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No question left unasked at the Naval War College

By Jim BencivengaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 29, 1980

Newport, R. I.

This is one school where the students hope they never have to use what they learn. Not because the subject matter is irrelevant. Quite the contrary. Here, what students learn can be a matter of life and death, not just for their nation but the world. And this is precisely what Rear Adm. S. B. Luce intended in 1884 when he founded the Naval War College (to instruct officers in the "Science of Art and War") in this busy New England seaport.

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How to describe this institution nearly a century later? It might be (and has been) described as a prep school for middle-grade and senior officers on their way to positions of chief-executive command. But that designation would not do justice to the ideals and objectives of what has also been described as a national asset.

The Naval War College might better be seen as a graduate school for career military personnel. And in this light it takes its place alongside other US graduate schools, both public and private.

It is also a school where the students have an identity problem with much of the general public. Mention the Naval War College and the assumption is you're referring to the Naval ACADEMY AT Annapolis.

This is not at all the case. Unlike Annapolis, at the Naval War College, US Navy officers do not make up the entire student body. For instance, in just one of the four schools at the college, about 140 senior officers and civilians are candidates for key future command and administrative assignments. About half the student body are naval officers, with the rest made up of officers of other services, and State Department and Department of Defense civilians.

In this particular school, candidates are selected from among the top 25 percent of their contemporaries. An average students is about 42 years old, has 18 years of commissioned experience, and already holds an advanced academic degree.

Also unlike Annapolis, the focus of study is much more global is scope. It is dedicated to the study of "total force" warfare (a term that includes not just all the military hardware and military personel at an officer's command, but the strength of the economy and the political institutions through which military decisions are made, including the contribution made by allies).

The course of study at the Naval War College covers three broad areas: research (naval strategy and policy decisions); economics (weapon-systems procurement and management); and administration (naval operations and tactics).

Student receive graduate credit for the 10 1/2 month program, with up to 12 semester hours transferable to other US graduate schools.

The faculty numbers 70, two-thirds of whom are military personnel selected on the basis of educational and operational expertise. The normal tour of duty for a military professor at the War College is three years.

The remaining civilian faculty are senior scholars with extensive teaching experience from other universities, specializing in fields that complement the military instructors. With the exception of six "tenured" members, who provide long-term direction and continuity, the average teaching stay for civilians is one to five years.

The teaching staff develops most of the courses offered. Formal course work follows the case-study method, similar to that used in most law schools, and augments this pedagogy with reading, lectures, and demonstrations. Socratic inquiry probes decisionmaking principles. Student -- and faculty -- wear civilian clothes, and classes are conducted in a seminar format.

Prof. W. E. Turcotte, chairman of the Department of Management, says one goal of the combined case-study, Socratic approach is to broaden the experience of these officers, who have spent much of their former service time in one line of work.