “Professor.” That doesn’t mean that I abandoned interest in research and publication, but that I understood that it would take on a secondary complexion to be pursued in the interstices between curriculum development, faculty development, and teaching. And, truth be told, at times I chafe under this priority, but I also recognize that I decided to come to Newport and to remain there.

At the war colleges, there ought to be a continuing friction between active duty faculty and civilian faculty over the proper focus of effort. The leadership of these colleges needs practically to exploit this friction in order to produce better curriculum, not to allow the one or the other to “win,” and at the same time not to allow the conflict to become so intense as to drift into a state of anomie. I think for the most part, the Naval War College has succeeded in sustaining this creative friction

To gain a fundamental understanding of the institutional development of American higher education, let me commend Lawrence Veysey’s fine book “The Emergence of the American University” (circa 1964, I think). Veysey limns out the origins of the three strands of education that have always existed in uneasy tension with each other from the beginning been part of the university, namely between (1) undergraduate education; (2) PhD teaching and research; and (3) professional education. His description accords with my own experiences over a couple of decades in public research universities.”


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  • NYT2Timer

    Although this is an older post, for the sake of posterity I must respond. Professor Don Chisholm wrote “The whine from the Air Force civilian professor that made the rounds recently suggested to me, after looking at his vita, that he probably couldn’t get a research university job, “settled” for the Air Force institution and never quite grasped its mission — and for some long time too.”

    Sigh. And the easy disregard for knowledgable criticism continues. That Air Force civilian professor, and former Army officer who had been ordered to destroy all lessons learned studies re: COIN while serving at a research institution at Fort Leavenworth — because the US Army was never going to do THAT again (just to be clear), understood the mission of PME quite thoroughly, and the challenges of achieving that mission in the face of rotating and mostly disinterested leaders, uniformed faculty, and students. But, if by grasping the mission Dr. Chisholm means changing one’s approach to one’s vocation when a new commandant comes in to rearrange the deck chairs and pretending to educate every officer who enters the door, cheerfully speaking the lie that these officers are the best and brightest and their academic work is the most outstanding and insightful the world has ever seen — then, no, that Air Force civilian professor didn’t get it.

    As for his CV, it was indeed weak in the research and publication side for a scholar of his experience, having devoted himself to the Sisyphusian task of shaping the school via administrative duties and teaching during his long career in PME. I wonder if I can find words to express how he felt about that? Ah, yes, Professor Chisholm seems to have written something apropos:

    “When I came to Newport more than a decade ago, I understood that I was shifting from one career to another, even though I continued with the title of “Professor.” That doesn’t mean that I abandoned interest in research and publication, but that I understood that it would take on a secondary complexion to be pursued in the interstices between curriculum development, faculty development, and teaching. And, truth be told, at times I chafe under this priority, but I also recognize that I decided to come to Newport and to remain there.”

    As Groucho Marx once said, “I resemble that remark.” Or, maybe Pogo is applicable: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I eagerly await Dr. Chisholm’s post-retirement whine.

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