Best Defense

What the hell is happening at NDU? (III)

By R. Mark McGivern Best Defense guest respondent I never thought before now to join the FP online banter that recklessly has been allowed to tarnish an institution as important as our nation’s National Defense University. But I am obligated to offer some insight to the readers of this post. There are three men — ...


By R. Mark McGivern

Best Defense guest respondent

I never thought before now to join the FP online banter that recklessly has been allowed to tarnish an institution as important as our nation’s National Defense University. But I am obligated to offer some insight to the readers of this post. There are three men — all very important to my own professional development — that I want to defend, including defending one of them from himself.

I spent the best 5.5 years of my career at NDU. The first two years at NDU’s Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA where as a young administrator I was proud to serve with and learn from an amazing professor and friend, Gerry Mitchell. I was promoted in year three and moved to the NDU main campus in D.C. and worked directly for the NDU provost referenced in Gerry’s article. Again, through promotion, I spent my last three years working directly for NDU’s College of International Security Affairs’ chancellor, also referenced in the article. I have the utmost respect and admiration for all three of these accomplished men of service.

Gerry, you were an impeccable JFSC professor and the Homeland Security Planner’s Course you created and executed is your legacy and big part of your respected career of service to the men/women who work to keep our nation strong and secure. That cannot be changed. I remember fondly sitting in on your course, learning from you, and talking baseball scores from time to time in your office. I have missed the opportunity to learn from you. But now that years have passed and I am not that young administrator anymore — please be open to learn something from me.

The hardest job at an institute of higher education (military or civilian) is that of the provost. And NDU’s current provost has not had an easy time in his job these last four years. He inherited years of administrative problems that were not of his making and his quick rise to this senior position was because he was asked to stand in for the previous civilian provost, whom a newly arrived NDU president sought quickly to place on sabbatical. I supported him during that transition, Gerry, I saw from the inside the truth of actions you criticize through conjecture alone.

The man that has and currently serves as the NDU provost is not deserving of the gross mischaracterization that has occurred. And he would not have been served well in his current role by years of combatant command experience. He is NDU’s chief academic officer and therefore must represent and hold strong to the scholarly side of the chairman’s effort to achieve the perfect combination of education and training for NDU graduates. He performs exactly as is expected by the nature of the position he holds. Anyone who has spent five minutes with the man would find it absurd to insinuate he might be cunning or power hungry. I mean, let’s be honest… look at the bow ties he wears daily, for goodness’ sake!

There is also something about him that serves NDU more than his position’s formalities can describe. He is an incredibly gentle and caring man, and he offers the often-dysfunctional NDU cultural mix of military, academic, and career civil servant mindsets exactly what is missing… humility. He has no desire or undermining plan to assume the president’s position at NDU and I believe he is happiest when he is producing scholarly articles on PME or teaching his course on ethics. I have seen him agonize over the personnel cuts that resulted from sequestration and those operational budget decision were made above all of our heads. And you should know that in all my years I have never heard him say a disparaging word against anyone. He is someone whose simplicity, professionalism and integrity I strive to achieve in my own career.

I clearly grew up at NDU. But I also helped it grow, specifically its youngest college, the College of International Security Affairs. I was asked after a year with the provost to support the newly assigned chancellor in preparing an already academically stellar security studies program for the transition of the chairman’s additional rigorous requirements for JMPE II. The CISA chancellor has and currently faces the toughest of NDU’s college leadership positions in not only promoting an education model that arguably fits better our post-9/11 security environment, but he has been charged with trying to find ways to take the college’s reimbursable funding streams and consolidate them into a direct-funded budget. There is humor at the thought that CISA has been a "favorite child" these past four years, when in truth, CISA has narrowly missed being stood down and having it programs taught out.

I spent three years in support of CISA’s chancellor and its faculty/staff and students and was left humbled by the selfless dedication of this group. Not unlike the provost, CISA’s chancellor demonstrates a remarkable respect and caring for the people he supports. I’ve have seen personally his 12-hour days go on week after week in support of the NDU mission and in sacrifice of time with his family and his own health. I have been in awe at the breadth of his knowledge of American history and War College curriculum and even more importantly his gift of teaching these subjects to students from across the world, many for whom English is a second language.

Like all the colleges at NDU, CISA is made up of amazingly dedicated people and for those of us who have left, they deserve our utmost support and respect. When I started as a new young civilian administrator at JFSC, I was honored to work so closely with the men and women who were coming back from forward deployments and it was my role to support them to 200 percent of my potential. For those of us that have left NDU, that is still our role. 

We call the academic institutions that we graduate from by the Latin word "alma mater," roughly translated to "our nourishing mother." Yet, there are consistently posts on this blog that do not offer the nation’s National Defense University that same respect.

NDU is our "nourishing mother". She offers the highest level of intellectual nourishment in the free exploration and exchange of ideas to the men and women who work on behalf of a secure world. In the future, I ask that we as a community of national and international security experts no longer use this public blog to undermine her privacy and principles and like any other organization… let her change. Let her grow. Let her develop under the dedication and sacrifice of good people towards the full realization of her potential.

Mark McGivern began his DoD civilian service at NDU’s Joint Forces Staff College, Naval Station Norfolk in 2008 and joined the NDU’s main campus at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. in 2010. He worked directly for the provost helping establish the University’s first Institutional Research Office. He spent his final three years as the Director of Institutional Research for NDU’s College of International Security Affairs. He concluded five years of service in October of 2013 and received the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award. He now works as a higher education consultant and lives in Vermont.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1

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