Daniel W. Drezner

A defense of Paula Broadwell — from one of her colleagues

I’ve received a lot of interesting feedback to my post earlier this week about Paula Broadwell as a cautionary tale of attempting to get a Ph.D. as a ticket-punching exercise.  I promise to write a follow-up post on that particular bugaboo very soon.  However, as I said in that original post, I used Broadwell primarily ...

I’ve received a lot of interesting feedback to my post earlier this week about Paula Broadwell as a cautionary tale of attempting to get a Ph.D. as a ticket-punching exercise.  I promise to write a follow-up post on that particular bugaboo very soon. 

However, as I said in that original post, I used Broadwell primarily as the hook to write about the more generic question of why one gets a Ph.D. in the first place.  This raises the question of whether I was fair in my treatment of her case.  The New America Foundation’s Tara Maller argues that I was not.  Below is her (unedited by me) defense of Broadwell and her critique of the Broadwell coverage.  Read the whole thing: 

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the debates surrounding the multifaceted situation involving General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell.  My reservations have mostly been in light of both my previous role as a former analyst at CIA and someone who has known Paula since 2007, due to her leadership role with Women in International Security in Cambridge, MA. I was deeply saddened by the serious personal mistakes of Broadwell and Petraeus and this piece is not intended to absolve either of blame or responsibility for their personal indiscretions.  However, as an individual who studied international relations, worked in government and respected their service and accomplishments, I’ve been disheartened by the tone, double standards and arguments exhibited in some of the recent media coverage. 

As The New York Times and other media outlets debate whether Petraeus’ next move will be to a prestigious university or corporate board, discussions of Broadwell have been reduced to conversations about her outfits, criticism of her personal drive, complaints about her routine faculty office hour visits and a critique of her motivations’ for pursuing an advanced degree. In Professor Daniel Drezner’s recent blog post titled "The Broadwell Recognition," he drew on a recent Boston Globe article to critique Paula as someone destined to "flail miserably" and make some broader arguments about the types of people well-suited for Ph.D. programs.  As an individual who completed a Ph.D. program,  knows Paula (along with many other "scholar-officers" from my time in Cambridge), and is generally a fan of  Drezner’s writings, I respectfully disagree with Drezner on a number of his points. 

First, there are many types of Ph.D. candidates from a variety of backgrounds and a multitude of goals.  Drezner paints a portrait of just one acceptable type of candidate for a Ph.D. program and implies that Broadwell’s career ambitions, background or personality was not the right fit. As someone who knows Paula and interacted with her during her time in Cambridge, I agree with Drezner that individuals like Paula are not the traditional Ph.D. candidate, or typical professionals in the field of international affairs.  There aren’t many women in this field, let alone women with two small children, who excelled at West Point, mentored young women over brunch at their home, served as an army intel officer, attended Harvard, completed marathons and served as an unofficial advisor to younger professionals in the field like myself.  In fact, many of the "scholar-officers" I encountered in Cambridge were the most thoughtful, impressive, unique and service-oriented individuals I have ever met in my life.  One of the most rewarding aspects of my program at MIT was the blend of academic, military and policy experience – and the knowledge that our shared educational experience would be used to impact the world in different ways.  Shouldn’t we be encouraging our future military and political leaders to pursue higher levels of education?  The "soldier-officer" types or those on their way to "way to power and influence" in Washington tend to be individuals committed to public service and  issues about which they are deeply passionate.  Entering a Ph.D. program to gain skills or expertise to employ in the military or policy community does not make one less equipped for a Ph.D. program nor does it make Paula’s motivations any less legitimate. 

Second, many brilliant and successful individuals take breaks or do not finish their Ph.D. due to unanticipated personal or professional challenges or even opportunities.  This does not mean that you aren’t able to think critically about ideas or that you were only pursuing a Ph.D. purely for ambition’s sake.  Drezner himself even acknowledges many of these challenges, particularly for women, in a previous blog post.  Unfortunately, his recent post fails to mention that during the time Paula was at Harvard (where she did receive a Master’s) she had two children in under two years, serving as the Deputy Director of the Tufts University Fletcher School’s Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism and founded the New England Women in International Security chapter (she has also started the Denver WIIS chapter and served on the executive board of international WIIS).  Her husband was also putting in extremely long hours doing his residency, so she was working to make extra money for her family.  Broadwell gave birth to her first son within a two months of starting the Harvard program and her second son less than two years later.  When she left Harvard’s program, she had two children still in diapers.  If there was anything Paula failed at during this particular time period, it was being able to continue to function at a superwoman level as she tried to juggle "having it all" at one time.  Many men and women of our generation need to balance all sorts of life decisions and career trajectories as they struggle with work-life family balance and competing priorities. 

Lastly, one doesn’t have to like Broadwell or even think she is a star academic to acknowledge some of the unfair characterizations by the media and higher levels of scrutiny and criticism that women seem to face in these situations.   Over the last couple of weeks, the media has been criticizing Broadwell for many behaviors and personality attributesthat are not only typical of  her peers in academically rigorous program, but ones that are encouraged and desirable. The Boston Globe piece Drezner cites includes criticism of Paula for both seeking out faculty during office hours and promoting her work.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard faculty, career counselors, advisors and public officials in DC advise students to do just these things.   Other articles in the media have lashed out at Paula for being driven and ambitious. I’m pretty sure many successful individuals and leaders have been praised for similar characteristics – including General Petraeus.  It is worth noting that much of her drive was also directed at advocating on behalf of veterans and women in foreign policy.  Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution recently chimed in on this in an op-ed writing, "She [Paula] never struck me as more ambitious than the average Washingtonian, and she never seemed cutthroat in how she pursued her ambitions." As a Ph.D. student who met Paula in the winter of 2007 through her work with WIIS, I’ve known Paula as someone who has exhibited leadership and mentorship to advance the careers of many younger women – including myself. If Broadwell was a "self-promoter" of her own work, then she was just as much a promoter of others’ work and important causes as well. 

We should be cognizant of the serious implications of some of the arguments made in Drezner’s piece and the tone of many other recent articles in the media lest we discourage future generations of very bright and talented young women and men with a commitment to public service from entering the field. 

Tara Maller is a Research Affiliate at the New America Foundation.  She is a former military analyst at the CIA and holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

My only rebuttal to Maller’s essay is that I had not seen the information regarding Broadwell’s personal situation during her time at Harvard reported anywhere else, and Broadwell herself hasn’t been commenting on anything — so it would have been difficult to mention it. 

Still, what do you think? 

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