The Best Defense

'Civilian' faculty in professional military education: Just what does that mean?

By John R. Schindler and Joan Johnson-Freese 
Best Defense guest columnists

One of the perennial tensions in Professional Military Education (PME) is the role of civilian faculty at DOD learning institutions. Although all PME institutions employ civilians to teach, the specific part they play varies widely across colleges. While our own Naval War College employs a considerable number of civilians, some NWC teaching departments have few, and there is a spectrum of "types" within the general category of "civilian professors."

This issue was highlighted in a recent exchange on Best Defense about the Army's Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth. Professor Nicholas Murray's commentary revealed how CGSC's schedule is configured to the detriment of learning, and does not meet the real-world standards of any respected graduate-level academic program. Murray is a civilian academic with a Ph.D. in history from Oxford, and it's clear that his op-ed rankled some feathers in Kansas.

A response came quickly from Steve Boylan, a retired Army officer who serves on the CGSC faculty, who maintained that the institution is doing a good deal better than Prof. Murray had portrayed. While asserting that CGSC is getting along fine -- everything being "fine" is a common PME refrain -- Boylan made an odd assertion. He stated that the institution -- which, after all, bills itself as a college -- isn't really like civilian graduate schools, and perhaps should not be compared to them, as Prof. Murray had done. 

Then came Boylan's most interesting admission, that the CGSC faculty is "a mix of active-duty officers and civilians (civilians are usually but not always retired lieutenant colonels and above)," which is more revealing than he perhaps intended.  All war colleges have, in reality, several categories of faculty: serving military officers, former military officers now working as civilians, security practitioners with varying levels of academic training or experience, and civilians who possess academic qualifications (i.e. a Ph.D. or relevant terminal degree) and a professional record comparable to academics in civilian institutions. While there are exceptions, such as retired military officers with substantive Ph.D.s in the fields they are teaching and/or a strong research and publication record, they are relatively rare in PME. Given that Boylan's bio lists no experience teaching in higher education, and no terminal degree, one wonders his ability to assess the caliber of civilian faculty, much less how CGSC compares to civilian graduate schools.

Categorizing all non-active duty faculty as "civilian" faculty poses problems, since many of the "civilian" faculty are such only in a narrow, HR sense of the term, since they lack minimum qualifications to be teaching in any graduate-level program, and many undergraduate programs. Clearly, there are areas of study in PME institutions, perhaps most often in institutions like CGSC, such as military operations, defense budgeting, and the DOD planning process, where civilian academic skill sets do not fit the bill and retired officers fill those niches well. But the proportion of individuals with those skill sets versus academic credentials becomes important when PME institutions compare themselves to civilian graduate schools, for the purposes of such occasions as inspections, including schools such as Yale. There is clearly a need for the Pentagon to examine what being a "civilian professor" at our war colleges actually ought to mean.

Relatedly, the matter of tenure enters as a touchy subject because here, too, there is no standard policy across PME. In the Navy there is the oddity that both the Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School grant tenure to accomplished civilian faculty while the Naval War College does not. It considered a tenure policy a few years ago, and shelved the idea when retired military faculty objected to tenure qualifications they were unlikely to reach, but ostensibly is preparing to consider it again. The Air War College has flip-flopped on a tenure policy in recent years, including once giving tenure-track faculty the draconian option of giving up their tenure-track contract, or receiving a one-year contract -- with termination implied. It is difficult to explain, save in the narrowest HR sense, why some PME institutions grant tenure and others do not. It's clear that tenure ought to exist at any institutions that want to bill themselves as being on a par with civilian graduate schools. Moreover, tenure has a role to play across PME, one that occasionally bubbles to the surface.

Take the recent case of Bruce Fleming, professor of English at the Naval Academy. Fleming has been at Annapolis for a quarter-century and has a well-honed reputation as a gadfly, having written extensively, and not always in a complimentary fashion, about USNA's educational shortcomings -- something that, as a tenured professor, he has been free to do. Professor Fleming claimed that he was denied a raise by the Naval Academy in 2010 after publishing an unflattering editorial titled "The Academies' March Toward Mediocrity" in the New York Times. That claim was validated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and the Naval Academy ordered to pay him a settlement. More recently, Fleming was suspended by the USNA for two days while he was under investigation when two female midshipmen objected to a poem he used in class.

The case remains under investigation, but Fleming maintains that Academy leadership is out to remove him, and his own department prevented this. He is fighting back, again filing a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, accusing USNA leadership of bias and misuse of sexual harassment rules to suspend him. Regardless of what happens in this matter -- we are staunch defenders of academic freedom in PME though we have no particular knowledge of this case nor do we know Prof. Fleming -- it's likely that Prof. Fleming only still has a job because he is tenured. It's safe to say that at any PME institution that hires its civilian faculty contractually, like our war colleges, his contract may not have been renewed, given his history of speaking out publicly about USNA issues. Though you would like to think otherwise, individuals like Professor Murray at CGSC sometimes bravely speak out at their own peril if administrators are thin-skinned and status-quo oriented.

Faculty tenure is important not just so that faculty can speak out regarding institutional shortcomings, but first and foremost to allow faculty to challenge students in classrooms without fear that bruised student egos will result in poor evaluations that can cost them their jobs. It is the specific job of faculty to challenge students, to make them defend their views, and challenge them with new, sometimes uncomfortable perspectives. Administrative fears ought not to be allowed to interfere with what is best for the students and therefore for the nation, which is a real consideration given PME's mission of educating our military leaders.

Does the Pentagon want its PME institutions, especially its war colleges, to be comparable to civilian graduate programs, as it says it does? If that's the case, it would be wise to better define who exactly are "civilian professors," as well as the hiring and retention rules they are employed under. Given that all PME institutions report to the Pentagon, these rules ought to be the same across the board as well. These would be excellent steps toward making PME better for its students and for the nation, across the board.

Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor of national security affairs, and former department chair, at the Naval War College in Newport, RI, and authored the 2013 book Educating America's Military. John R. Schindler is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College and a fellow of the International History Institute at Boston University. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and not of the Naval War College, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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The Best Defense

Losing trust in superiors: Some possible fallout from the drawdown

By Major Chris Heatherly, U.S. Army
Best Defense guest columnist

England. June 5, 1944: Allied troops were poised to invade Europe and defeat Nazi Germany. General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces, wrote a simple, one-page letter clearly articulating the importance of their mission and his confidence of their victory in battle. Eisenhower directed his staff to provide a copy of this letter to every Allied servicemember taking part in D-Day.

Fast-forward some sixty years to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad, Iraq, during the spring of 2004. The 1st Cavalry Division had just relieved the 1st Armored Division and the latter was in the midst of the long journey home through Kuwait to Germany. The tactical situation changed rapidly, requiring 1st Armored Division to cease redeployment operations and return to combat. The division's commanding general, then Major General Martin Dempsey (now chairman of the Joint Chiefs), issued a similar letter to his soldiers. Perhaps recalling Eisenhower's example during WWII, General Dempsey once again clearly and concisely explained why his division would remain in Iraq an additional 90 days beyond its planned departure. Additionally, General Dempsey called a group meeting of his subordinate commanders to personally explain the logic behind the division's recall and his plan to eventually redeploy home. I was present at that meeting, and still have my copy of General Dempsey's letter. There was no doubt in my mind as to the importance of our unit's extension or his commitment to our eventual redeployment.

Today, senior U.S. military leaders face another difficult battle, albeit one of budgets, ledgers, and accountants instead of improvised explosive devices, artillery shells, and bullets. Each uniformed service will reduce its personnel end strength, although exact numbers remain uncertain. The Air Force's anticipated loss is around 9,000 airmen, while the Navy and Marines stand to lose 1,700 and 15,000 more, respectively. General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, stated the Army will lose at least 80,000 soldiers over the next four years with the possibility of additional manpower reductions of 100,000 or greater. General Odierno did not mince words on the possibility of a drawdown, saying: "Let there be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness. We expect Army leaders, military and civilian, to seize this opportunity to re-shape our Army. This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities."

To achieve these reductions, the Army publically announced new rounds of Selective Early Retirement Boards (SERB), Qualitative Management Programs (QMP), and Qualitative Service Programs (QSP) for officers and NCOs alike. For example, a SERB in August reviewed nearly 1,200 Army colonels and lieutenant colonels for early retirement. General Odierno ordered every colonel affected by this SERB be personally counseled by a lieutenant general. My concern, however, is the Army will not demonstrate the same hands-on approach when informing junior officers and NCOs their service is no longer required. As an institution, the Army must look beyond the immediate need to reduce personnel now and consider the long-term consequences of a poorly considered or executed drawdown plan. Simply stated, Army leaders must clearly explain to each departing soldier why they are being forced out regardless of rank, rationale, or reason.

Any decision on personnel reductions must consider the following facts. A significant portion of our soldiers are already distrustful of "Big Army." A 2012 Center for Army Leadership survey found that nearly 50 percent of the active and reserve soldiers polled believe "the Army no longer demonstrates that it is committed to me as much as it expects me to be committed." Of even greater worry is how this number has increased by 6 percent since the previous survey in 2010. Given the forthcoming reductions, this number will likely surpass the 50 percent mark by 2014. Separately, soldiers mustered from the Army may have fewer than 20 years of service, and thus no retirement benefits such as a pension, commissary access, or healthcare. Similarly, they will not enjoy the "golden parachutes" afforded to senior officers who may easily step into lucrative, high-paying jobs with private industry think tanks, lobbying organizations, or corporate America. Of additional concern is the state of the American economy, which is not as strong as it was during the last major drawdown following Desert Storm/Desert Shield. As of this writing, American unemployment stands at nearly 8 percent, with veteran unemployment rates slightly less. While the military is not responsible for the state of the economy, departing soldiers still face its associated difficulties. Military leaders must also account for the lack of military experience among U.S. citizens today with less than 1 percent of America in uniform and approximately 10 percent holding veteran status. The average American citizen is not informed on the details and particulars of the military in general, and the drawdown in particular. While Americans hold great respect for the military, they lack direct and frequent interaction with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The contact gap between soldier and society means one disgruntled veteran can have a disproportionate impact on future recruits. Recruiting America's youth to enlist in the military is a difficult task in the best of circumstances, a situation made worse if the Pentagon fumbles the pending drawdown.

I urge the General Odierno and other senior Army leaders to follow the examples of Generals Dempsey and Eisenhower to clearly explain how this reduction will work and the criteria employed by boards selecting soldiers for drawing down. Further, I recommend the Army chief of staff order senior commanders to conduct direct in-person, face-to-face exit counseling for every soldier mustered from the service.

Such counseling must be taken seriously and not simply "pencil whipped" as so much rater counseling is often done. Leaders may assist soldiers to develop realistic exit strategies to ensure veterans secure follow-on employment and access to post-service benefits. Leaders should address the potential for continued public service with the National Guard, Army Reserves, or non-uniformed programs such as Troops to Teachers. The military faces fiscal realities beyond our control requiring difficult choices directly impacting soldiers and their families. That reality does not absolve Army leaders from the obligation to look each soldier in the eye, respectfully thank them for their service, and dutifully ensure they are prepared to transition from the military. This endeavor must go beyond Army speak ALARACTs, mass email messages, and PowerPoint presentations that do not leave the Capital Beltway.

Every soldier leaving the Army will reenter civilian society -- either as a positive example of the benefits of military service ... or an angry veteran more than willing to explain, in detail, how Uncle Sam gave them the shaft. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command, clearly states the Army's Mission Command philosophy is guided by the principle to "build cohesive teams through mutual trust." The looming drawdown is a sterling opportunity for Army leaders to demonstrate that trust with our currently serving soldiers to ensure a capable future force.

Major Christopher J. Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Army.

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