Mills ’15: Another breed of diversity

Last year, the Undergraduate Council of Students passed a resolution calling for an increase in the proportion of faculty of color at the University, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. There are many kinds of diversity, and I would never want to overshadow or disregard the importance of racial and ethnic diversity. But I feel that there is another kind of diversity from which the faculty could benefit. The University could hire a high-ranking retired military officer as a lecturer. The relative lack of both student and faculty veterans on our campus is a glaring hole in the flag of diversity we try to fly so proudly.

Over the last several years, there has been a growing trend of higher education embracing the military, particularly at elite universities. A New York Times article on the subject quoted Peter Mansoor, a military historian at Ohio State University, who said, “In the wake of the Iraq and Afghan wars, academia realizes that warfare is not going to go away, and it’s better to understand than ignore it.” In a past column, I pointed out that Brown is now the only Ivy League school that doesn’t have an on-campus ROTC unit (“Who needs whom,” March 10). Soon, we will be the only Ivy League school that can’t offer its students classes on leadership or military history taught by those who are the most qualified to teach those subjects — the generals and admirals who lead our nation’s finest. General Stanley McChrystal teaches at Yale, Admiral Mike Mullen teaches at Princeton and Admiral Eric Olson teaches at Columbia, while Harvard has repeatedly invited top-level military officials to give guest lectures on campus. Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Harvard were ranked as the top four history departments nationally by USA Today. Brown was ranked ninth.

We have made small steps, however. In June, President Christina Paxson signed an agreement with the Naval War College in Newport creating ties between the two institutions. I absolutely laud this initiative, but I would echo the sentiments of Director of the Watson Institute for International Studies Richard Locke, who expressed surprise that the University’s relationship with the Naval War College was not forged earlier. Brown and the Naval War College have existed in close proximity for 130 years.

And last week, Patriot Battalion, the Army ROTC unit based at Providence College, conducted exercises on Pembroke Field. It is an exciting step, but only a brief respite for Brown’s cadets that have to commute across town for every other training event during the year.

Universities across the nation have also been embracing top soldiers and sailors in administrative positions. In 2013, Admiral James Stavridis was named Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He had previously been the North Atlantic Treaty Orgaization’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. This past summer, after giving a widely publicized commencement address at the University of Texas at Austin, Admiral William McRaven was named as the next chancellor of the University of Texas System. McRaven had previously been in charge of U.S. Special Operations Command. I’ve picked only a few of the best known examples to highlight a clear trend across top-notch U.S. universities — the hiring of command-level retired military personnel for both administrative and teaching positions.

Some might caution against hiring faculty without backgrounds in academia. But a quick look at the biographies of senior U.S. military officers yields a glut of doctoral and graduate degrees from elite universities. And the University has also hired faculty without academic backgrounds in the past. Professor-at-Large Ricardos Lagos Escobar served as the president of Chile. Stephen Kinzer, while a journalist-in-residence and not a full-time professor, is teaching two popular classes this semester and spent most of his career at the New York Times.

The University has more to gain from this than many other universities because of the dearth of veterans on campus. In 2012, we had twelve. Veterans add diversity of opinion to College Hill as well as a wealth of life experience that is dramatically different from those of the average student. But generals and admirals from command-level positions hired as faculty members would be invaluable to Brown in terms of enriching the academic and research climate and also for teaching undergraduates.

McChrystal’s seminar on leadership at Yale has 20 spots. Over 200 students applied in spring 2012. Paxson has repeatedly called for Brown to be a leading university — why not recruit some of the nation’s most seasoned leaders to come here and teach? If the University wants to be serious about facilitating tough conversations and hiring the best faculty available while continuing to champion diversity, it needs to look no further than minds educated in Annapolis and at West Point and honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

 

Walker Mills ’15 is planning on commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marines Corps and would be happy to talk to you regarding this topic. He can be reached at walker_mills@brown.edu. 

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