What Just Happened at the Naval Postgraduate School?

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NPS Foundation

The Naval Postgraduate School

Last week the Secretary of the Navy dismissed the top officials at my school – one of the sadder events in its century-plus history.

How did this happen?

And more broadly, just what goes on at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.?  These are the questions I have heard most often in the past several days, so I’ll try to answer them.

The simple response to “What happened?” is that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus lost confidence in President Dan Oliver and Provost Leonard Ferrari because of their apparent inability to remain in compliance with the regulations, financial and otherwise, that govern us. The long Inspector General reports that have been publicly posted also provide hints at concern over the school’s seeming strategic “drift” away from its core mission that calls for a primary focus on educating naval officers.

On this point, I can only say that the problems complying with regulations that I am aware of grew out of deep dedication to pursuit of the core mission of education – extending to all our services and to our many allies around the world who send their best officers to us. Both our president and provost put mission first; it appears that sometimes they colored outside the lines in their efforts to do so.

It is important also to correct the misimpression created by the official finding that these officials accepted inappropriate “gifts.” This sounds like people were on the take. Hardly. President Oliver and Provost Ferrari, with both of whom I have worked closely since each came to the Naval Postgraduate School, are men of unquestioned integrity.

For all their probity, though, I am the first to admit having had strong disagreements with the provost (often) and with the president (occasionally) on matters of the school’s management and strategic direction. Both were always open to hearing other points of view, even if their decisions sometimes left me shaking my head.

It is this point about openness to divergent views that is, I think, the most attractive feature of the Naval Postgraduate School – and begins to answer the question about what goes on here.

This is a place to which many of our students come with extensive combat experience. Given the mixed results of the past decade of war, they often have key insights about how to fight smarter and how to operate more efficiently. They come together with faculty from across a range of disciplines, but who all share a deep interest in military and security affairs. At even the finest universities, there will only be a handful of faculty who specialize in conflict-related studies. Here just about everybody does.

And what a faculty it is. Guillermo Owen in our math department has twice been nominated for the Nobel Prize in economics. Dorothy Denning in my department is one of the world’s leading computer scientists, and was recently inducted into the Cyber Security Hall of Fame. Douglas Porch is one the most eminent military historians of our time. The list goes on and on.

Our students are just as amazing. Admiral William McRaven, head of the Special Operations Command and the man who got bin Laden, is an alumnus of our special operations program. Almost three dozen astronauts did their studies here. Two of them died on missions. Our international alumni include many who are now general officers playing leading roles in their countries’ fights against terrorist organizations.

All in all, what goes on at the Naval Postgraduate School is quite scintillating. I am in my 20th year teaching here, and over the course of my career have turned down several offers to go elsewhere. Partly because of gratitude for the opportunity to serve in this way at such a challenging time, and partly, God forgive me, because the terrible problems we study are so complex and interesting.

Yes, I can see why Secretary Mabus lost confidence in our president and provost. The mission was being pursued with insufficient attention given to compliance, and with some drift in strategic direction. But I hope he has confidence in our ability to keep contributing to the nation’s, and our world’s, security – and to do so while following the rules and keeping our focus on the core mission of military education.

John Arquilla is professor and chair in the defense analysis department at the Naval Postgraduate School.  The views expressed are his alone.


Keelhaul or merely flog the miscreants?


I'm not sure I see the point of this piece. 

The Navy Secretary was correct in dismissing both men, the author agrees. But most of the piece is the author digressing into a list of how other people at the school are accomplished and 'amazing'. OK, I'll buy that. But what exactly does one have to do with the other?

Doesn't seem like the IG or the Navy has lost confidence in the school. If anything, they think highly enough of it to demand better performance and ethics from the people at the very top of it, a point which the author never seems to touch on or maybe realize.


Indeed Yes....

Clear signs of the academic bubble and seems to have forgotten what his and the NPS core mission is. Seems the former President and Provost built a egregious culture of cherry picking the the "amazing" and using it to justify or ignore the wrong. Spin, spin, spin........makes you wonder when was the last time Arquilla taught a class or perhaps ise just part of the upper leadership that the report clearly shows were flagrantly engaged in misconduct, denial and defiance.....


Arquilla: "Both our president and provost put mission first; it appears that sometimes they colored outside the lines in their efforts to do so." It's understandable -- Arquilla has never been in the military -- but it's not forgivable. 

There is concern at the highest levels about officers coloring outside the lines. E.T.H.I.C.S.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has briefed President Barack Obama on Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey’s recommendations about general/flag officer ethics, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presented two initial findings that Panetta took to the White House earlier this week.

The first finding is that while there is appropriate ethics training in place for senior leaders, “we need to start earlier and reinforce that training more frequently in an officer’s career,” Little said. Ethics training is a part of each service’s professional military education from initial entry training to general/flag officer education.

“Second, General Dempsey believes we must look at the level and type of support senior leaders receive in the execution of their duties to ensure it is necessary, and to ensure we are being consistent, sensible and efficient,” Little said.



One needs to be very careful in using words like “stealing, embezzling, misrepresenting, and falsifying documents”. Those were not the findings in this IG investigation. No organization should accept that behavior, including the Navy. If you come up from the weeds, you realize the IG was intent on prosecuting a very different case - to discredit the vision the leadership developed for the institution -- turning NPS into a world class research university and creating great critical thinkers to take on our biggest global security challenges. Naturally, some people in Navy see this vision as a distraction. They couldn’t be more wrong.


Arquilla: ". . .because of their apparent inability to remain in compliance with the regulations, financial and otherwise, that govern us."

Navy: Navy inspection and investigations into management practices at the prestigious school determined that the school's leadership fostered an "atmosphere of defiance of statutory requirements and Department of the Navy rules and regulations."The investigation found that [NPS President, Retired Navy Vice Adm. Dan] Oliver misused standard contracting procedures to circumvent federal hiring and compensation authorities. 

The investigation also found that Oliver and [provost, Dr. Leonard A.] Ferrari inappropriately accepted gifts from an independent private foundation organized to support the school. The inspection determined that school leadership consistently failed to solicit and consider the advice of the school's technical experts, including its attorneys. 



A leader in an organization should not be editorializing externally on a properly conducted investigation.  Only more evidence and well beyond any stretch of academic freedom of expression. Stealing, embezzling, misrepresenting, falsifying etc. is ILLEGAL, even if in the name of good of the organization.  Arquilla dismissing it as “coloring outside the lines” is corrupt.  Thinking acting with honor, courage and commitment –AND being ethically and legally sound does not preclude the institution from being a progressive higher education center of excellence is unfounded. Time for Arquilla to try and lead.


After years of combat deployment, the last thing needed for student officers is an unnecessary militarized institution. Instead, they need a place that encourages free thought, broad relationships, and creativity. Further, the suggestion that the school needs to reconsider its' willingness to open its doors to foreign students and inter-agency partners makes me concerned about where DoD is thinking is regarding future security realities. In a time where we should be racing to expand the post 9/11 network, the last thing we need to do is retreat to a 1990's era Navy stovepipe. This is dangerous territory for the country. Kudos to John Arquilla for speaking to the reality of what NPS needs to be thinking about. 


The IG Report is very accurate and could not capture all the details of issues at NPS and to take issue with it only confirms the reports concern for faculty definace and those who felt they were above the rules. Arquilla needs to get out of the academic bubble and remember the Naval in Naval Postgraduate School. Let's hope he stives to be part of the solution and stops trying to find fault with the IG and its recommendations that will steer NPS back to a proper and respectful course.


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