‘Civilian’ faculty in Professional Military Education: Just what does that mean?

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.

 Read the rest at The Best Defense


4 comments on “‘Civilian’ faculty in Professional Military Education: Just what does that mean?”
  1. Simson says:

    Have you been on furlough?

    1. 20committee says:

      I have indeed!

  2. Jake says:

    Thanks as always for a though-provoking post.

    While a student in the MSSI program at NIU last year, I was surprised to learn that a thesis isn’t a requirement for the attainment of a graduate degree within some of the senior service schools (within the MSSI or MSTI programs, a thesis is required, along with 43 hours of graduate coursework). I think that these variations in terms of requirements tend to add to the overall inconsistency of the schools’ various approaches to the question of similarity/dissimilarity to civilian academia. While at this year’s JLASS exercise, the PACOM team to which I was attached was made up of a mix of folks from NIU, NWC, and NDU. It was interesting to learn about the various institutional cultures and standards that drive the schools, and I must admit that I came away simultaneously impressed by the caliber of the other schools’ participants, and perplexed by the wide variation in academic demands placed on the students within each program. Do you feel that these areas of inconsistency are detrimental to the reputation that the schools’ various graduates carry with them upon graduation? Really no idea how these degrees (including my own) are viewed outside of the DoD bubble.

    1. 20committee says:

      I think it’s safe to say that the caliber of DoD PME institutions varies astonishingly in terms of academic rigor and reputation. NWC in Newport is at the top of the pile, has been for a long time, but the rest of the pecking order is debatable. Rationalizing that would be a step in the right direction, and taking some of this steps my (and Joan’s) op-ed suggested would represent a Good Thing.

      Big changes are coming to PME as budgetary pressures mount; systematic change can be done the smart way or the, ahem, other way.

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