Security’s Broader Context
Provost and Dean Neil Weissman discusses the ins and outs of the new security-studies certificate
February 26, 2010
Neil Weissman, provost and dean of the college, responds to questions about the new certificate program in security studies.
Dickinson offers three certificate programs right now—health studies, secondary teaching and security studies. How does a certificate program differ from a major, and why are these certificate programs valuable to our curriculum?
Certificate programs are different from a major in that they meet a particular need that doesn’t necessarily fall within the boundaries of a traditional academic discipline as offered at Dickinson. So teacher certification is crafted to meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It has a special character to it. The other two are programs that bring together insights and perspectives from a wide range of disciplines. They both centered on emerging issues of immediate contemporary significance. The idea of a certificate is to give students an opportunity to develop a special interest and take a cluster of related courses at the same time that they’re able to do a regular major.
Security studies is an emerging new area. Can you give me a definition of what may be a new term to a lot of people?
Security studies is, I think, generally defined in relatively narrow terms. It’s perceived as dealing either with the kinds of challenges that Homeland Security faces in relation to terrorism or more traditionally with military threats from other states. It’s a subject, we think, that desperately needs to be put in broader context, and we believe that a liberal-arts institution is exactly the right place to do that. So our concept of security has to do with protecting human well-being in a broad sense. It includes traditional concerns like threats from other states or terrorists, but it also includes issues such as health (pandemics, for example), environment and energy, and economic security, too.
So how did the idea of offering security studies here come about?
This particular subject is a natural for us; we have unique resources that other liberal-arts colleges do not. I think of three things in particular. Faculty here are interested in the subject and have expertise. Second, the college’s strong emphasis on global education, and beyond that on a useful education that engaging issues of contemporary concern, connects. Then finally there is the close proximity of the U.S. Army War College and the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, the Army’s lead agency for addressing how one sustains peace and security globally.
We’ve had a long and effective working relationship with the War College that includes Dickinson students doing internships there; faculty from the War College teaching here at Dickinson and vice versa, and the shared Omar Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership. So we were in a position to imagine a program that joined the strengths [of] Dickinson as a liberal-arts college committed to useful and global education with the resources offered by the War College and Peacekeeping Institute. We think that makes for a very special combination.
The general description for the security-studies certificate says that the program “exemplifies the college’s commitment to providing students with a globally oriented, useful education that is relevant to today’s culture.” How does security studies provide a dimension that is different from what we are already offering here at Dickinson?
I don’t think that it’s different. It’s really an elaboration of what we do. Dickinson is, as our mission statement says, committed to an education in the liberal arts that produces citizen leaders and connects with the issues of the day. [We] take current challenges that are often viewed in a very narrow, technical way and put them in broad liberal-arts perspective. And we apply the basic skills of understanding and analysis that come with the liberal arts. Security is often understood in very, very narrow fashions. Just look at the recent discussion, for example, of the attempted … Christmas aircraft bombing. There are many quite specific questions being asked, but it’s clear that what was missing in our response to this particular threat was a broad set of skills among officials involved. I mean skills such as the capacity of people who work in this arena to “connect the dots,” to think of things in a networked, multi-dimensional way. That’s something that has a real liberal-arts aspect. We like to lift issues out of narrow boxes and place them in broad liberal-arts perspective. We think security is an issue that definitely needs this treatment.
Dickinson is known for providing first a strong foundation in the liberal arts and then expertise in a student’s chosen field. How will that approach be particularly advantageous for students pursuing security studies?
I think, as with any other contemporary issue, we intend to bring a liberal arts approach to bear on security, and I mean that in two senses. First, in terms of the type of skills that need to be applied to the question: the ability to do analysis, the ability to combine insights from different fields or connect the dots, the ability to place what look to be narrow questions in broad context and tease out consequences. All of these are skills that should characterize the tool kit of any liberal arts student. In addition, there are a number of disciplines in our curriculum that integrate with security studies in specific ways. Certainly students in international studies will be able to connect with this issue; students in law and policy and political science are going to hav much to say about security as well, The same might be true of a student in environmental studies or environmental science; even students in a field like health studies have something to add here. So both in terms of overarching skills and the specific training they bring from their majors, our students are going to be well prepared to engage with security studies, and I think quite creatively.
The faculty members collaborating on the security-studies certificate are from several departments mainly international business & management, political science and international studies. How did this group of professors get involved and how will their diverse background help to shape the program?
We brought them together based on their prior expression of interest in this particular field. We thought, in reflecting on it, that these were the people who most obviously and directly connected with it. On the other hand, though, there are faculty in a broad range of areas who don’t obviously connect with security studies but really need to be brought into the program. So, for example, Neil Leary, the director of the [Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education], will be a major figure in looking at environmental issues. Shalom Staub, who teaches courses on conflict resolution in religion and in anthropology, will be someone who can contribute substantially to the program. I see security studies bringing in ever-wider circles of faculty, really placing it in the broadest interdisciplinary perspective.
I understand that the faculty voted unanimously this fall to institute the security studies certificate. Is it rare for the faculty to vote unanimously in favor of a new curricular initiative?
I think … there was a clear recognition among the faculty that this is an arena in which we can do something unusual, something special, and we want to encourage that. Our vision for Dickinson is that we want it to be a well-balanced liberal-arts college, but we also want to develop areas where we have special strength and expertise. We’ve already done that in regard to global education, an area in which we are certainly a national leader. We’re currently doing the same around sustainability studies. The security studies initiative has that character to it as well. It’s a subject that, again, given our college’s assets and the near proximity of the War College and Peacekeeping Institute, we really can address with extraordinary resources, the kind of resources that … undergraduates at other liberal-arts colleges are just not normally going to encounter.
I also want to emphasize that while we are … [working] with the War College and Peacekeeping Institute, the program is not focused on the military exclusively. We certainly expect to do a lot of work with NGOs, with the United Nations, and others. So it really is a field that opens up a wide range of possibilities, particularly if you think about security broadly, in terms of what it takes for human beings to have a secure existence overall. That’s a question that has to do, of course, with war and violence, but it also has to do with health challenges. It has to do with environmental concerns. It has to do with, frankly, how we find the resources that will support the kind of civilization that people wish to have. So another entity that we’ve had some initial conversations with in terms of collaboration is the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
You’ve mentioned a bit about the Army War College and the Peacekeeping Institute. To more specifically address those components of the program, what will their role be in the certificate?
We definitely will look to the War College and the Peacekeeping Institute to help provide internships in this arena. We also imagine a good range of internships being available through our [program at The] Washington Center [in D.C.], so there will be many possibilities. Secondly, both campuses already collaborate when we bring speakers and specialists to Carlisle. I think that that’s certainly going to continue and intensify. Further, we already have several War College faculty who teach here regularly, and we expect that to expand. … Plus we annually co-sponsor the Omar Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership. One recent incumbent of the chair who taught at both institutions, for instance, was Admiral Dennis Blair, currently the Director of National Intelligence. Both the War College and the Peacekeeping Institute have faculty with wide-ranging backgrounds, not strictly focused on the military. So we can look to them for expertise in a variety of ways.
Dickinson’s certificate in security studies is said to prepare students for careers in a variety of fields ranging from foreign affairs and economics to the military and the environmental sciences. What sort of in-class and out-of-class preparation will those students receive, and how will earning that certificate in security studies give them a leg up as they graduate and prepare to go into careers or graduate school?
Well, completing a cluster of courses that make students think about security issues in broad ways from multiple perspectives will not only provide content background but also enhance the skills needed to be effective in this arena I am thinking of the ability to do analysis, the capacity to bring together insights from multiple fields, sensitivity to the impact of culture - things that liberal-arts students do particularly well.
Also, having had internships in the field will, as always, be a plus for them. And the kind of contacts and interactions that they’ll have with leading specialists in this arena - not only practitioners from the War College and the Peacekeeping Institute but also others who we will bring to campus including our own alumni - will be of great value.
However, like everything else at Dickinson, career is not the sole or even primary reason that we’re doing this. We anticipate that many students who earn the certificate will go on to careers in other fields, and we think that that’s fine. What we would hope is that … every student in the program, no matter what the career choice might be, will become the kind of citizen who lifts public debate around questions of security. So if someone opts for an unrelated career, they will nonetheless be active citizens providing insight and perspective when issues having to do with security are discussed.
Classes in the certificate program will begin in the fall. Since Dickinson announced the certificate, has there been any buzz? Are the students showing any interest in the new opportunity?
We’ve already had students inquire about starting a certificate program. Although it’s very new, we’ve also had considerable admissions interest, too. So considering where we are, just having launched the program, we’re very pleased with the initial response. And we think the enthusiasm and interest will only increase.
What’s the hope for the future of this certificate program? Are there plans yet for expansion and additional partnerships?
At this moment we’re focusing on developing collaboration with the War College and the Peacekeeping Institute, but we’ve also begun to talk with others about partnerships. NRDC and the Dickinson School of Law of Penn State University are examples. On campus we would like to expand the pool of faculty who are participating in the program, widening the number of disciplines involved. I expect that … the program will grow in size and reach.
What the future will bring in terms of the shape of the curriculum is another question. Our faculty had quite an active debate about whether or not the program should have a global perspective or focus on the American experience. It could do either. At the outset, we decided that we would simply leave it open for students to build their own emphases, but I can imagine over time, as the program grows, that it might develop tracks. One of them might be global and one of them American, but I’m not sure. Students who are coming to this program will have very, very different interests. For example, a student from law and policy might very well be particularly interested in issues such as the Constitution and the war on terror. Just recently, for instance, Judge Richard Leon, the first federal judge to conduct habeas corpus hearings on the lawfulness of the Guantanamo detentions (and a Dickinson parent) spoke at the college on the balance between liberty and security; the visit, by the way, included participants from the War College and Law School. On the other hand, there might be a student who’s interested in pandemics, asking how does one take a look at something like a potential bird flu epidemic, and is that a security issue? That could be a biology student, who understands the mechanics of the epidemic but wants to look at it in broader context, too. Or it might be someone from environmental studies who’s particularly interested in energy questions, such as America’s oil dependency. So we expect people coming into the program from lots of different places. That’s really one of the things that we do best—bring together people who have different outlooks and prompt them to interact in creative ways, thinking about problems and issues that confront us in a very broad perspective.
Is there anything else that you’d like to touch on about the security-studies program that we haven’t talked about?
Well one particular point of connection: we envision the program as open to all, but we think also that this particular option will appeal to ROTC students. Dickinson has a strong ROTC program and deep commitment to it. As we imagine areas of connection on campus to security studies, that is certainly one of them. There is no doubt that the certificate program would help broaden participants’ perspective on potential military service.
To learn more, visit the security-studies page or contact the certificate coordinator.