The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) was recently the subject of a lengthy investigation by Navy Inspector General (IG) Vice Admiral James P. Wisecup. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus released the report of that investigation to the public and at the same time dismissed the president of the school, retired Navy Vice Admiral Dan Oliver, and its provost, Dr. Leonard Ferrari. These actions are still reverberating through the school and, indeed, well beyond.
The summary and public dismissal of two dedicated men who have devoted their lives to national security has cast a long shadow over the NPS. The Department of the Navy is reviewing all aspects of the IG’s report and will certainly implement changes. As the report noted, changes in administrative procedures and financial aspects are clearly in order. In some cases, the problems had been recognized and corrective action initiated well before the IG’s team arrived at NPS. In particular, it has long been acknowledged that the school’s financial management system, especially the way it accounted for overhead, needed recalibrating. This point was emphasized in the school’s command inspection in 2009.
In recent years, NPS has seen significant growth in academic programs (requested by sponsors and outside agencies) and in research funded by various organizations almost entirely within the Department of Defense. The school has been remarkably successful in implementing these new programs. No other institution has the academic agility to build new curricula to meet national-security needs in a matter of weeks, and no other school can combine research, which directly involves students, with academic programs as effectively. These attributes have proved to be of great value to our national security for many years.
Beyond fixing the administrative aspects of the school, it seems that the Navy Department’s follow-up on the IG’s report could question the fundamental roles and missions of the school. This examination is of concern but it does carry the potential for a re-energized NPS. However, we have already heard the old arguments resurface—why not send officers to a civilian university to get a degree in, say, physics or international relations? And wouldn’t it be better to send officers to civilian universities where they could interact with civilians and give the general populace some exposure to things military? Or shouldn’t NPS go back to the basics of degree programs and stay out of wider issues of national-security strategy and policy?
These questions seem to reflect the notion that a degree is a degree; turn the crank for a couple of years and out comes a sheepskin. But as admirable as that degree may be, and as useful as it would be for the country to have more exposure to military people, NPS provides degrees of incomparable value to the services and the DOD. Following is a look at the school today and what it could become.
There is a general lack of appreciation, even among many in the Navy, of the unique circumstances that prevail at NPS. Some 1,800 officers are in residence at any one time in master’s and some PhD programs, studying subjects that really matter to the DOD. The extraordinary student body is composed of individuals from all the services, civilians, and international officers. Forty percent of the students are from the Navy, 12 percent are Marines, 14 percent are from the Army, 6 percent are from the Air Force, 13 percent are civilians from federal, state, and local governments and agencies (largely in homeland-security programs), and 14 percent are from allied and partner nations.
The students bring with them real experience in the Fleet or in other tough assignments, including combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The professors impart knowledge, but also learn from the students and adjust teaching based on such valuable feedback. There are also distance-learning programs and satellite campuses in Washington and Fleet concentration areas. And NPS offers short courses for thousands of students around the world.
At NPS today are 258 international students from 51 countries. These people are among the very best their countries have to send. They are mainstreamed with the NPS student body; no relaxation of standards occurs. Foreign students are not set aside in a separate category; they sit in the same classrooms with their American counterparts. And once international students graduate and return to their own countries, they remain networked to the school and with their classmates. Examples abound of how this shared experience has benefited the U.S. armed forces around the world. Foreign-student tuition is either paid in full by respective governments or covered by international military education and training funding—no charity. It is remarkable that one of the complaints to the IG early on was that NPS was educating foreigners. This is an extremely shortsighted view in a world where allies are critically important.
The “main batteries” at NPS are the four separate graduate schools and three institutes. The schools cover engineering and applied sciences (464 students), operational and information sciences (596 students), international graduate studies (387 students), and business and public policy (282 students). The three institutes cover information innovation and superiority, modeling, virtual environments and simulation, and systems engineering. They are truly interdisciplinary and reach across all four graduate schools to facilitate research and learning.
The students at NPS take an extremely heavy academic load. They cover all the degree requirements in addition to other academic work that their curricular sponsors wish them to have as well. A rough estimate has been that NPS students take on 40 percent more of an academic load than that required for the same degree at a civilian graduate school. And they do it in 40 percent less time. Even more remarkable is the fact that about 40 percent of the students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math programs come without prior academic backgrounds in those areas. NPS provides “refresher” education that allows those students to succeed in the highly demanding programs. The school has consistently achieved the highest possible marks at regular accreditation reviews.
The NPS faculty is world-class; 99 percent of the tenured/tenure-track professors have doctorates, and they come from the country’s finest schools. There are no teaching assistants; every student is eyeball-to-eyeball with a distinguished professor committed to the cause of higher education for national security. They could make a lot more money elsewhere (and some do leave because of the relatively low pay in government service) but the majority are at NPS because of the students’ motivation and intellectual thirst. The professors and students form a team that lasts for years beyond their time at Monterey.
The Research Question
One of the issues identified by the Inspector General and being examined by the Secretary of the Navy’s staff is research. What is the proper mix of teaching and research? There seems to be a perception that much research at NPS is being done at the initiative of the faculty and distracts from the core mission of teaching. This is simply wrong. It is true that NPS has seen an increase in research activity in recent years. The school executed about $40 million of reimbursable research in 2001. In 2011 the total for executed reimbursable research was about $96 million. But all that is at the request of the DOD, the armed services, the Department of Homeland Security, and others, including the National Science Foundation.
This is all directed research funded by sponsors who have a clear interest in national defense. One example of recent research includes the IFF, or identification friend or foe, system for soldiers to help minimize casualties from friendly fire. Others include application of nanotechnology in advanced battery research; modeling and forecasting Arctic sea ice; the Seaweb acoustic-networking system; analysis of threats to domestic power, water, and commerce infrastructure; and cyber security as well as offensive cyber systems.
Research sponsors come to NPS because of the quality and responsiveness that are hard to find elsewhere. And perhaps most important, research promotes learning. Each student writes a thesis on a subject (chosen by the student) that usually supports one of the areas of sponsored research. Could there be too much emphasis on research? This is a strange question for a U.S. defense establishment that must stay ahead of myriad technological, social, and political changes that shape the strategic landscape. Do Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with industry and other universities detract, as suggested by the IG’s report, from school’s main mission? The answer is no. CRADAs account for only 2 percent of the reimbursable research, and NPS students are directly involved in this research.
But those reading this may ask, “Fine, but what’s the cost?” Budgets are going south. How can we save money in graduate education? The short answer is that NPS provides remarkably good value to the Navy. The school’s budget, including the direct budget from the Department of the Navy and tuition received from the other military services and international partners, totaled $106 million in 1997; the comparable budget was $101 million in 2012. Correcting for inflation, this represents approximately a 35 percent decrease in the NPS budget. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that education costs in the United States have more than doubled over the same time period.
NPS works with curricula program sponsors to constantly improve value to the Navy. Recent initiatives include consolidating educational tracks to reduce the number of small classes and shortening curricula where possible. Others are under consideration. With tuition and education costs of civilian institutions rising faster than the inflation rate over recent decades, and projected to continue that trend, NPS will be an increasingly good value for the Navy and other services.
The Future of NPS
While NPS has been under scrutiny in past rounds of the base-closure process, the school’s contribution to national security is now so well recognized that a future closing seems unlikely. Not only is NPS well supported by a variety of Department of Defense, additional government sponsors, and the Navy and Marine Corps, the other services are increasing attendance as well. But the question arises, what kind of NPS will we see in the future? Will it be more narrowly defined, or will its scope of activity grow to match the increasingly complex global-security environment?
Clearly, paradigms are shifting rapidly. There is very little certainty anymore about how all U.S. vital interests might be threatened. It is only safe to say we can expect to be surprised more often than not. Knowing how to respond to today’s challenges, and others now just emerging on the strategic horizon, will require sustained research and consideration.
The last strategic vision produced by NPS and approved by higher authority was developed in 2008. Times have already changed. A team of distinguished people from within and outside of NPS spent most of 2011 looking at trends in many different areas, what the implications were for national security, and how NPS could best serve the country in this dangerous future. This group, the Committee on the Future, published a highly acclaimed report in September 2011 titled “Setting the Stage” (see www.nps.edu/About/CommitteeFuture/index.html). It was to be the foundation for the development of a new strategic vision for NPS. The committee conducted more than 100 face-to-face interviews with stakeholders within the DOD and Department of the Navy and with representatives of federal agencies and higher education institutions, as well as local government and campus constituents. Interviews of special interest included the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the Vice Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force, the Commander of the Pacific Command, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, and Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work. The finished report largely reflected their views as well as hundreds of other valuable inputs.
The report concluded that the future will be characterized by:
[I]ncreasing instability in the geostrategic landscape, growing complexity stemming from globalization, rapidly changing and proliferating technology, significant natural and financial resource constraints, and environmental challenges. All of these contribute to extreme levels of uncertainty in multiple dimensions and are likely to change organizational planning assumptions as well as the cause and nature of future conflicts.
It further concluded that:
The critical element for the future is flexibility—not continued requests for additional resources using the same historical patterns for program growth. The successful institutions of the future will be adaptable to changing conditions or newly discovered information. Speed of responsiveness will be another defining factor. But they require the flexibility to recruit and train the best faculty and staff talent, expand and reduce physical capacity as needed, raise funds, reallocate resources, publicly communicate their intentions and accomplishments, expand student markets, increase international enrollments and engage in partnerships with other institutions and industry.
The ability to raise funds cited here can be greatly enhanced by the Naval Postgraduate School Foundation, which was established in the early 1970s but is just now beginning to realize its potential to significantly help NPS. Other institutions of higher learning depend heavily on private funding. So does the U.S. Naval Academy. As noted in the Committee on the Future report, graduate education at NPS “based on the needs of the warfighter provides a powerful hook for attracting private donations.” The NPS Foundation has generated great support from potential donors for the school but has been very limited in fundraising by the inability of the school to state requirements for private funding (for fear of “soliciting”) and by the foundation’s limited access to faculty and students.
Turning back to the IG’s report, the NPS Foundation and NPS personnel came under heavy fire for not following procedures in cases of small gifts to the school for a variety of purposes. Larger donations (often just “thrown over the transom” based on perceived needs) were processed properly, but the NPS Foundation did also regularly make donations (usually in the $20 to $1,000 range) to the faculty to help with seminars, travel, hospitality for the streams of visitors to NPS, special events, faculty recruitment and retention, and, yes, even a barbecue grill and lawn furniture for the president’s quarters. None of these donations was for improper reasons, but procedures were neither fully understood nor properly followed. Now, in the follow-up to the IG’s report, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The NPS Foundation has great potential to enhance the school’s ability to respond to future demands for education and research. Working with the school, the foundation can help ensure flexibility and responsiveness to emergent needs. It can help bring together academia, industry, and government for a coordinated approach and has already heard from industry representatives who are eager to be involved with (and help fund), for example, a Cyber Security Center of Excellence. NPS has many of the same needs as the Naval Academy (minus intercollegiate athletics), but it will need a change to the Title X and supporting DOD/SecNav regulations that govern its ability to work with a foundation. It seems clear that faculty and students would greatly benefit from NPS having similar legal and regulatory authority as that enjoyed by the Academy.
In recognition that the NPS student is what we are all about, the foundation heard from a fairly recent Navy SEAL graduate who had made multiple combat deployments. He shares his concerns, which are held by many at NPS:
My time in Monterey was one of the most important windows in my life. Its importance is only now coming into focus. From my relationship with my family to my ability to think clearly about broader issues. . . . I hate to think where I would be on any of these fronts if I had not had my time at NPS and in the Monterey community.
Sadly, many of the variables that allowed me time and space to evolve during that year are the very “problems” cited in the IG report. After years of combat deployments . . . the last thing I needed to encounter was an unnecessarily bureaucratic and militarized institution. Instead, I found a place that encouraged free thought, broad relationships, and creativity.
I will be forever grateful for that—but fear now that others will not be afforded such an opportunity. I can say honestly, that in very practical terms, the environment created by Vice Admiral Oliver promoted personal growth and academic work that was truly mind expanding.
Further, the suggestion that the school needs to reconsider its willingness to open its doors to foreign students and interagency partners makes me concerned about where DOD thinking is regarding future security realities. In a time when we should be racing to expand the post-9/11 network, we are now looking to paths back to 1995?
As described previously, the Naval Postgraduate School makes a very significant (if undervalued) contribution to national security, and it does so in a very cost-effective way. It is recognized that the Inspector General was not charged with finding things done right, but the excruciating detail that was published in the report of the investigation (and many of those details can be disputed) has given the impression that there is more wrong than right in Monterey. This former naval officer of 35 years of service can never recall the details of an investigation being released to the public when a commanding officer is relieved. Vice Admiral Oliver and Dr. Ferrari, both honorable men of great integrity, were dismissed without a fair chance even to rebut the report’s findings.
However the report was handled, that issue must be put aside. The important things now are to recognize how important NPS is to the country and how it can grow in the future to be even more flexible and responsive. The future is fraught with danger. Advanced education in areas of national security and supporting research will help shine light on unknown dangers. Doing things the old bureaucratic way must be tempered with imagination and creativity. Thinking out of the box and adapting to new threats before they become dangerous will be critical. NPS can do all that, and the school’s mission should so emphasize.
Finally, graduate schools across the country depend in large measure on outside funding. The NPS Foundation is really a “small-potatoes” operation at present ($4 million in total assets) but it could provide great support to NPS in all academic, research, and even infrastructure areas. The foundation could provide the margin of excellence at NPS. And it could help include industry and academia in cooperative efforts to address many of the most pressing national-security challenges. But to do anything of value, the NPS Foundation must be able to work with NPS in the same way as the Naval Academy Foundation works with the Academy. That is truly a win-win situation in Annapolis, and there is no reason it can’t be replicated in Monterey. It is hereby most strongly and respectfully urged that the Secretary of the Navy seek appropriate changes to the legal and regulatory authority governing NPS as it relates to private support to the school.