Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's Only a Checkbox

From the Command Inspection of Naval Postgraduate School report by the Naval Inspector General, dated October 22, 2012. The following section begins on page 10 of the report. Highlights by me.

Academic (didactic instruction) Requirements

a. NPS delivers graduate master and doctoral degree programs, graduate level certificate programs, and professional development courses. Graduate degree programs include 56 resident degree programs and 18 distance learning programs. NPS offers 38 certificate programs with various delivery formats including resident, distance learning, or combination of resident and distance learning (hybrid delivery). NPS provides various professional development courses that range in duration from a few days to weeks with resident, distance learning, or hybrid delivery including mobile education teams domestically, afloat, and internationally. Professional development courses, referred to as "short courses," are training courses that do not qualify for academic credit.

(1) These various academic programs and courses undergo comprehensive levels of external and internal curriculum reviews. Part of the external curriculum review process occurs through four accrediting bodies: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

(2) Eighty-Four percent of the in-residence degree curricula respond to Navy and Marine Corps sponsors and are subject to a biennial curriculum review process, which establishes and updates the essential skill requirements expected of graduates. Eighty-Nine percent of the distributed learning degree programs and 72% of the NPS certificate programs have DON sponsors and also undergo this curriculum review process. This level of collaborative curriculum review with sponsor involvement allows the curriculum to be responsive to the requirements of DON. An examination of the collaborative curriculum review process found that it is generally an effective process that serves sponsors and NPS appropriately. However, a notable exception is the friction between the Graduate School of Operational and Informational Sciences (GSOIS) and OPNAV N2/N6 who sponsors three GSOIS curricula. The Dean of GSOIS indicated they reached an impasse and temporarily suspended the curriculum review process. The Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences indicated it was more difficult than normal, but his school had recently successfully completed curriculum reviews with OPNAV N2/N6 for its sponsored curricula.

048-12 That NPS develop standard procedures for collaborative curriculum review with sponsors (where there is also a business relationship). The procedure should contain safeguards to ensure sponsors do not compromise fundamental graduate level educational requirements for rigor or length of time of educational programs. NPS should maintain a majority voice in how curriculum is best delivered.

b. NPS conducts internal curriculum reviews through the NPS Review and Assessment Program (RAP) Framework. RAP is an academic measures and metrics program that facilitates comprehensive assessment and improvement of all of the academic programs conducted by NPS. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges visiting team indicated that NPS was a "model for others" for mapping course work for program outcomes (a key component to effective curriculum review). Recent modifications, that include new program reviews, have made the curriculum review process more responsive and transparent which should improve an already solid system of ensuring the education is directly tied to current and future requirements of DON. While the new NPS program process requires both sound academic and business cases for approval, it does not formally solicit approval from DON leadership prior to implementation.

049-12 That NPS include the Navy’s Education Coordination Council in its new program review process.

c. The effectiveness of the quality of instruction can be captured by these various metrics: establishing a correlation between program outcomes and learning objectives in coursework (part of curriculum review), performance of students in coursework, end of quarter student surveys, alumni surveys, and surveys of sponsors (or supervisors of the students after graduation). Collectively, inspection of these metrics indicated that most students and sponsors/supervisors were satisfied with the effectiveness of the quality of education. However, there were students and faculty who would routinely refer to NPS as "a pump and not a filter." The perception was that all the students will graduate (> 98% graduation rate) regardless of performance and that a student would have to "work at it" to actually fail a course or not graduate.

d. The NPS 2008 Strategic Plan shifted the focus of NPS to become a "naval/defense oriented research university" that also provides graduate education. From 2007 to 2010, total sponsored program (education, research and services) funding doubled and research funding tripled, while mission funding from DON remained static, or declined. This influx of funding and
discussions with faculty indicate that research and reimbursable programs are the first thought of many at NPS. Collectively, with the emphasis of NPS on becoming a top-tiered research institute, and "a pump and not a filter" perception among a significant representation of faculty and students, there are some indicators that NPS is not appropriately focused on educating (didactic teaching of) naval officers.

050-12 That NPS renew its commitment to educating naval officers in its Strategic Plan.
According to the Navy Times back when the news of IG investigation broke it was reported that Juan Garcia, assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, had been tasked to look into several aspects of the issues raised in Naval Postgraduate School IG report. I am not sure exactly what level of responsibility he has in looking into all of the issues at NPS that are cited in the IG report, but I recently heard that Juan Garcia was looking at all three Navy schools as part of setting a standard for Navy education.

This makes sense to me, because under the law the Secretary of the Navy appoints the heads of the schools and faculty, and the CNO is the resource sponsor who pays the bills. I have no idea how long Ray Mabus intends on staying on as Secretary of the Navy, but if he leaves at any point over the next 4 years my money is on Juan Garcia being the next Secretary of the Navy... and I think it would be a job he has earned btw.

After reading the full IG report on NPS - and it's an eyeopener - I've been thinking a lot more about what education actually means in the US Navy. For example, the NPS Fact Book boasts of 12 PhDs awarded to students in 2011. I've been told that zero of the twelve PhDs that were awarded were to US Navy officers in the unrestricted line. When I inquired what year the last US Navy officer in the unrestricted line was conferred a PhD from NPS, I was told they would get back to me, and of course they never did. I am sure there had to have been at least one US Navy unrestricted line officer to get a PhD at NPS over the past many years, but be aware if you are that one person - you were unmentionable.

I have noticed people don't really want to talk or hear about the topic of higher education in the Navy, for whatever reason. I struggle to find evidence the Navy as an institution actually cares about higher education, and if we look at the trend lines produced both at NPS and NWC, distance education is becoming more important while spending a year thinking about big issues in a setting like NPS and NWC is becoming less important. Said another way, to the Navy advanced education is just another check box on a career path that is nearly entirely determined by a persons checked boxes.

In thinking about Navy higher education i noticed a few things. For example, RADM Ted Carter has been named the Prospective President of the Naval War College. According to his biography RADM Ted Carter is the recipient of the U.S. Navy’s prestigious Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Leadership Award, the recipient of the U.S. Navy League’s John Paul Jones Award for Inspirational Leadership, and has even been designated an Honorary Master Chief by the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. His personal decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal (two awards), Legion of Merit (two awards), Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (two with Combat V and five strike flight), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (two with Combat V), and various service medals and unit awards. By every standard I use to make such judgments, RADM Ted Carter is an American badass in uniform today.

But when you go through and take a close look at RADM Ted Carter's biography, you struggle to find a single reason why he was selected to be the 54th President of the Naval War College, because the Naval War College is a Masters degree granting postgraduate school, and RADM Ted Carter doesn't have a Masters degree. Apparently the only qualification RADM Ted Carter has to be President of the Naval War College is that... he is a native of Rhode Island. By no possible standard can it ever be said that education was an important factor in selecting the 54th President of the Naval War College.

Then I noticed it again. Vice Admiral Miller became the 61st superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy on Aug. 3, 2010 when VADM Fowler resigned 30 day early under a cloud of controversy related to financial irregularities at the academy as well as multiple honor-code violations by USNA midshipman. Again, using my very sophisticated criteria for making such judgments, Vice Admiral Miller is unquestionably an American badass in uniform. When I read his biography my first question was to ask if any active duty military officer since WWII has done more work with political leaders during a time the nation has been at war than VADM Miller has? Unless my math is off, VADM Miller has almost as much time addressing military politics with civilian leaders as General Marshall did in the 1940s.

But Miller also has a Bronze Star, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit (6 awards), three Air Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal (3 awards), the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal (2 awards), Navy Achievement Medal and various service and campaign awards. He is recognized for combat operations against Libya in the 1980s, Iraq in the 1990s, and Iraq again in the 2000s. He's a Viking pilot, which makes him either a legend or a myth, plus he worked at N3/N5 - which is where the Navy sends all the smartest officers to work.

And yet, the 61st superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy doesn't have a Masters Degree, so once again by no possible standard can it ever be said that education was an important factor in selecting VADM Miller as the 61st superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.

I do not want anyone to misinterpret what I am saying. Vice Admiral Miller might be a great superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, and RADM Ted Carter could turn out to be an outstanding President of the Naval War College; this is not about them as individuals, and focusing on them specifically would be to completely miss the point.

Just as the Navy has a requirement that aviators command aircraft carriers, a Masters degree should be a minimum education requirement to command one of the educational institutions of the US Navy. I don't think that is inappropriate to suggest. As of December 2012 I looked at every single University with a Division I football program (I searched by conference) and from what I could tell, USNA is the only University superintendent or Chancellor/Vice Chancellor equivalent without a Masters degree.

So what is the value of education to the professional US Navy officer? If there is any value at all, and if so, up to what point does value exist? Where is the evidence Navy leadership recognizes or even appreciates that value? The trends that favor distance learning in the US Navy look to me like a budget priority from the resource sponsor, and in my opinion lack of value on higher education sends a clear message what the priority of education is to officers within the Navy.

Budgets are tight, and education is a popular topic when it comes time to trim budgets. In today's Navy the check box that marks completion of mandatory annual political correctness training is more important to a naval officers promotion prospects than any hard work a naval officer commits towards a higher education like a Masters degree. Incentives and priorities should influence our expectations for the final product, so tell me, what exactly do we expect with the current US Navy training/education priorities in the career paths for Navy officers, and how do we translate those priorities into expectations of how Naval leaders are prepared at the strategic and tactical levels on the next naval battlefield?

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