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.

Posted by Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese in Innovation, Navy, Soft Power, Training & Education

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  • robert_k

    Dr. J-F clearly articulates the types of tradeoffs that are currently taking place across the Department of Defense – cutting non-mission essential travel to preserve resources for operational needs. This issue is not germane to the NWC; travel to other types of professional conferences and training events is being restricted as well.

    However, Dr J-F raises, perhaps inadvertently, a much broader issue. Given the widely publicized problems at NPS and the myriad of issues raised in this and other posts regarding the war colleges, perhaps the OPNAV staff should be considering larger issues beyond individual travel or filtering publications.

    As influential scholar and policy advocate Dr. Michael O’Hanlon noted in a recently released Policy Paper at Brookings, “Each service has at least one war college in an era when jointness is supposed to be the watchword, and when the size of each service is at least one-third less than a quarter century ago. With a smaller military, at least one of the war colleges, in Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island for the Air Force, Marines, Army and Navy respectively can be closed and its activities merged with the remaining colleges. Closing one would be roughly proportionate to the overall reductions in the size of the armed forces over the last twenty years. Indeed, there is a case to eliminate entirely the service-specific war colleges, retaining some but not all of the existing facilities for new joint institutions. More specialized institutions such as the Naval Postgraduate School should also be rethought. Corresponding changes might save up to $1 billion annually.”

  • “…the Navy is considering instituting a policy of pre-publication review of faculty publications.” – that rumor, if even partially true, needs to be attacked first. Any whiff of non-security related censorship, or apparent censorship, would remove any credibility of NPS scholarship. If your publications are just seen as a tool of the Potomac Flotilla, then all else doesn’t really matter. Let us hope that is just a rumor-knob going to 11. We have enough intellectual bullying going on in the uniformed services.

    • milprof

      Agree that the notion of publication review for content, if there is something to it, is a deeply disturbing idea.

      What is really maddening is that if I understand the NPS situation, the “publication” in question was a glossy color coffee-table book touting the institution, put out and paid for by the President’s office or maybe PAO. It was *not* a faculty paper or any kind of substantive work, not problematic in content but a grossly inappropriate expense. If the fallout from that incident becomes some sort of review of all “publications” — and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that rumor — it would be an even crazier overreaction than we’ve had re conferences.

      It would be like if the NPS President had rented the Goodyear blimp to display “NPS is Awesome!” at the Superbowl, and in response the Navy prohibited PME staff and faculty from travelling anywhere by airplane, citing “aviation-related abuses”.

      Then again, if there’s really something afoot, perhaps it’s not stupidity but someone seizing an opportunity however tenuous and stupid the link is.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not a rumor, unfortunately, in any way, shape or form. It is an active debate and something that’s being *forced* on NPS, and what we do will be applied to Annapolis and the War College.

      • milprof


        Can you clarify at all what this “pre-pub review” will consist of? What is it trying to accomplish and who will be conducting it?

      • Anonymous

        Nothing to discuss yet, as nothing is settled. As I mentioned, this is an ongoing discussion at present.

  • Phil Candreva

    DoD Directive 5230.09 (which dates from 2008 so this issue is not new) plainly states “To ensure a climate of academic freedom and to encourage intellectual expression, students and faculty members of an academy, college, university, or DoD school are not required to submit papers or materials prepared in response to academic requirements for review when they are not intended for release outside the academic institution. Information intended for public release or made available in libraries to which the public has access shall be submitted for review. Clearance shall be granted if classified information is not disclosed, DoD interests are not jeopardized, and the author accurately portrays official policy, even if the author takes issue with that policy.”

  • Paul Cavallo

    Interesting filigree from an academic, but the bottom line is the value added in these times of no more money, literally. Until this, the value, is clearly discernible to all, all leave is cancelled. When military officers must choose between pay and benefits and future academic junkets for their fellows in mufti, we’ll know the importance of the next conference, i.e., the times of carte blanche taxpayer largess are over for the Pentagon. That is all.