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Veterans in Academia

Former Williams prof. Marc Lynch, in a response to a Tom Friedman column, writes about officers returning from military service to academia, particularly to pursue graduate studies in political science and Middle Eastern studies:

I’ve met a lot of these officers over the last few years, and have frequently been deeply impressed with them. A remarkable number of my students at Williams College (and later from George Washington) chose to serve in the military after graduation in the post-9/11 period (and some, like the much-missed Nate Krissoff, didn’t make it back). There is absolutely no reason why such officers and soldiers wouldn’t choose to pursue advanced degrees, or succeed brilliantly when they do.

When they enter academic programs, these veterans will (and already do) bring a great deal of on-the-ground experience to the classroom and to their research. Many will (and do) enter their programs with far more advanced language skills than did earlier generations of students, although perhaps with more familiarity with colloquial spoken dialects than with Modern Standard Arabic (reversing a common traditional pattern). Their point of reference will be (and is) Iraq and the Gulf, not Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, or other areas where a great number of current faculty began their encounters with the region. And they will have much greater familiarity and comfort with military and security issues than do many currently in the field.

I doubt that the main effect will be to push the field to the “right”, as I’ve heard suggested. The officers I’ve met are all over the map politically and in terms of their intellectual aspirations. Indeed, I’d guess that the bias would be towards pragmatism and empiricism, and against any kind of ideological doctrines. And at any rate, the allegations of the politicization of Middle East Studies — particularly political science — have always been wildly exaggerated. How the critics of the “Human Terrain Program” over in Anthropology might react, I admit I don’t know…

That’s not to say that there might not be depressing misperceptions on both sides. I’ve had a few soldiers interested in pursuing degrees ask me nervously whether they would be shunned by academics. I would be shocked if any experienced prejudice or bias because of their war service — certainly not at a place like GWU — and would be appalled if they did. I certainly hope that such concerns wouldn’t stop them from applying. I suppose there’s a chance that some faculty might feel threatened by students from such a background — but those are probably professors who have trouble in other areas as well, frankly. Constructive argument and productive friction between people with very different backgrounds, perspectives and knowledge should enrich and even electrify a well-run classroom, not cause problems. That’s a good, not a negative.

Continue reading here.

Dan Drezner ’90 comments:

To put it bluntly, most top political scientists don’t have a lot of experience beyond being political scientists. That is to say, the top Ph.D. students often enter graduate school straight from undergraduate programs. They might have interesting summer internships, but otherwise have limited hands-on experience with politics or international relations…..

The problem comes when everyone in a profession pursues the identical career track — to the point where those who deviate from the career track are thought of as strange or different. At that point, the profession loses something ineffable.

So, former members of the military should be ecouraged to enter Ph.D. programs — as should those who worked on the ground for NGOs and civil affairs branches of the government. I can’t guarantee that it will lead to better scholarship. At a minimum, however, it improves the quality of the teaching and the conversations that take place between colleagues. And I’m pretty confident that that leads to better research.

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#1 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

“I would be shocked if any experienced prejudice or bias because of their war service — certainly not at a place like GWU — and would be appalled if they did. I certainly hope that such concerns wouldn’t stop them from applying. I suppose there’s a chance that some faculty might feel threatened by students from such a background — but those are probably professors who have trouble in other areas as well, frankly.”

Sadly, Prof Lynch does not have to look much past Ephblog to find these kinds of bias’ and stereotyping of American Veterans… as can be seen throughout the comment section of the thread below. They are too old, they are too unstable, they need special care- etc etc etc. The reality is, many in the academic elite simply fear/ mistunderstand men and women who have combat experience. Kane and I argue throughout the thread against some very serious and damaging stereotypes.

http://www.ephblog.com/2009/06/08/yellow-ribbon/

#2 Comment By rory On August 21, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

that’s completely different and frustratingly misconstruing not only what I and others were expressing in that post (admittedly hard to articulate in blog form, and i didn’t do a great job…but water under the bridge) but also what Lynch was expressing (especially for graduate school, where there’s a much more disparate group of peers in a cohort than a place like williams freshman).

#3 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

I am not blaming anyone or trying to twist words. It was clearly expressed that Veterans might require some kind of special need that may not be provided at a school like Williams, and that Veterans may carry some kind of trauma that restricts or bans their ability to attend Williams (because the school could not provide for them). As argued, nothing is further from the truth. Veterans are already excelling in higher education, both college and graduate school, as they always has. Veterans do not require any special need or care beyond the norm of any other student population.

It is important that we recognize that such stereotypes against military service exist in some “liberal” elitist educational atmospheres… places like Berkeley, where they ban ROTC… places that agree with the hypothesis that veterans are lacking or damaged in some way. Places that believe that it is ok to prejudice against military service and veterans admissions because of such stereotypes and fear. Places like Columbia, where Veterans are made to feel uncomfortable, and ROTC is banned.

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/09/17/rotc

“the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren’t offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake.” .- Barack Obama

The problem comes when everyone in a profession pursues the identical career track — to the point where those who deviate from the career track are thought of as strange or different. At that point, the profession loses something ineffable. – Dan Drezner

#4 Comment By jeffz On August 21, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

First of all, PTC, I like Rory believe that you are mischaracterizing the thread, which speaks to itself.

Second, the reason some institutions of higher education have “discriminates” against the presence of the military as a recruiter / employer on campus is because the military itself violates many educational institutions’ non-discrimination policy. I don’t know if that is ALWAYS the reason, but you can’t assume that every institutional policy is borne of some particular animus towards the military. Now, if, as he should, Obama finally gets around to repealing don’t ask, don’t tell, and universities STILL band the military from campus, then you’d have a more compelling argument.

#5 Comment By jeffz On August 21, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

Sorry for the typos above. PTC: my comment number 43 in that thread basically sums up my position. No honest appraisal of that position could possible read it to reflect the sort of animus towards veterans PTC attributes to (I assume) myself and Rory in comment 1 of this thread. Rory’s comments have likewise been misconstrued by PTC here; I think you should retract your characterization, PTC.

A concern about veterans possibly being “too old,” by the way, is not a stereotype — it just reflects the fact that veterans have, by DEFINITION, done something else prior to college, post-high school. If they served a year in the military, that is one thing; if it was five years, I just think that is something worth at least reflecting on, just as I’d want us to reflect carefully on the implications of someone who had, say, spent five years a professional athlete before coming to Williams. I realize from other discussions, PTC, that you don’t think age and life experience is meaningful in any way in terms of how people interact, but a 23 year old frosh living in a dorm with a bunch of 17-18 year olds could potentially pose a troubling dynaminc.

As I’ve said before on this blog, all other things being equal, I’d give an admissions PREFERENCE to someone who had served in the military over someone without such an interesting life experience. How that suggests in any way the sort of animus you posit in comment one, I have no idea.

On a happier note, I am glad to reminisce about our awesome collaborative video game ideas, also captured on that thread.

#6 Comment By rory On August 21, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

every summer, i work in a program that is focused on the special needs of African American pre-frosh (and its open to others to join). I am not, nor is my school discriminating against them for acknowledging that they have a unique set of background characteristics that may or may not impact their individual experiences at school.

but we don’t need to go over this again. we really don’t. Jeff and I were both strongly supportive of Williams incorporating veterans into the student body. As someone who works closely and studies non-traditional student interactions and success on elite campuses, I’m very confident in saying that any further attempts to diversify any school in any way needs to be well-implemented instead of done on an ad-hoc basis as ad-hoc integration has made mistakes in the past.

#7 Comment By PTC On August 21, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

JeffZ- Well, others can read the thread and decide for themselves.

DADT is the excuse used to ban ROTC and military recruiting on quite a few college campuses, very true.

Now let me ask, do you think universities should ban ROTC and military recruiters from job fairs because of DADT?

I think that exhibits a very negative atmosphere towards service members- to ban active members of their community from even existing on campus because of a government policy?

Who else should we ban? Not the Taliban, just Marines?

“We don’t dislike veterans; we just ban ROTC because of a policy.”

“I am not prejudice against service members; I just cannot study near anyone wearing a military uniform, because of a policy.”

“I think Military service is a legitimate profession, I just do not want any recruiting for it done on my property.”

I think it is only very thinly veiled where these schools biases and prejudices lie. No doubt, it could be damn uncomfortable for veterans proud of their military service to go to a college where recruiting and involvement in such service is strictly prohibited and protested. A place where their service is looked down upon. A place where they do not recognize their right to exist.