Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The Pen and the Sword: Faculty Management Challenges in the Mixed Cultural Environment of a War College

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

The Pen and the Sword: Faculty Management Challenges in the Mixed Cultural Environment of a War College

Article excerpt

The war colleges recently became the focus of both internal and external criticism. (1) Continuing scrutiny is appropriate in light of their expense and importance as the pinnacle of professional military education (PME). Each Service maintains a war college designed to prepare lieutenant colonels and colonels for the next level of responsibility, and there are two "joint" colleges: the National War College and the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy (formerly known as the Industrial College of the Armed Forces). While they have different cultures at the institutional level, they share some common challenges and opportunities. This article examines some of those challenges from the perspective of an administrator, a voice that is often missing from the current dialogue, which seems to be dominated by journalists, bloggers, and civilian professors who do their work at the uncomfortable intersection of academic and military cultures. (2)

This submission represents a friendly critique submitted by one who benefited greatly as a student and then, after completing a fully funded doctoral program, as a faculty member. This perspective is informed by 6 years as a faculty member and a course director for two segments of the core curriculum at the U.S. Army War College, followed by an equal time as a civilian faculty member at a doctoral-degree conferring university and now as an administrator. Even with an admittedly favorable viewpoint, it is not hard to see that there is room for systemic improvement. After a brief review of contemporary critiques focused on the war colleges, the article turns to some observations from an administrator's perspective.

War Colleges under Fire

Former Washington Post journalist and author Thomas Ricks launched a public salvo against the war colleges in a series of blogs where he actually called for their closure, describing them as both expensive and second-rate. While his criticism is sometimes hyperbolic and tends to be disregarded by those within the system, he raises some good points and serves as a watchdog of sorts as evidenced by his recent accounting of personnel changes that resulted in the reduction of civilian professor positions at the Army War College. (3)

Douglas Higbee provided a useful critical anthology from authors ranging across the system of professional military education. (4) Daniel Hughes's depiction of the Air War College in that edited volume was strident in highlighting a nasty strain of anti-intellectualism, ultraconservatism, Christian nationalism, and a largely disinterested student body. (5) While some might reject the observations of an outsider such as Ricks, Hughes served for 18 years at the Air War College, thus providing an insider view. Some might be inclined to dismiss him as a disgruntled former employee, but regardless of his motivation, there is cause for concern if his observations have any merit.

Robert Scales, a retired two-star general and former commandant of the Army War College, raised an alarm by observing that the military could become "too busy to learn." (6) His essay did not address the war colleges specifically except for noting that the average age of attendees has increased from 41 to 45, making an expensive educational experience more of a preparation for retirement than a platform for leadership at higher levels. He decried the wane of experienced officers as instructors in the system of PME. His critique echoed some of the concerns voiced by Ricks when he suggested that a bias for action over learning and an organizational malaise in the schools have made them an "intellectual backwater." His solution is to change the military's reward system to elevate soldier-scholars rather than denigrate them. He advo-cated a return to the day when uniformed officers rather than civilian instructors and contractors are assigned to the schoolhouse, not because their careers are at a dead end, but as career-enhancing assignments on the way to even higher levels of responsibility. …

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