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.
- A Polite Rozhestvenski Whisper to the Trump Transition Team
- On Midrats 8 Jan 2017 – Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?
- “Ameri-Straya”: The Story of the People Behind the U.S.-Australian Partnership In Electronic Warfare
- There Are Bad Ideas and Then There is This Bad Idea
- Missile Gap? Warhead Gap? No. Try Strategic Spending Gap