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With sequestration hovering like a black cloud, PME like everything in the Defense Department is under the hammer and in flux regarding present operations and future planning. Nobody knows quite what to expect and many decisions are beyond internal control. Nevertheless, there are decisions being made or apparently being considered that are within Navy control that have PME faculty in a tailspin. In a time of high faculty anxiety already, this is just one more stone. We don’t need to do this and there are even costs and morale savings to be gained in taking a different approach.

Communication in the PME community too often seems to utilize a very Asian “information is power” model. Official notices or all-hands meetings where messages of “all is well” or “all isn’t well but we don’t know anything” are common. Even in “normal” times, that allows the rumor mill to function on overdrive. In times of extreme fiscal constraint such as currently being experienced, when clearly all isn’t well, speculation and rumor naturally runs especially rampant. Will faculty be furloughed? How would a furlough be instituted? Will civilians be treated differently from military faculty and support staff? Are faculty basically facing a 20% pay cut? On these questions we will all have to wait and see. Other questions, however, are not dependent on the actions of others and could be addressed if those in charge chose to do so.

For example, faculty travel has been dramatically curtailed as a result of the financial crisis. Again, that is understandable. A choice between funding a faculty member to attend the International Studies Conference (ISA) and buying fuel to keep ships running seems pretty obvious, even to the person whose trip to ISA has been canceled. But travel and association with peers is part of academic life. The best teachers are also active researchers who must interact with peers. Therefore, if the Navy intends to maintain the kind of “world class faculties” it often purports to want, and to have, other avenues of funding ought to be sought, and made user friendly, which they are not.

Consequent to an investigation that found expenses related to some conferences being funded by the Navy were extravagant – a finding confined to a remarkably small number of groups – a new battery of forms, procedures and requirements have been generated within the Navy that make is difficult if not sometimes impossible for faculty to travel and attend conferences, even if not funded by the Navy. The required hoop jumping is difficult and ambiguous.

To cite a personal example: I had a trip turned down in November, fully funded by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to the annual meeting of the prestigious NAS Space Studies Board, on which I serve with permission. The reason given was that approval for faculty to attend conferences now apparently includes a DC component, and whoever does that in DC simply never got around to it.

Seeking to attend a conference is another tripwire working against faculty seeking to remain professionally active. If a faculty member is requesting to attend a conference using Navy money, the conference must be deemed “mission essential” to the Department of the Navy. That rationale, while regrettable, is understandable. But whether that qualification applies to trips fully funded externally is unclear. If a request to travel is fully-funded by the inviting group, but is deemed to be a conference, it apparently still can be turned down – thereby requiring faculty to take annual leave if they want to attend. If travel is partially funded externally and the faculty member volunteers to personally pay for the rest they still have to take annual leave to attend – apparently even if the event has not been designated a conference.

And nobody seems able to declare definitively what constitutes a conference. Personally, for example, me speaking as part of a panel to several hundred people was not considered a conference, me speaking to a group of 40 students was considered a conference, and acting as a moot court judge in China was considered a conference as well. What are the guidelines? The legal officers within PME, at least at the Naval War College, are struggling mightily to make determinations on a case-by-case basis – and their efforts are greatly appreciated by faculty members. But would it be so difficult for those setting these requirements to provide clear guidelines that could be known and understood by all? The lead-time for making these decisions is currently 30 days, though rumor has it that will soon be changed to 60 days. These constantly changing, ambiguous rules will soon have a chilling effect on faculty performance, if they aren’t already.

Perhaps most insidious and potentially chilling is the rumor that consequent to a Navy Investigator General (IG) finding of wrongdoings at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) originating from a complaint about a university publication about the university, the Navy is considering instituting a policy of pre-publication review of faculty publications. While the Navy, like any government agency, clearly has the right to review employee publications for security purposes, the processes, parameters, and unintended consequences for such a review process within an educational framework should be clearly considered before instituting such a system. I strongly suspect that has not yet happened.

Who would conduct these reviews? The Public Affairs Office at the respective commands? I suspect they have neither the time nor the substantive expertise. The Security Office? The Legal Officer? How would they be done in a timely manner? When there is talk of furloughing faculty, would new staff be hired to screen publications? What would be their qualifications? What would be included: books, article, OpEds, media interview material, public presentations…personal blogs?

I attended a space conference this month in Washington, DC. A very high-ranking government official enthusiastically recommended James Clay Moltz’s book on space to the audience. Dr. Moltz is a faculty member at NPS. I’ve been told my Orbis will now be part of a required reading package for new faculty at a senior PME institution. NWC faculty member Milan Vego’s book on operational art is a standard within PME. Also from the Naval War College, faculty member Nick Gvosdev writes a weekly online column, “The Realist Prism,” and Thomas Mahnken has his online blog “Shadow Government.” Will similar publications be supported in the future? Will ongoing, online publications be subject to review?

What would the censors be looking for, security violations…or something broader, perhaps sensitive topics? Who will determine what is sensitive? Might this article be considered sensitive? And perhaps political correctness would be considered? That could all but negate the Academic Freedom required to make any great educational institution, or a great educator great.

The rumor mill is already in high gear. I have written about this potential pre-publication review process once already, based on communications from NPS faculty who had been present when it was raised in a meeting. I then received mail from another NPS faculty chastising me for raising such a rumor, saying unequivocally it had never happened. I have now heard a similar rumor about publication reviews at the Naval War College. OPNAV clarification would go a long way toward calming waters on this very sensitive issue in a very turbulent time.

Finally, I must also ask a question that I have asked repeatedly before. Are there designated individuals in OPNAV involved in discussion of these issues who actually have experience in what is required to be a professionally active academic? To prepare materials for a 21st century professional education? Or, are bureaucrats or consultants who have no idea of either requirements or consequences making these seemingly arbitrary decisions? Would a similar approach be taken if creating procedures that would affect the running of a ship?

Critics have sometimes characterized PME faculty (especially civilian academic faculty) as lazy and unproductive. There is unquestionably deadwood at all academic institutions – civilian or PME. Being deadwood, however, has nothing to do with their pedigree, but with what are they doing currently. Are they professionally active in their fields, and consequently, are they teachers who can challenge theirs students with current ideas and depth? Or are they simply bureaucrats with academic titles, phoning-in teaching and collecting paychecks? Politicos hiding out until the next change of administration in DC? Ambiguous and arbitrary rules with a chilling effect on professionalism will actually encourage deadwood, serve no purpose and quickly damage the already questioned credibility of PME.

Sometimes, those who consider or issue new policies and procedures are unaware of the tumultuous unintended consequences that result, because the individuals charged with executing the new policies and procedures are reluctant to point out problems. If those in charge realized what was going on though, they might be very anxious to fix things. Perhaps that is what is happening now, and so raise these issues for awareness, hopeful that those in charge will want to address them.



Almost a year ago, I posted a guest blog here in response to a blog post by “Steeljaw Scribe” about an article on Professional Military Education (PME) I had written for AOL.Defense. Since then, I’ve written an article for Orbis and a book on PME, (forthcoming in October 2012), in which I’ve continued to advocate open discussion as a necessary step toward improving one of America’s most valuable assets: Professional Military Education. A year later the good news is that discussion has flourished; the bad news is that for the most part it’s business as usual in PME.

The initial response from many readers and commenters to even mild suggestions that the academic rigor and practices in PME could be improved was to dismiss them as the ramblings of one or two disgruntled or failed academics, or those who just “didn’t get” that PME “is different.” There was a time when those caustic responses might have shut down the debate, but in the era of new media, many individuals– even if under a pen name or after they leave PME — nonetheless continued to express their views. The ongoing discussion confirms that there are widespread issues common to PME in general that are not limited to one or two institutions, or a few grumpy faculty.

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In its August 14 entry, the USNI blog focused on the crucial issue of the future of Professional Military Education (PME). I appreciate Steeljaw Scribe’s thoughtful consideration of the issues. In additional comments, my colleagues Tom Hone and Don Chisholm also carried forward the debate, and I am grateful to USNI for the opportunity to contribute further to the discussion.

In his comment, Professor Hone inquired about my experiences leading and mentoring a PME faculty, when I was Chair of the National Security Decision Making Department (NSDM) — now more accurately called National Security Affairs (NSA) — and about my efforts to improve the educational experience for the students:

“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…Perhaps [she] will provide that sort of guidance in a subsequent essay.”

I will elaborate on these and other PME issues at greater length in the forthcoming winter issue of Orbis, but Dr. Hone’s question is a reasonable one and I am happy to discuss it briefly here.

Simply put, I aimed for overall departmental excellence through (1) quality teaching, (2) a relevant and rigorous curriculum, and (3) a balanced faculty of top civilian academics, former military and foreign policy practitioners, and active-duty military officers.

Specifically, I tried to make a stronger distinction between “training” and “education,” as I believe that PME too often trends toward an easily-executed training model rather than the more difficult further development of intellectual agility among our officers. Still, Professor Hone rightly points out that there is a scale of activity within education, and in some cases students must learn basic skills before tackling other, more advanced problems, and that is clearly the case at the Naval War College as it is at most professional schools. (I am unaware of the “often leveled” criticisms Dr. Hone mentions of law and medical schools as being too “technical.” The tax code and neurosurgery are inherently technical, but even tax lawyers and neurosurgeons grapple with the larger issues of their profession in their years of schooling. Neurosurgeons are educated regarding the body’s “systems,” not just trained in their specialty — I cannot imagine anyone who would like to be operated upon by a brain surgeon who has no ability to work with a top cardiologist or internist — and tax lawyers must be educated on general areas of law such as jurisdiction.)

Admiral James Stavridis captured this difference between operational excellence and further officer development recently in a convocation speech at the National War College:

“I knew what I was good at and what I knew well: driving a destroyer or a cruiser; navigating through tight waters; leading a boarding party up a swinging ladder; planning an air defense campaign; leading Sailors on the deck plates of a rolling ship. But I also sensed what I did not know or understand well: global politics and grand strategy; the importance of the ‘logistics nation'; how the interagency community worked; what the levers of power and practice were in the world—in essence, how everything fits together in producing security for the United States and our partners.”[emphasis added]

I concur fully, and I have consistently argued that PME institutions too often devalue education in favor of allowing the students to study what they already know and in ways they are already comfortable with. “Rigor” then becomes defined by page counts and how much the students “like” courses, rather than how much their thinking has been challenged. And since faculties implement the standards of the institution they work at, it is natural to ensure quality by examining faculty issues first.

When I became Chair, the NSDM faculty was composed largely of active duty or retired military officers, all dedicated teachers with metrics that reflected success in the classroom. I retained many of our existing faculty, and also hired additional active-duty faculty who wanted to stay on after retirement — but very selectively. Had I wished, I could have completely filled the department without ever looking beyond the front gate of the College, but I wanted the best faculty I could find. Some of them were already here, but many of them were not.

Later, I imposed an annual, if minimal, publication requirement on all faculty (although it was only applied to military faculty in their third year of teaching). It was intended to encourage faculty not only to serve the Newport community (by writing book reviews, local Op-Eds, and short pieces for PME journals, for example) but to develop their ideas and to connect with the world beyond the College. Within a short time, the publication records of the NSDM faculty soared: active-duty and retired officers, as well as both junior and senior civilian faculty members, were writing for Joint Forces Quarterly, The Toronto Star, Proceedings, The New Atlanticist, China Security, National Review Online, World Policy Review, and many other outlets, and writing books. I believe in leading by example, and in addition to my own teaching and administrative duties as chair, I authored two books, both published by university presses, and wrote or co-authored multiple articles.

Finding and hiring academics with PME-appropriate substantive backgrounds can be difficult, an observation I shared with Professor Chisholm when he came to me for information on NSDM’s hiring process when his department at Newport (Joint Military Operations, or JMO) decided to try the different approach he referred to in his post. Because of JMO’s subject matter, I’m not surprised that hiring academics proved especially problematic and that “seeding” the faculty with sufficient and relevant substantive scholars was a challenge.

One solution for departments that teach highly specialized military subjects might be in the recommendation by former commandant of the Army War College, Robert Scales, that active duty military officers ought to replace civilian instructors at war colleges. While I do not fully agree with General Scales, giving priority to placing post-command active-duty military faculty in such PME departments might help to assure that those officers with the most recent experience in executing operations are also the professors who are teaching operations.

In NSDM, I sought to find academics, or in a few cases practitioners, with the specific aim of achieving subject area and regional diversity. In that period we brought to the department a cultural anthropologist, a geographer, counterterrorism specialists, regional specialists, and a variety of others. I also tried to diversify our demographic picture, since war colleges in general are about as diverse as a conference of astrophysicists. Five women (a record high number, though still proportionally low) were included in over thirty new civilian hires, though some of these new hires, male and female, subsequently left for reasons ranging from new opportunities to simply being uncomfortable in what they considered an overly insular environment. (Prof. Hone asserts that PME ensures flexibility by “allowing faculty to come and go,” but I can think of no quality educational institution that prides itself on a willingness to lose, or even fire, good faculty, and I have never heard anyone in any profession complain that he or she was not “allowed to go.”)

To encourage faculty to be more rigorous and risk-taking with the curriculum and in the classroom — which, in a system governed by employment contracts, they are often hesitant to do for fear of student reprisals on evaluations — I instituted the double-blind evaluation system commonly used in academia, whereby faculty assign grades before seeing their evaluations, and students complete their evaluations before seeing their grades. Until then, students could see their grades and then grade their professors, with the kind of results that one would expect in such an unusual arrangement.

As an aside, Steeljaw Scribe mentions several of his instructors at Monterey regarding both the quality of their instruction and willingness to challenge students, but this is something of an apples and oranges comparison: people like Jiri Valenta, Vernon Aspaturian, and Robert Bathurst all had careers outside of NPS, including some with tenure at top schools, or at NPS itself. They were not building their careers subject to a contract system and thus were far more insulated from any institutional pressure to cater to the students.

We made other improvements in NSDM as well. Because we use a case study method in some of our teaching, we brought in a case writing expert from Harvard Business School to assist the faculty in case writing and seminar use. The department’s final exercise — previously a relatively narrow force planning exercise at the end of the course — became a highly successful departmental event, more relevant to the students, the Navy, and DOD, to the point where multiple staffs from U.S. Combatant Commands requested copies of the projects created by the students during the exercise.

This is just a brief sample of actions I and my senior colleagues took to move NWC closer to the kind of model I described. There were others, some in response to unique issues, some as part of larger institutional changes. Overall, we have had great success: we have an outstanding teaching faculty today that is increasingly diverse, more fully engaged with the both the national security and academic communities, and who publish more and better policy relevant scholarship. Nevertheless, much remains to be done.

Before closing, I should add that I don’t see that it does much good, or advances the discussion, to impugn the motives behind any criticisms of PME. Prof. Chisholm writes:

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.

This kind of ad hominem attack on a PME colleague only reinforces the stereotype of civilian professors as layabouts who “don’t get it.” It is also a criticism that itself sounds resentful and angry, since here it is Prof. Chisholm, not Prof. Dan Hughes (whom he is clearly referencing), who is elevating tenure at a research university to the highest rank of credibility by implying that never gaining it, for whatever reason, is an immediate disqualification for speaking out about PME issues.

I cannot say whether Prof. Hughes could be tenured anywhere, nor should Prof. Chisholm make such a judgment unless his review of Prof. Hughes’ vita is informed by significant experience serving on civilian tenure committees. But I have not only served in three PME schools, and chaired departments in two, I was also tenured in a civilian department at a large university for many years. Several current and past Newport faculty, many of whom concur with these assessments, have been tenured or offered tenure at universities. Do they, too, not “grasp” the “mission,” or are we now in a Catch-22 where civilians who had tenure are clueless, but those who did not are just bitter — with the inevitable result that only a select few initiates of the PME world can speak to our mission without their reputations being attacked?

Hughes’s criticisms (which were openly published in an edited volume, as is the academic norm, rather than circulated to a select audience via email) are not even close to the most scathing recent comments about PME made by academics who have worked in both worlds — some of which I also find unproductive and which undermine civility in our profession. Had I written something so derogatory about a colleague I did not know based on a brief “look at his vita” and without knowing anything about his career or his personal choices, I might feel the need to apologize. But that is between Prof. Chisholm and Prof. Hughes.

In any case, faculty issues are only one part of larger institutional and cultural issues in PME, and those are beyond the scope of our discussion here. But I hope readers will continue to engage on this subject after the longer analysis I will present in Orbis this winter.



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