September 27, 2023
Annapolis, US 59 F

OPINION: The U.S. Naval War College Faces Unique Educational Challenges

The U.S. Navy has recently fallen on hard times, what with the Fat Leonard Scandal, ship collisions, SEAL murder trials, and expensive ship construction delays. The U.S. Naval War College (NWC) is no exception. In 2019, Rear Admiral Jeffrey A. Harley was forced to step down after several disaffected retired Navy officers leaked scurrilous “confidential” U.S. government documents to the Associated Press, an event I called at the time an on-land “mutiny”. President Harley was the top Active Duty leader at the NWC. Just a year later, the top civilian leader, Provost Lewis Duncan, was implicated in a pornography scandal and he also stepped down in February 2021 .

Within little more than a year, therefore, the top NWC military leader and the top NWC civilian leader were both ousted. The takeover of the NWC by retired military “practitioners” seemed complete.

No surprise, the NWC’s national and international rankings plummeted. The YouScholar college ranking website recently (2022) gave the NWC a miserable country ranking of 879, probably because the majority of the NWC was not credentialed faculty, meaning they do not have a Ph.D., Educational Degree, or terminal law degree. By comparison, the more fully-credentialed Annapolis was ranked 304, almost three times better. But Annapolis’s world ranking of 1249 beat the NWC’s score of 5474 by over 4,000 points, showing just how far the NWC has fallen.

In 2014, the Navy Inspector General issued a lengthy study of the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, RI. It gave 180 “recommendations,” and among these 180 tacit “orders,” said the NWC must “develop a formal faculty compensation policy.” This recommendation was ignored, as were many others. Meanwhile, many of RADM Harley’s educational reforms were reversed after his ouster.

To fix the NWC, three things must be emphasized: 1) Credentials; 2) Qualifications; and 3) Compensation.

1) Credentials: Every profession has credentials. Truck drivers need a commercial driving license. Teachers need a teaching certificate. Even hairdressers attend beauty school. Once a Navy Pilot retires from the U.S. Navy, they can still be a pilot. But they would need a civilian pilot’s license first. It is just the way things work.

At the NWC, almost two-thirds of the faculty are not credentialed, meaning they do not have a Ph.D., EdD, or terminal law degree. By now, somewhere between 100 to 150 ex-military practitioners at the NWC are not properly credentialed to work at any university or college, much less the NWC.

Recommendation: If the NWC wants to compete with its “near peers,” it must become fully credentialed.

2) Qualifications: Scholarly qualifications are not the same as credentials. In almost all civilian colleges and universities a professor with a Ph.D. must also publish a book, and sometimes two, to get tenure and be promoted to Full Professor.

The NWC used to adhere to that one-book policy too, but the anti-Harley mutineers in 2019 disposed of it. Many NWC Full Professors have not published a book. This simple fact is reflected in the YouScholar Excellency ranking of 7190 compared to 2253 for Annapolis. By contrast, the Royal Military College of Canada got an even better 2222. The vast majority of practitioners at the NWC are neither credentialed nor qualified for the jobs that they hold.

Recommendation: If the NWC wants to compete with its “near peers,” every Full Professor must publish a single-author book.

3) Compensation: Full Professor salaries for civilian PhDs at the NWC are not keeping up with peer competitors. For example, when a Full Professor moved from NWC to A&M University in College Station, Texas, his effective pay—including lower cost of living and cheaper housing—effectively doubled.

In 2014, the Navy IG recommended—read ordered—salary reform. Everyone ignored them. The chickens are now coming home to roost. Just a year ago, a civilian PhD turned down a top pay band offer to come to the NWC, citing low comparative pay plus high housing costs. If the NWC wants to hire the best, it must be willing to pay for them.

Recommendation: If the NWC wants to compete with “near peers,” it must pay its Full Professors salaries commensurate with their professional peers.

In conclusion, the U.S. Navy is facing an existential education crisis. If it does not focus on proper scholarly credentials, prerequisite qualifications like published books, and then adequately compensates those Full Professors who have passed these high bars, it will be doomed to continue sliding further down the rankings compared to its peer institutions.

The threat is real. China’s Navy is now the largest in the world, and Chinese leaders have repeatedly stated they are willing to use force to achieve their strategic objectives. Now is not the time for the U.S. Navy to slight Professional Military Education. It is time to adopt real educational reform.

Bruce Elleman is William V. Pratt Professor of International History at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US government, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.

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