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VIEWS AND OPINIONS

SO WHAT’S IN A DEGREE?

by Colonel R.T. Wakelam

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In his 1997 Report to the Prime Minister, then Minister of National Defence Doug Young directed that Canadian Forces officers would, with the exception of those commissioned from the ranks, require an under-graduate degree. That policy statement, commonly known as MND 10, has been vigorously debated in the intervening years. Those who see no compelling need for junior officers to have degrees frequently point to the fact that the CF has operated effectively in the past with officers who did not have post secondary qualifications; other observers suggest that the possession of a degree does not of itself guarantee a well developed intellect. While these opinions have a certain ring of truth, the notion that officers need not have degrees flies in the face of the Minister’s direction, as well as trends in general and professional education.

This issue is not new; it has been around since the end of the Second World War when the minister of the day, Brooke Claxton, wanted ‘degreed’ officers. Response from some senior leaders was that high school educated officers had seen the Services through the war.1 The Chief of the Air Staff, apparently less than thrilled with sending officers to university, did admit that a blend of high school and university graduates was desirable.2 But at a time when just 61 percent of Ontario youth actually started secondary school, and of those only 20 percent finished it,3 both the MND and the senior leadership were really talking about the strongest minds in the land. Now, at the end of the millennium only 15 percent of the population does not finish high school4 so there is little certainty that an individual with a Grade 12 diploma is necessarily the best candidate for a Queen’s commission. Even in 1969, the Report of the Officer Development Board (the Rowley Report) concluded that national education norms were such that the same recruiting cohort was composed entirely of university graduates.5

This is not to say that a university degree guarantees someone the ability to deal with complex issues, but post- secondary education does at least offer the opportunity to develop intellectual skills that can be applied to the demands of modern operations. In his recent work, Professionalism: The Third Logic, Elliot Freidson argues that while all occupations contain some blend of skills and knowledge, professions involve a “special kind of knowledge ... believed to require the exercise of discretionary judgment and a grounding in abstract theory and concepts.6 All training, whether for craft, technical or professional work involves some degree of vocational training, but professions benefit from the broadening experience normally associated with a univer-sity milieu and approach to learning.7 These professions argue that a practitioner is better prepared by having a broad knowledge of theories which can be a “guide [to] discretionary judgement” rather than a narrow ability in only some of the practical applications of the profession.8 A 1989 study on military education argues that when one is well trained one may be considered ‘skilled’, but ‘skilful’ goes beyond just trained response and suggests intelligence and “flair, imagination and insight.”9 Education deals in knowledge, and knowledge is associated with ‘meaning’. Thus education is an “evaluative” term: it is seen as worthwhile and is valued for and of itself.10

While offering a broadening experience, university degrees also involve a significant measure of societal credibility which cannot be ignored. Freidson argues that “occupations believed to possess such knowledge are singled out for public prestige and official privilege....”11 It is the access to liberal education that both enables specialist practitioners to later serve in managerial positions and also establishes a societally recognized legiti-macy.12 Research (conducted by the teaching arm of the profession), “book learning,” and the university milieu all combine to give the profession a heightened status. “The connection of training [for groups such as doctors and lawyers] with the high culture valued by the elite and often respected by the masses...establishes an essential part of the ideological foundation for the occupation’s status.”13

Canadian historians Bob Gidney and Wyn Millar have found these same tendencies when examining professional education in Ontario during the last 150 years. In the mid-1800s the three traditional professions – divinity, medicine and law – began to recognize that technical proficiency had to be accompanied by a liberal education which remained “the touchstone of the educated man: it constituted a training in character and culture, the necessary prerequisite to framing technical expertise within ‘scientia’....”14 This scientia – knowledge – was thus a fundamental component of the individual’s formation, giving the professional the ability to see the bigger picture, while at the same time conferring social status both on the individual and the profession. Gidney and Millar explain how the professions participated in a societal move towards more education in the 19th century and were often on the leading edge.15 Through the 20th century other professions too came to see a baccalaureate as a form of legitimacy, and whether it was an academic degree or a professional degree seemed of little consequence so long as the parchment was granted by a university.16

If by this point it appears that all the evidence in support of university education comes from the civilian world, then one need look no further than Samuel Huntington’s observations. Over the past 40 years English speaking students of the armed services have used Huntington’s model when investigating the military’s professional status. Huntington, a Harvard academic and recently the author of The Clash of Civilizations, published his seminal work The Soldier and the State in 1956. He argued that the officer corps met three essential criteria of professions: expertise, responsibility and corporateness. “The professional man,” he said, “is an expert with specialized knowledge in a significant field of human endeavor.” The professional man was responsible to society for the provision of a service which was “essential to the functioning of society.” Finally, professions saw themselves as groups “apart from society,” where a collective identify arose during a lengthy training period and was then reinforced by a shared sense of duty to society and further normalized by “standards of professional competence.”17

Huntington coined the phrase, “the management of violence.” In simple terms, the purpose of a military force and its officers was “successful armed combat.” An officer’s associated duties included preparing the force, planning its mission, and directing its actions. An officer’s skill was neither “craft” nor “art”. “It is instead an extraordinarily complex intellectual skill requiring comprehensive study and training.” In Huntington’s view, acquiring this competency required about one-third of an officer’s career. Mastery came not simply through “learning existing techniques. [The mangement of violence] is in a continuous process of development, and it is necessary for the officer to understand this development and to be aware of its main tendencies and trends.” Even this was not enough, for Huntington posited that the officer must be in tune with the culture in which he operated. This required an understanding of society, of the characteristics of other professions and of human beings themselves.18 Huntington’s military professional thus needed to acquire and maintain a broad and complex expertise in order to manage violence on behalf of society and the state.

It was this responsibility to the state that defined the second criterion of professionalism. It was up to society to direct the employment of violence for socially approved ends. “While all professions are to some extent regulated by the state, the military profession is monopolized by the state.” The officer’s client was not an individual member of society, but society itself. The officer’s motivation was not remuneration but service to the state and society.19 Not coincidentally the state expected its professionals to be well educated.

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The emergence of a modern professional officer corps, with demanding standards of performance had begun in the 18th century, but it was during and after the Napoleonic wars that European nations, led by Germany, began to introduce modern institutions and practices which defined in part the profession’s corporateness. In 1810 Prussia established the Kriegsakademie in Berlin for the purpose of preparing serving officers for duties in ‘staff’ positions where they would assist senior commanders in the coordination of training, planning and conducting operations. Selected officers attended a two- year course which was divided about equally between military subjects and electives, the latter resembling the range of liberal arts courses offered in contemporary civilian universities. The War Academy, like the Prussian cadet schools, focused not on rote memorization but on the development of intellectual capability – “upon forming and disciplining the mind and encouraging habits of reflection.” It was Huntington’s view that the Prussian system compared very favourably with 20th century education theory.20 Prussian officers were expected to be well educated, reflective practitioners.

To get a Canadian context, one can derive a similar message from Dr. Stephen Harris in his 1988 work Canadian Brass. Using Huntington’s model, Harris argued that since a military is not often at war it must spend long periods in study to be prepared for any future conflicts. “The competent army is one which, having engaged in this critical study and thinking” is ready for what may come.21 We can also turn to the Rowley Report for opinions from within the profession. General Rowley insisted on a baccalaureate qualification for new officers.

There are four aspects to [the nature of the undergraduate degree]: the first concerns the nature of learning.... Education at this level, which is elementary in relation to the knowledge and communication level of our times, constitutes a training of the mind, an imparting of vigour to the intellect. After commissioning, the young graduate learns and grows by experience – experience of men and of systems – his mind trained not so much by what he has learned in his years at college, but by the mental discipline of learning and analysis. Thus a hard and challenging course in history, for example, forces the student to grasp the essential data, to analyse critically the pattern and to build for himself, and alone, criteria of assessment.

Concluding this passage, Rowley indicated that any degree from the “recognized disciplines” including the humanities, social sciences, sciences and engineering, would meet the needs of intellectual growth. “It is this ability to acquire knowledge, to analyse and to understand, which must be imparted to our future officers.”22 We would do well to remember that the members of Rowley’s Board, Rowley himself, and the senior leader-ship of the CF including the CDS were all veterans of the Second World War and Korea. That they had no trouble valuing the university degree and its intellectual underpinning should send us a clear message.

There may be no guaranteed link between an undergraduate degree and the intellectual reasoning and cognitive skills needed to deal with the complexities of contemporary military operations, but there is an arguably strong correlation. Over the past 200 years various Western militaries, including Canada’s, have recognized this and have instituted learning programmes aimed at these outcomes. In Canada and elsewhere, civilian professions have almost universally and long since adopted the university degree as a point of entry into professional study and practice. Indeed, the bachelor’s degree serves as a recognized credential of the level of intellectual ability that society expects of its professionals. MND 10 formalizes that expectation for the CF. The time for debate is over.

Colonel R.T. Wakelam is Director of Professional Development, Canadian Defence Academy.

NOTES

  1. NAC, RG 24, Vol 3211, file HQ 186-1-3, memo 282-8-5 (K.2-2) dated 28 January 1946, from Air Vice Marshal H.L. Campbell, Air Member for Personnel, to Chief of the Air Staff, entitled “Personnel Requirements – Permanent, Medium and Short Service Commissions”. Campbell recommended that permanent commissions be restricted to university graduates and that short and medium service appointments be filled by qualified NCOs. Minute (2), from Air Marshal R. Leckie indicated “I cannot agree to the policy which has been advanced on several previous occasions that permanent commissions in the R.C.A.F. be restricted to those who are graduates of a university. This is contrary to the democratic trend of thought in Canada to-day and the brains of the country are not concentrated in the universities.” He countered that Senior Matriculation in Ontario be the standard for permanent commissions.
  2. NAC, RG 24, Vol 5224, File S-19-7-71, Vol 6, Minute (2) (note: Minute 1 was not evident on file) addressed to Air Member for Personnel from Robert Leckie, AM, CAS. 1. “With the limited numbers we are likely to be allowed in the post-war Air Force, I cannot agree to any arrangement whereby we denude squadrons of necessary personnel so that individuals may obtain a University education. The results to be obtained are, in my opinion, out of all proportion to the disabilities and inconvenience suffered by the squadrons going for long periods under strength. If we can do without these individuals for so long a period, we do without them altogether.” 2. “We will have ample applicants for the Regular Air Force from: (a) High school graduates (of whom I think we should have about 70 percent) subsequently passing through RCAF College; (b) University graduates (of whom I think we should have about 20 percent); (c) Promotion from the ranks (of whom I think we should have about 10 percent).”
  3. R.D. Gidney, Hope to Harris: The reshaping of Ontario’s Schools (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), p. 14.
  4. Canada, 2001 Census (Ottawa: Supply and Service Canada, 2003).
  5. Canada, Report of the Officer Development Board, Volume 1 (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, March 1969), p. 31.
  6. Elliot Freidson, The Third Logic (Chicago: The University of Chicago press, 2001), p. 13.
  7. Ibid., p. 90.
  8. Ibid., p. 95.
  9. Kenneth Lawson “Introduction” in Michael D. Stephens, ed, The Education of Armies (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 6.
  10. Ibid., p. 8.
  11. Friedson, p. 13.
  12. Ibid., p. 121.
  13. Ibid., p. 96.
  14. Robert D. Gidney and Wyn Millar, Professional Gentlemen: The Professions in Nineteenth-Century Ontario (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), p. 355.
  15. Ibid., p. 158.
  16. Ibid., p. 358-361.
  17. Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, MA: Belknap (Harvard) Press, 1957), pp. 8-10.
  18. Ibid., pp. 11-14.
  19. Ibid., pp. 15-16.
  20. Ibid., p. 48.
  21. Stephen J. Harris, Canadian Brass: the Making of a Professional Army, 1860-1939 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), p. 4.
  22. ODB Report, Vol. 1, p. 35.
Juno Beach Centre

DND Photo IMG-0678 by Warrant Officer Jean Blouin

The Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer, opened on 6 June 2003 by the Prime Ministers of Canada and France to commemorate the Canadian contribution to the invasion of Normandy in June 1944.