Tags: Navy, PME, War College
This summer there were two posts here at USNI that grew out of Professor Joan Johnson-Freese’s article “Teach Tough, Think Tough: Three Ways to Fix War Colleges”. At the time I paid little attention as the subject was tangential to my own interests. Days later the subject became directly relevant to me and I have been able to spend the last five months thinking about the article, posts, and comments and propose that it is neither the faculty (alone) or the administration (alone) who bears review…it is the assignment policies in regards to military faculty AND students that need review. My commentary is geared directly at the Naval War College and should be considered items of discussion and items for improvement. Should none of what I address be accomplished, the school will not suffer. It just won’t be as good as I think it could be.
To begin with, Professor Johnson-Freese’s criticism of the Navy faculty “retire-in-place” concept is dead on. While some of those retired Navy officers provide interesting viewpoint, many of them are inhibiting the hiring of professors with different viewpoints than the ones provided by 20 to 30 years of naval service. Her comments on hiring practices should be closely reviewed by the War Colleges, and those practices kept in mind when contracts are renewed by the school.
But, aren’t those RIP Navy officers qualified? Well, yes. On paper. They have PhDs. They are published. But by and large those PhDs are earned after retirement at local Rhode Island Schools. Publications are done internal to the War College in either faculty papers for student consumption or in the War College Review.
To my knowledge none were published, had doctoral degrees, or any advanced education outside of the Navy prior to attendance, assignment, and retirement at the War College. In and of itself that is not unusual for Naval Officers. But should we be placing “usual” Naval Officers as faculty at the home of Naval thought?
What about active duty faculty? Well, the same problem resides there. Of the Navy officers, most have not published. The one officer who had published prior to assignment at the War College is not a member of the teaching faculty. Wait? Not a member of the teaching faculty? The Naval War College website lists 375 faculty members. 104 are identified as “Military Professor”. Of those, 70 teach one of the three core courses. The other 35 are either in the International Law department, Assist and Assess Team Members, or part of the War Gaming Department (there are some other cats and dogs, but these three have the bulk of those 30 officers. Those 30 are also almost all Navy officers and make up almost half of the 67 Navy officers on faculty as “professors”.
What kind of officers are those who are assigned to the faculty? The Army sends rockstars who have had both command and possess doctoral degrees. The Navy? Frankly? They are mostly broken careers. At least three are 2xFOSd Commanders coming up on high year tenure. There are more reserve officers on Active Duty for Special Work (ADSW) than there are post-command line officers. Rumor is that the Selective Early Retirement Board hit the College “hard”. Unpublished. Non-due course. No longer upwardly mobile.
There is not a single serving Flag Officer who served as faculty on the Naval War College.
Now, none of this makes these individual faculty members bad people, or bad Naval Officers. It just limits their ability to work as peers with the civilian faculty – both while on active duty and RIP.
Wait, the critic argues, those officers are there to provide their operational expertise. Their savvy, their saltiness. Not their academic credentials.
OK. Again. 2xFOSd for Captain. Not upwardly mobile. No command experience. But, discounting those data points there are these.
Almost no DC staff experience. Almost no combatant command or major staff experience outside of DC. When there are officers who have DC experience, they end up teaching in the Joint Military Operations Department (and teach the planning course). Operational planner experienced officers are assigned to the National Security Affairs Department (and teach the national strategy and policy course). The Strategy and Policy Department (think Military History Department) is a mishmash of officers who are hopelessly outclassed academically by their civilian peers and in some cases are ignored in the classroom by those same peers.
But, why does it matter that there be a greater breadth of experience among the faculty? Because, unlike civilian graduate programs, the Naval War College student body had no choice in course work or faculty. You can’t wait until next semester to get the “good” professor. The school determines who will teach you. That makes the mix and breadth of experience critical. Or it destroys the credibilty of the faculty in that classroom.
How to fix it? The President of the War College needs to recruit faculty rather than let them just come to him. He needs to partner with the local commands in Newport to find upwardly mobile officers to teach for a year or two and then return to the Fleet. He needs to personally scrutinize every single faculty hire of a retired officer as if that person were to become HIS moderator, instructor, mentor, commander.
If not this, then at the very least end the assignment of billets to the line communities. When an officer applies for a faculty position the President, Provost, or Dean of Academics should review that officer’s record, a writing sample, and curriculum vitae and from there make a decision on which department the officer would be best suited to teach in. This alone would go a long way in matching talent to task at the war colleges.
But, the above only addresses the faculty. The assignment of the student body also needs to be addressed. While the Junior (officially “Intermediate”) course contains significant numbers of upwardly mobile Navy officers, the Senior course does not. Resplendent with derailed careers, Reserve recalls and staff corps officers, the due-course officers from the line communities are underrepresented. Which, of course, they are in the services as a whole. However this is senior level PME. Why can’t Navy get better-qualified officers to the Naval War College?
Well, it does; in the form of Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps officers. Again, it’s the assignment processes for Navy officers that is problemmatic. And here geography and biology tend to win out. For Navy officers completing a command tour it is easier to send them to Norfolk to the Joint Forces Staff College for an eight week tour and get them back to staff or operational duty than it is to sacrifice a year of academic study. Failing that, it is easier to send them to National War College in DC for follow on assignment there (or vice versa) and provide stability for the family. Absent Surface Warfare Officer School, there are no large commands in Newport to draw due-course officers from to fill the Senior Course, or likewise to send them to afterwards and given a choice, many choose one of the alternate ways to complete JPME II.
There’s no easy fix – and this post is intend to foment discussion, not serve as a blueprint to nirvanah. The Navy only has so many due course officers and can only send them so many places. But, what Navy does with its top performing officers tells everyone where Navy’s priorities are. But when less than a third of Flag Officers are Naval War College graduates, and the last Naval War College graduate CNO was Admiral Mike Boorda, there’s a definite signal being sent of where the priorty isn’t.