The U.S. military runs five service academies and a number of graduate institutions, for example the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis; West Point; the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island; the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California (full disclosure: where I am affiliated); and the U.S. Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, among others.
These universities provide educations as good as, if not better than, top-notch private colleges and universities. To do so, they rely on a combination of faculty drawn from both the military and civilian world. Enter sequestration: The Defense Department will soon order its civilian personnel to take a 14-day furlough, effectively taking one day off a week without pay for three months. This applies not only to the often idle administrative staff at the Pentagon where, admittedly, a lot of fat exists, but also among teaching faculty at the universities. (Full disclosure: I’m not full-time at the Naval Postgraduate School, “furlough days” will not impact me, and so this is not self-serving).
When the furlough days come, professors who teach certain courses will be forced to stay home. According to colleagues at several of these military universities and institutions, some administrators have suggested that their course on that one day per week simply be taken over by a uniformed serviceman not subject to furlough. But while the Army and Marines embrace an attitude of one-size fits all and that PowerPoint slides can supplant critical thinking, dispensing with expertise will have a negative impact on pedagogy.
Compounding the problem will be the impact of sequestration and perhaps layoffs on tenure. Personally, I oppose tenure as the last vestige of the medieval guild system and as an institution which now does more to quash free speech than promote it, as tenured professors do not hesitate to retaliate against their non-tenured associates for heterodox thinking. But, when the Defense Department unilaterally warns professors that it does not respect tenure absent broader reform, then it is reasonable to assume that many professors will flee U.S. military universities for better security elsewhere.
Combine this together, and President Obama, congressional leaders, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are really playing with fire: it is quite possible that once top-notch military universities and post-graduate institutions will have difficulty in their next round of accreditation.
Cuts should be made—military institutions, especially post-graduate ones, might be combined or consolidated. But the across-the-board expenditure cuts and furloughs risk gutting a system that is, at present, a crown jewel of American education.