Defense guest columnist
Professional Military Education (PME) issues
increasingly have been a topic of discussion and debate for about 3 years now.
Diversity, however, has not been a conspicuous part of the online and print
discussion, likely to avoid further complicating already complicated PME
faculty qualification and military/civilian mix issues. But diversity was
raised as an issue at the NATO-sponsored PME conference at Wilton Park and at
the ITX3 conference at National Defense Uuniversity, both earlier this year.
The curtain is being pulled back, exposing the "sea of sameness" that prevails,
at least in senior PME institutions. Gender is only a part of the diversity issue,
but it's a place to start discussion.
A flag officer stood on the stage at the Naval
War College last year addressing the student body, regaling the students about
the intellectually charged program they were about to embark on, and the
magnificently diverse student body and faculty. To its credit, women currently
comprise 16 percent of active-duty Navy officers, including 36 flag officers.
Yet many people curiously looked around the room at a sea of sameness. My male
colleague sitting next to me whispered that we were about as diverse as the
During a recent routine government inspection
at the Naval War College, I was told, the investigators asked in advance what
civilian institution the Naval War College considered its peer for comparative
purposes. Yale was the answer. That provides an empirical basis for considering
my assertion that gender diversity is an issue with PME, or at least the Naval
War College as a sample. By just looking at faculty gender data offered on
websites, admittedly not perfect, a "gap" between military and civilian
academic institutions becomes obvious. Of the approximately 302 individuals
listed as faculty on the NWC website, 27 are women, or about 9 percent. Looking
at the History and Political Science Departments at Yale, the Harvard Kennedy
School, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the U.S. Naval Academy,
the percentages are 40 percent, 42 percent, 28 percent, and 20 percent,
respectively. So the NWC employs less than half the women faculty as the Naval
Academy, and one-quarter the women of the school it considers its civilian
Of the 27 faculty women at the NWC, less than
half actually hold teaching positions, or about 4 percent, making comparisons
even starker. Scientists at Rensselaer have found the tipping point for the
spread of ideas is at least 10 percent. Below that number of committed opinion
holders, there is no discernible progress in the spread of ideas. Though it can
be argued that departments like Joint Military Operations (JMO) skew the
numbers toward males with military backgrounds, even within the other
departments the numbers aren't even close to civilian "peer" schools.
These figures regarding gender don't even begin
to consider the even lesser numbers of minority faculty members if considered
by race and ethnicity.
What difference does diversity or lack thereof
make in education? Educators are supposed to challenge students, and that
includes challenging them from differing perspectives. A non-diverse body of
people, many if not most with similar career backgrounds, teaching the same
constituencies as themselves does little to broaden personal perspectives. In
fact, in some cases it simply reinforces what can be already very narrow
perspectives and the undermining of the independence of ideas becomes the norm.
Blindly building on non-diverse inputs has the
inherent risk of insularity. Homogeneity can be a huge hindrance in what is
today an increasingly dynamic, cross-cultural, cross-functional, joint military
environment. Demographics of military situations and issues in general are
making the military a more complex structure requiring a broadening of the
composition of those that work with and for the system. It is the breadth of
perspectives that comes from diversity that aid in the effective execution of
changing requirements for the curricula, creation of more informed counsel for
college governance and strategic oversight. Diverse environments allow for more
productive situations in which the challenging issues of today's military can
be confronted as well as open situations to opposing and non-like-me opinions.
Why are there so few women in PME? The
often-heard reason is "we can't find qualified women" -- though schools
suggested as NWC-comparable seem able to do so. Having served as a department chair
for eight years with responsibility for multiple faculty searches during that
period, the problem is actually twofold: hiring and retention. Many of the
highly-qualified women invited to interview would look around, see how few
women there were, and consider that as prima facie evidence women aren't really
wanted, with a consequently high potential for a hostile work environment. Some
women who came didn't stay, finding the work environment indeed "difficult."
Experiences vary. The professional opportunities
offered to PME faculty can be significant and the teaching very rewarding, and
women certainly recognize and appreciate that. But personally, some highly-qualified
women find the environment personally demoralizing. During my tenure as chair,
issues were raised to me (including from beyond my department) ranging from
offensive offhand statements and finding diverse input into discussions
unwelcomed, to sometimes outright bullying by both male students and
colleagues, and a case of simple assault. Though it is easy to say individuals
who take offense should "toughen up or leave," that approach defeats the
benefits of diversity, and ignores what should be considered the basic
expectations of professional courtesy.
Having also been privy to eight years of
student evaluations of faculty, it was not uncommon for teaching reviews of
female faculty to include comments about their demeanors, personalities, and
whether or not students "liked" them, comments far less common in reviews of
their male faculty counterparts. There are seminars that welcome diverse views
-- I have had the pleasure of teaching many of those -- but there are others
that do not. Unquestionably as well, behavior deemed "assertive" in a man is
seen as "bitchy" in a woman, as proven repeatedly in research on group
Lack of diversity within the faculty is
similarly reflected within the student body itself. Minorities in general make
up less than 10 percent of the student body. Female students face challenges
similar to female faculty.
Occasional meetings are held for administrators
to "pulse the feelings" of women faculty members and students. Unfortunately
they are often perceived as a perfunctory gesture of administrative concern.
The Naval War College is not unique, or likely
even the most egregious of the PME schools in terms of lack of diversity,
merely representational. Academia has already recognized the value of
diversity, and the private sector is increasingly following suit. Targets such
as 10 percent should be seen as a minimal threshold, not an end state.
Dealing with complex future issues requires
complex thinking, what Joseph Nye calls "contextual intelligence" in his 2013
book Presidential Leadership and the
Creation of the American Era. "Contextual intelligence" is gained through
exposure to multiple perspectives, information sources, and experiences. Increased,
sustained, and serious efforts toward faculty diversity in PME, and not just
gender related, are a necessary step toward providing PME students the
"contextual intelligence" requisite to deal with the future challenges they
will undoubtedly encounter.
Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor and former
department chair at the Naval War College. She is the author of Educating America's Military (Rutledge, 2013). The views expressed here are strictly her