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.