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.

Posted by Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese in Training & Education

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  • Steve Kime

    Perhaps, like a faculty meeting, this discussion has gotten mired down. (Why are faculty meetings so nasty? Because so little is at stake!)

    PME at the Senior War College level is unique. It is a mistake to apply processes and concepts from civilian academe too strictly to the very special institutions that exist to prepare senior officers for key roles in U.S. National Security Policymaking.

    Of course, academic rigor, and critical reading, writing and thinking, are academic hallmarks that must exist at Senior Service Schools, and faculties at these Schools need to be enriched by professional academics who embody and encourage these things. The operational excellence that students bring to the table must be leavened by an academic approach to the broader sociopolitical insights and skills that the War Colleges should impart. But academic processes on civilian campuses do not hold the answers for maintaining a great war college faculty.

    But faculties at the War Colleges should not pretend to be like the faculty at Harvard. War College faculties must be different, and better. These institutions are not producing faculty for academe, academic researchers, or experts in a field that they will study for a lifetime. We send our military professor types to places like Harvard. We send our future Admirals and Generals to War Colleges. There we expect a combination of traditional academics, military professor types, and outstanding and experienced officers to comprise a truly unique faculty. Very important, every student is a teacher as well as a future leader. The PME concept depends heavily on a collegial academic and operational environment where critical mass in the learning process is reached by the interaction of a unique faculty and student body.

    Steve Kime
    [email protected]

  • Hoosier Daddy

    Mr Kime: I have read your comment three times and still cannot understand what you are trying to say, except that you hate, or at least have overt contempt for, academics. Your information on PME is so severely outdated a critique of your comment would be longer than your comment itself. I will say only that your comment, “We send our military professor types to places like Harvard. We send our future Admirals and Generals to War Colleges,” would be questioned by many top military leaders, not least GEN Petraeus.

  • Steve Kime

    I am a retired officer and an academic with a bit of experience in the education of the US military and great respect for academe. Many Admirals, Generals, and senior civilian policymakers who have been both colleagues and students would understand my comments and agree with them. (They, like you and me would honor the exceptions of Bill Crowe, David Petraeus, and others.) An understanding of the unique nature of Senior Service College Education is necessary, not outdated.

    It is not contempt for academe that you read. On the contrary. It is an understanding of the proper place of traditional American academic processes in the War Colleges that differs from yours.

    I would be glad to elaborate to a fellow Hoosier or anyone else at [email protected].

  • Hoosier Daddy

    Mr Kime:

    1. You began your post with a cliched insult towards academics that is as shopworn as the old (and just as rudely inaccurate) jibe about “military intelligence being a contradiction in terms.” It speaks for itself.

    2. Unless you are a different Steve Kime (CAPT, USN, ret) than I am aware of, your direct experience at War Colleges is a full generation out of date. If I err, please correct.

    Regardless, if you think faculty meetings are waste of time you would be very out of place in Senior PME circa 2011.

    NB: I am, like you, a military officer with a PhD and extensive teaching experience in PME, though I think much more recent than yours.


    “Does Keeping PME Relevant Mean Fixing Faculty First?”


    Is the current PME structure affordable? Is the first question DoD must ask. When the response to that question is a resounding HECK NO, then the question should be

    How do we create an affordable system to educate our officer corps?

    Here are a few follow-on questions/issues that must be addressed before we get into the minutia of how to staff a war college:

    Why does the Department of the Navy need three graduate education institutions (Each with a significant amount of overhead)?

    Can NDU manage all war colleges? Isn’t this a joint force? Why not 100% joint education with service specific concentrations?

    Do all officer’s need a master’s degree to perform duties? Or is this another form of non-cash compensation?

    How do we delink PME requirements with Graduate Education “good deals”?

    Can the nation afford to send officers on paid educational sabbaticals for more than one tour per career? Should the time at war colleges/civilian universities not count towards retirement? Conceivably officers can spend 1/3 of their professional careers participating in education programs – taxpayers aren’t getting much “bang for the buck”.

    Where is the most ROI when comparing military vs civilian staff members? Studies (CBO) have found military officer receive 25% higher compensation than civilian counterparts. Is the output 25% better?

    Graduate Education is a luxury the government will no longer be able to afford in its current state. PME is important and we need to get it right – but in a fiscally responsible way.

  • Steve Kime

    “Senior PME circa 2011” is apparently in more trouble than I thought!

    I accept your gracious reminder that people get old and irrelevant. Ideas and Principles, however, do not so quickly fade away. If our War Colleges are not MUCH more than academic institutions these days, it is a poverty.

    The proper place of traditional American academic processes in the War Colleges is a subject worthy of serious debate (not at a faculty meeting!)

    Steve Kime
    [email protected]

  • Calinjax

    As a War College alumnus who is still on active duty, I’ve enjoyed reading in various quarters the commentary concerning PME. Having attended NWC I’m especially interested in Dr Johnson-Freese’s contributions.

    While I count my time at NWC as one of the most rewarding academic and professional experiences of my life, I do rate NSDM as my least favorite course of all time (i.e.,. four years undergrad, four years advanced professional study, one year NWC). I know I’m not alone: One of my classmates, in no uncertain and rather forceful terms, went so far as to describe our NSDM seminar – directly to one of our moderators – in terms right out of Harry G. Frankfurt!

    I realize my experience had much to do with my instructors. In addition, while I had superb moderators in JMO and Strategy &Warfare – and overall outstanding experiences in those courses – some of my colleagues in other seminars in those courses had horrible experiences, attributable in no small measure to instructors.

    I cannot say I’ve witnessed many of the lessons taught in NWC actually taking root in the Fleet, which seems to be growing more dysfunctional over time.

    However, I do believe our War Colleges serve an important purpose and they need to assume even larger roles in officer development than they now serve. To that end, we need stronger vetting of prospective professors. In addition to stronger vetting of potential faculty and staff, I also see the need for a more robust vetting of students.

    Finally, PME needs to be expanded; something along the lines of annual continuing professional education requirements would be ideal. As it stands now, we weigh down our personnel with so many annual General Military Training requirements of dubious value; something, literally, more professional in nature is desperately wanted and needed by those of us in the Fleet.

  • milprof


    I’d be curious whether there was any correlation between which of your NWC instructors were good or bad instructors, and whether they were active duty military, retired military, or civilian academics. For the latter two categories PME institutions have no excuse for having poor teachers, unless maybe you got unlucky and had a new hire in his/her first year before they got canned (my PME school does routinely fire instructors who don’t work out, at least). With active-duty military profs, or profs from other executive agencies, there isn’t always an opportunity to vet — they get detailed to fill billets and that’s that. Agreed that there should be more vetting.

  • EWB

    There are plenty of billets that require screening, selection, and an interview process. Are the AD military professor billets really devoid of all that, or is the interview process not stringent enough (i.e., no lesson planning and/or classroom exposure)? Is there any en-route training in instruction?

    Concur completely on the GMT. I could recite several of those lectures myself just from having seen them so many times, so I entertain myself picking apart the spelling and grammar on the Big Navy-supplied slides. I’d love to be pulled into a focus group that war-gamed something as professional training, or even just discussed something other than JO administrivia.

    Speaking of war games, I understand (from JPME I, ironically) that in the 1930s there were a series of Fleet Problems that encouraged creative thinking to solve operational and tactical challenges. I get the occasional request for support for NWC war gaming, but I honestly don’t think that it ever gets back to the fleet. Certainly, it was never discussed in my fleet squadron. Is this something that 1) the Naval War College professors need to be focusing on more, 2) needs to incorporate the Fleet, and 3) needs to be returned to the Fleet for review and discussion (if only a reference in ALNAV message format)?

  • Mike Govern

    A interesting post, and the comments range from the informed and polite (Steve) to the small.

    Thinking critically, one could make the case that the author, like many who seek to defend their past accomplishments, accentuates the positive. It’s much like reading the auto-biography of W. Clark and T. Franks–it may be what they like to think but that doesn’t make it true. I noted the mean-spirited attack on Dr. Chisolm: that alone speaks volumes about the poster’s character.

    Perhaps this observation isn’t fair. I admit to an aversion to those academics who crow about how smart and good they are–especially when they have to put others down to appear larger than they actually are.

  • Hoosier Daddy

    Mr Govern:

    No “perhaps” about it – your observation falls well short of fair. If you’d bother to read carefully Dr Johnson-Freese’s post, and Dr Chisholm’s one before it, you would see it was Chisholm’s totally needless, and utterly unprofessional, attack on Prof Hughes which moved Johnson-Freese to write her post. Get your facts straight.

    In academic standards – which I see you care nothing about and know even less – what Chisholm did was way off the reservation and simply nasty. Johnson-Freese called him out on his creepy and slimy conduct, simple as that.


    I would agree that, unfortunately, the caliber of (especially military) faculty at NWC, as at all the War Colleges I know, varies incredibly widely and, sadly, a weak instructor can ruin a course for the students in his seminar. Serving officers have been among the very best, and very worst, faculty I’ve seen and, since the War Colleges have little say in who they get, I don’t know what an easy remedy would be. But I think it is something that needs to be looked at. On cost grounds alone, it would be easy to make the case that the War Colleges have too many underqualified military faculty (and I say that as a serving officer myself who believes strongly that the WCs need military men and women on the faculty to make it work properly).

  • Tom Nichols

    For those of you interested in more of what Dr. Johnson-Freese has to say about this, she will be on C-SPAN the morning of Saturday, 3 SEP, on Washington Journal from 0915-1000 talking about PME.

    Mr. Govern: when someone asks you to “explain what you did as a leader,” as Tom Hone did in his post here at USNI, usually you answer them. Complaining that she answered a direct question doesn’t make much sense.

  • i think that there are plenty of billets that require screening, selection, and an interview process. Are the AD military professor billets really devoid of all that, or is the interview process not stringent enough (i.e., no lesson planning and/or classroom exposure)? Is there any en-route training in instruction?

  • calinjax

    Thank you all for the replies/comments in reference to my post.

    NSDM (my one horrendous course) had as its main instructor a civilian from the business world, assisted by an active duty Navy O5 and an Army O6. Of the three, the civilian was the most engaged and interested in educating.

    Strategy and Warfare (“Policy”), was superlative: The seminar was moderated by a retired Navy O6 and an active duty Navy O5.

    JMO: One active duty USCG O6 and one about-to-retire Royal Navy CDR. Fine, fine course.

    Electives were taught by one retired Navy 05 (very good course); one retired Navy O6 (good course); and one retired Army O6, with a helping hand from a Navy O6 aviator-type (outstanding course).

    Overall, the most rewarding academic experience I’ve had. The American tax-payers are getting our money’s worth at NWC.

  • I agree that to become successful in rendering education, the faculty should be organized first. I appreciate how the Professional Military Education (PME) progresses through the year. But still, there is always room for improvement. It is good to aim for improvement continuously to become more prosperous in the field.

  • In my opinion, the rendering education aim to provide to every one those need military education.

  • As my opinion in PME, there should be take attention on practical work rather than theoretical.

  • Risk taking in any situation, especially with curriculum, usually results in a positive outcome. Complacency with education is a real problem.