Inside Homeland Security® visited National Defense University (NDU) to gain a first-hand view of this institution whose vision is to "be the premier national security institution focused on joint education, leader development, and scholarship" (NDU). The university, located on Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. and in Norfolk, Virginia, with other campuses on Fort Bragg, North Carolina and in Tampa, Florida, provides the highest level of higher education for military leaders and other national security professionals, emphasizing critical and strategic thinking and leadership development. NDU's mission "supports the joint warfighter by providing rigorous Joint Professional Military Education to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and select others to develop leaders that have the ability to operate and creatively think in an unpredictable and complex world" (NDU).
The investment in higher education for strategic leaders goes directly to the nation's most important source of strength, in the eyes of NDU President Major General Gregg F. Martin.
"The biggest advantage of the United States and our allies is our people—their thinking, their ideas, their character," he said. "We need to figure out how to advance it, leverage it, and make it even better. It is a huge pillar of our future security."
We learned that while the University is chartered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the majority of the student body is from the U.S. military, enrollment includes students from the interagency, private sector, and other nations. We also learned that institutional life has an academic flavor, with some aspects of military protocol de-emphasized to create an atmosphere in which fellow learners can engage in a free exchange of ideas. Saluting and rank hierarchy are set aside, and students refer to each other by first names. Most importantly, the spirit of academic freedom, embodied in the policy of non-attribution, enables all students to articulate ideas with assurance that they will be received on their merits without regard for rank or hierarchy, and that discussions will be kept confidential within the confines of the institution.
During our visit, we immediately found the faculty and staff of NDU to be welcoming and eager to discuss their roles. Interviews with two dozen administrative leaders, faculty, researchers, and program directors provide a generous spectrum of insights about the university and its work.
History and Setting
Fort McNair, which has been a U.S. Army post with various names, shapes, and sizes since 1791, is located on a point where the Potomac and Anacostia rivers meet. The buildings of NDU, which occupy much of the fort, are set around a long lawn for field exercises, at the end of which sits the grand Beaux Arts-style National War College building, Roosevelt Hall.
During a tour of the grounds, Technical Information Specialist Scott Gower outlined the rich history of the fort. The fort faced British invaders in 1814. A tragic accident on June 17, 1864 in Washington, D.C., revealed another important role women performed in the Civil War as workers in war plants making cartridges for small arms. The work was dangerous, as shown by the June 17th explosion at the Washington Arsenal that killed twenty-one young women. In 1865, eight persons allegedly involved in the assassination plot of President Lincoln were tried and four were hanged at the fort. The courtroom for the trial, held on the third floor of Grant Hall, has been recreated to look like the courtroom did in 1865.
The University's educational structure involves five colleges and several centers for research and applied learning, as well as professional development programs and other components. They are as follows:
JFSC consists of four schools:
Joint Advanced Warfighting School Joint and Combined Warfighting School JPME-II Joint Command, Control & Information Operations School Joint Continuing Distance Education School
Course work leads to various forms of acknowledgement, from credit hours toward bachelor's or master's programs to a Master of Science in Joint Campaign Planning and Strategy from the Joint Advance Warfighting School.
Mission (n.d.). In National Defense University. Retrieved July 25, 2013, from www.ndu.edu/info/mission.cfm
"To develop the next generation of ascendant military officers and other strategic professionals, National Defense University (NDU) must challenge students to become critical, collaborative thinkers, capable of solving complex problems in an unpredictable world," said NDU President Major General Gregg F. Martin.
In a wide-ranging interview with Inside Homeland Security®, General Martin outlined his vision for the university, exploring themes of education, leader development, and scholarship, as well as innovations in the delivery of learning. General Martin, who took the helm at NDU in July 2012, said his vision follows that of General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who provides guidance and oversight for NDU. In his White Paper on Joint Education, Chairman Dempsey calls for not just students but also the institution to embrace innovation, collaboration, and change.Vision and Mission
"Everything is designed to produce innovative, creative, even disruptive leaders to serve in national security. You want the leader to understand the theory of war, peace, security, and the history—but then, really be challenged. We don't know what the answers are in the future. We're going to be hit with things that are new and different, whole new domains of warfare, such as cyber warfare.You've got technology that is accelerating rapidly. The whole world situation is changing—the nation-state system, non-state actors, organized crime groups, terror networks, corruption.
"So, how do you think about this? How do you frame the questions? How do you figure out what the question is—which is not at all apparent?"
"Strategic thinking must take place within national and global frameworks," General Martin said. They include: our own constitutional democracy with laws and regulations set by national, state, and local entities; military services and the interagency community; influences of business and academia; and the international system. Successful decision making in this environment requires collaboration and networking along this spectrum. Through readings, seminars, simulations, research, and rigorous critiquing from faculty, students gain capacity to figure things out. They conduct research into real-world problems and learn how to build teams with varied perspectives to achieve comprehensive solutions, General Martin said.
The emphasis on collaboration prepares students to develop strategy on an international scale, where no single military service or agency can be a solution, and the ability to reach out to leaders of other nations is essential. Likewise, decision-making in the field of homeland defense and security requires partnerships at all levels, including business.
In addition to critical thinking and networking acumen, students must be able to make decisions quickly to meet the reality of a rapidly changing world.
With the resources among the colleges at NDU, students must maximize their experience in their one-year residency to assure that they emerge with the sharpest possible judgment and decision-making ability, he said. Students come to NDU hand-picked by their institutions. Graduates likely will become practitioners at the highest strategic level in their field. To achieve this result, NDU immerses students in ever-changing challenges they must meet from multiple angles. General Martin explained this immersion:
"Asking hard, hard questions. What's going on? Why is this happening? What do we want to achieve? And keep asking yourself why, why, why, knowing that the problem is difficult to understand. As you grapple with it, it's probably changing. The Iraq War is a great example. We went in and we fought one kind of war, but just the minute we got there, the whole situation began to change. We got to Baghdad, and it's different again. That's just the world. You're going to be continuously dealing with what we call 'wicked' problems—the minute you touch it, it changes…Leaders need understanding and the ability to come up with comprehensive solutions, integrating all the different elements of power, and developing and working with teams of diverse actors who have different viewpoints. Then they have to figure out wise decisions and test them."
Learning themes and methods
Glidepath of learning
Taking a cue from the Chairman, General Martin said he envisions a glidepath of learning for officers, from pre-commissioning to the culmination of their careers. This path would weave experience and education, each aspect informing the other, continuously building.
In addition, professionals should be reading, studying on their own, and engaging in group studies, he said. Officers at all levels should gather the members of their units for reading and discussion. "We need to prepare them not just for the jobs or specialties they're in, but also for the uncertain world at the strategic level, where it doesn't matter whether you're a helicopter pilot or an artillery officer, a Marine, or an Airman; you're going to have to deal with big complex issues," he said.
Meanwhile, these career-long learners can benefit from courses at NDU and other military institutions that are online, blended, or satellite in nature. For example, the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC), based in Norfolk, Virginia, offers a satellite program in Tampa, Florida, with close proximity to both U.S. Central Command and US Special Operations Command. In this program, students do not go to Norfolk; JFSC faculty members come to them.
As officers advance in their careers and are appointed to study at NDU or one of the service colleges, they focus on strategic thinking. "And when you graduate from NDU, it's not the end; it's the beginning," General Martin said, "the beginning of this journey at the strategic level. You keep learning. You keep developing."
NDU is looking closely at developing and expanding distance-learning applications, General Martin said. The colleges have different levels of online, blended, and traditional approaches. The Information Resources Management College, or iCollege, makes the most of distance learning mixed with short (1–2 week) in-residence courses. JFSC, which has a younger student population, uses a variety of modes, from flagship courses serving thousands of students exclusively online, to 2- and 10-week programs, and the satellite program earlier mentioned.
The other colleges are more traditional, with a residential, seminar approach. However, General Martin said he'd like to see more blended distance-learning ventures. He pointed to the Army War College, which provides education to students worldwide, with double the number of blended students over the residential enrollment. For another example, the General said he'd like to see more lectures in the spirit of TED Talks, offered to students to view online and discuss in a seated seminar.
"The reason for going online is not necessarily that it's cheaper, but because in some cases, it may be more effective and timely; or it hits a niche where it's the optimal way to reach people," he said.
He called on the university to explore and leverage the potential of modern information technology, especially with a younger generation accustomed to digital media. "The people who do that the fastest and the most cost-effectively will have an edge over the competition in an era of declining resources," he said. "So, my message to NDU is, let's study alternative methods of learning and educational delivery. Let's get after it, because the demand is there."
During the interview, General Martin extolled the value of the kind of thinking that goes on among the faculty and researchers at NDU. Specifically, he pointed to the new study "Discriminate Power: A Strategy for a Sustainable National Security Posture," by Dr. Michael J. Mazarr, Professor of National Security Strategy and Associate Dean for Academics at the National War College (Mazarr, 2013).
General Martin hopes to make this paper available for all incoming students this academic year in an effort to foster scholarship and innovation while the students pursue their own research at NDU. Referring to the Dr. Mazarr's paper as a starting point, General Martin said,
"OK, this is a good construct for future national security strategy for the United States, a strategy that's fiscally sustainable and affordable, that's wise, that incorporates lessons learned, and hopefully will make us safer. So, it's a good framework. We're going to encourage our students, our faculty, in their areas of expertise, to develop in-depth research papers and theses that build the rest of the house—this strategy.
"This is an idea that won't cost the taxpayers one penny. It will focus the students on future American strategy. We will give our work to high-level policy and strategic leaders in Washington. It will give them fresh, new, creative ideas that are risky, bold, fresh, and edgy—because the students aren't worried about writing inside of a complex bureaucracy. They have academic freedom."
The General mentioned several plans for the university that would address learning quality and change. Among them:
General Martin mentioned three other aspects of NDU that show its value to the nation:
A great deal of planning precedes the arrival of international students at NDU, where they study at all four colleges on Fort McNair (College of International Security Affairs, Information Resources Management College, National War College, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy), as well as JFSC in Norfolk. These students typically know what their assignments will be after graduation, and they focus their time at NDU entirely on their next career move. They may be tasked with developing the counterterrorism policy for their nation, or a strategy to prevent human trafficking, or a plan to secure the Olympic Games. Their master's theses may be the basis for those strategies.
"The international program builds human trust that leads to strategic trust," he said. "Person-to-person, family-to-family relationships build understanding and trust that can be leveraged at the strategic level, at the speed of trust."
The history of Fort McNair and the access to power in the nation's capital makes NDU's location uniquely suited for developing leaders. "We're at the seat of our political system and government and literally at an international crossroads," he said. The university can pull in leaders of our government as well other nations, along with business and academic leaders, for speaking engagements and interaction with students and faculty.
Strategy education for young NCO's
General Martin extolled the goal of Admiral William McRaven, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, of having the best educated force in the world. To that end, NDU is teaching a master's program in security strategy for young Special Operations personnel, typically in their 20s at the Staff Sergeant and Captain levels. The General said:
"The plan is to identify the best, the brightest, experienced warriors who have hunger to learn—huge potential; give them this great strategic education with critical thinking; then build this human innovation—a disruptive, inspired force from below, which starts working its way up into the system, creating real changes. I don't know of any country in the world that's doing that. I don't know of anyone who's putting this kind of investment into young NCO's and junior officers. That is a powerful, creative, big idea."
National Defense University (NDU) supports the joint warfighter by providing rigorous Joint Professional Military Education to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and select others in order to develop leaders that have the ability to operate and creatively think in an unpredictable and complex world. (NDU)
NDU will be the premier national security institution focused on advanced joint education, leader development, and scholarship.
Mazarr, M.J., (2013). Discriminate Power: A Strategy for a Sustainable National Security Posture. Retrieved from https://www.fpri.org/docs/Discriminate_Power_Mazarr_et_al.pdf
NDU, Vision and Mission. Retrieved from http://www.ndu.edu/info/mission.cfm
The concern for joint professionalism has been a longstanding force for change in military higher education, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower played a transformative role to expand jointness in the development of colleges that became National Defense University, said Dr. John Yaeger, NDU Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs.
General Eisenhower's interest in joint culture dates from the early 1930s, when he delivered lectures at the Army Industrial College, now the resource strategy institution at NDU that bears his name, Dr. Yaeger said. The general, a 1933 graduate and instructor of the college (the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy), was impressed by the inclusion of students from the Marine Corps and the Navy.
"He really liked the idea of hearing others' perspectives, and this is where the educational philosophy of joint professionalism in education was born from Eisenhower, to stimulate the intellectual development through exposure of multiple perspectives," Dr. Yaeger said.
In an interview with Inside Homeland Security®, the Provost and Dr. Steven G. King, NDU Assistant Professor and DHS Chair at the Eisenhower School, discussed academic values and climate of the university.
Many of the steps forward in U.S. military higher education were motivated by the desire to improve upon performance in previous campaigns, Dr. Yaeger said. As the senior military figure after World War II, General Eisenhower moved forward with plans to expand joint culture. He and Admiral Chester Nimitz were influential in the 1946 founding of the National War College and the Armed Forces Staff College (now called the Joint Forces Staff College). "But we still weren't a university, even though it was Eisenhower's vision that we could become a university," Dr. Yaeger said. The colleges were not connected; each had its own library and personnel department. "He thought there would be a lot more sharing of faculty. It didn't quite pan out that way."
In a post-Vietnam downsizing climate, the colleges were consolidated in 1976 to form the National Defense University. At that time, the NDU student body was roughly 80 percent military, but the national security climate required responses that were not military alone. Once more, educators saw the need to understand multiple perspectives. Currently, NDU enrollment is about 55 percent military, with significant contingents of interagency and international students, Dr. Yaeger said. In the post-9/11 environment, the newer colleges—the College of International Security Affairs and the Information Resources Management College—have fortified the university with additional emphases of intelligence and cyber security.Academic freedom with nonattribution
Presentations by guest speakers, seminar leaders, and panelists constitute an important part of university curricula. So that these guests, as well as faculty and other NDU officials, may speak candidly, the university offers its assurance that their presentations at the Colleges, or before other NDU-sponsored audiences, will be held in strict confidence. This assurance derives from a policy of non-attribution that is morally binding on all who attend: without the express permission of the speaker, nothing he or she says will be attributed to the speaker directly or indirectly in the presence of anyone who was not authorized to attend the lecture or presentation (National Defense University).
The policy provides protection not only for guest speakers at NDU, but also for the campus community and other types of visitors. Among those benefitting from the policy are, for example, international students facing political sensitivities at home and Subject Matter Experts offering critical analysis for students, faculty, and researchers. Dr. King offered an example from his teaching:
"We had a CEO of a very large defense contracting firm who stood in front of the students and, only because of this policy, said, 'I don't believe this specific aspect of the acquisition process works. And here's the problem we're seeing, and here's what you need to do to fix it.' That's the kind of thing that he would never have said, I think, if it were going to be attributed to him, because if you're contracting to the government, you don't want to be seen as overly critical of any government policy."
Dr. Yaeger and Dr. King pointed out that the policy extends to students and faculty in the classroom, where individuals may present arguments critical of prevailing national policy. Such statements could damage an individual's career if taken out of context. Therefore, the dialogue remains in the classroom; or, when discussed elsewhere, statements are not attributed.
The biggest challenge
Challenging and nurturing students
NDU focuses on leadership development, and honest, critical feedback is essential to achieve that goal. "Do students like that? No, they don't, but that is what they need, and that is our responsibility," Dr. Yaeger said. At the same time, the university extends opportunities for professional growth and development. Each college has a core program to address students' leadership development curriculum. Colleges also offer elective courses to broaden their knowledge and explore other opportunities.
In all colleges, coursework involves collaborating with fellow students. Dr. Yaeger mentioned National War College students studying a region and writing a paper as a group, and Eisenhower School students conducting an industry study as a seminar committee. "In the world today—you may not initially like it because it falls outside your comfort zone—but you've got to collaborate more. I think it's really important that we have the students do that," he said.
However, not all learning takes place in the seminar room, he said. It includes building trusting relationships among classmates. "It's having a soda in the cafeteria; it's sitting there in the study room or the library and asking what someone else's thoughts and opinions are about a topic. That's why we mix the groups of students so it's balanced and no one is in the majority. We are constantly striving to build that trust. Really, that is the heart of it."
NDU is a fusion of two seemingly diametrically opposed cultures with different administrative models. Higher education typically operates on shared governance, in which faculty have a strong voice in decision-making; the military, on the other hand, follows a chain of command with the commander making decisions that are processed down the chain. At NDU, faculty input is welcome, Dr. Yaeger said, pointing to enhancements of the Faculty Advisory Committee. "I think it's the same at a regular civilian university. The Provost or the President still makes the decision," he said. "It's just different cultures and processes on how we get there."
In the effort to attract students from across the globe, NDU works to overcome cultural differences that might create obstacles for international students. In some cases, students may be hesitant to follow relaxed campus practices such as addressing faculty and officers on a first-name basis, and they may be uncomfortable speaking up in class. To address these needs, NDU brings international students to campus earlier to help them get acclimated, and the university encourages them to get involved as much as possible in their seminars and in campus life. "If English isn't their first language, we have to work with the faculty to ensure we get their perspective. We want to hear from them," Dr. Yaeger said.
Looking at the university as a whole, from a wide angle, Dr. Yaeger examined ways that NDU could more fully realize the values and standards that it embraces.
"The biggest challenge has been—as ironic as this sounds—is having all these great people doing all these great things, yet we're not leveraging each other enough, nor having the most efficient programs we can have. And there's a big forcing function now called the budget that is requiring us to do just that—find ways to be more effective and efficient while delivering the same or better quality of product. It's ironic that this is why we have the whole emphasis on jointness as well. Do we need all these people doing the exact same things? And maybe if we understood each other better, we'd realize these aren't the exact same thing. There are differences and nuances, and that's been my greatest challenge. Finally, there's a personal and professional pride in that we want to publish under our own name, but what we really need is more collaboration and trust in each other. But it doesn't have to be invented here. You know you can build on someone else's good idea."
Eisenhower School (2013, May 17). A history of the institution. Retrieved from http://www.ndu.edu/es/about/history.htm
National Defense University (not dated). NDU nonattribution policy. Retrieved from http://www.ndu.edu/inss/docuploaded/NDU_Non-attribution_Policy.pdf