Extending the Shelf Life of Teachers in Professional Military Education

By Pierce, William G.; Gordon, James E. et al. | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Extending the Shelf Life of Teachers in Professional Military Education


Pierce, William G., Gordon, James E., Jussel, Paul C., Joint Force Quarterly


Over the past several years, a number of authors addressing professional military education (PME) have expressed frustration about and occasionally disdain for retired military officers who serve on the faculties of Department of Defense (DOD) senior-level colleges (SLCs). (1) In a 2011 article, Dr. George Reed, a former U.S. Army War College (USAWC) faculty member, stated, "Their [retired military on faculty] experiences have a shelf life that begins to expire on the date of retirement. They can usually be counted on to run a good seminar, but few contribute much in terms of scholarship as measured by the usual indicators of research and publication." (2) The authors are not in a position to defend those PME faculty members who have not performed well. However, it appears that the critics do not understand that retired military officers bring a specific body of knowledge of operational and strategic expertise to PME--in most cases acquired through years of experience.

This is a body of professional knowledge that SLC graduates must master to be effective strategic planners, advisors, and leaders. Retired military officers on a Service SLC faculty have an important role in preparing students for service at the strategic level. The faculty must know the past and current state of practice of operational and strategic planning, integrate new concepts into a continually evolving curriculum, understand the contemporary strategic environment, and convey this knowledge to a diverse student body.

The faculty, referred to here as professors of practice (PoP), are largely retired military faculty involved in teaching the professional knowledge related to theater strategy and campaign planning. This article explains the term professors of practice and examines some of the factors that affect how they maintain currency in the professional body of knowledge. It then describes how the changing strategic environment affects PoP currency and offers ways they can acquire and disseminate this information to students and faculty. Finally, it offers a number of actions organizations within DOD can take to support PoP more effectively.

Who Are Professors of Practice?

The USAWC School of Strategic Landpower consists of four teaching departments: the Department of Distance Education and three resident course teaching departments that roughly align to address the three "great problems" that former Secretary of War Elihu Root articulated over 110 years ago: national defense, military science, and responsible command. (3) This article focuses on those who teach military science in the School of Strategic Landpower, although many of the ideas presented also apply to those who teach other aspects of the professional body of knowledge. Military science is not a descriptive term, but two documents--U.S. Code Title 10 and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) Instruction 1800.01D, titled "Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP)"--provide some clarity on what the Service SLCs granting Joint Professional Military Education Phase II must teach. These two documents require Service SLCs to include instruction on "theater strategy and campaigning" and "joint planning processes and systems" in the curriculum. (4)

The focus of the OPMEP is clear regarding the goals of Service SLC education: "To prepare students for positions of strategic leadership and advisement; senior education focuses on national security strategy, theater strategy and campaigning, joint planning processes and systems, and joint interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational capabilities and integration." (5)

PoP Qualifications

The OPMEP addresses Service SLC faculty qualifications but with little specificity. For civilian faculty, which includes retired military, "The Services and NDU [National Defense University] determine the appropriate number of civilians on their respective college faculties. …

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