Naval War College a potent force in New England

Part of the U.S. Naval War College campus.

Part of the U.S. Naval War College campus.


A "Newport Report'' article by Robert Whitcomb, from

Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop told me the other week:

“The City of Newport, the Navy and especially the Naval War College {founded in 1884} are
inextricably linked through our long history of association and
cooperation. We are partners in every sense of the word and the
economic impact of having such a prestigious institution in our
community is in the tens of millions of dollars annually.’’

The college’s founding president, Admiral Stephen Luce, described it:

“The War College is a place of original research on all questions related to war and to statesmanship connected with war, or the prevention of war.’’ This has come to mean that the institution addresses a  very wide range of subjects beyond the purely military, such as geopolitics, diplomacy, economics, climate and the implications of accelerating technological change.

John Riendeau, who oversees the defense-industry sector for the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation,  noted: “The War College gets the best and the brightest’’ of the military. He said the state doesn’t pull out the specific economic impact of the NWC from the total Navy impact on the state even as he cited its big “intangible’’ benefits to civic life in the region.

Rear Admiral Harley

I spoke with Rear Admiral Jeffrey Harley, the  War College’s president,  the other week in his office overlooking Narragansett Bay. He emphasized that it’s a graduate-level university, granting master’s degrees and a range of certificates. “We’re on par with Ivy League schools’’ in the quality of teaching and scholarship, he said.

For that matter, the NWC has relationships with such elite institutions as Brown, Harvard, Yale, MIT, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, Princeton and King’s College, in London. This includes War College professors teaching as adjuncts in some of these schools. The War College is exploring possible joint Ph.D. programs with some of these schools, too.  For its foreign students, the  NWC has a partnership with Newport’s Salve Regina University in which such students get master’s degrees in a number of disciplines.

An example of local joint academic ventures is the NWC’s joint conference with and at Brown May 31-June 1 titled ‘‘2018 Women Peace and Security: Promoting Global Leadership’’.

The institution is moving toward adopting such traditional university/college practices as tenure for professors. And it wants Congress to allow copyright protection for professors’ work, which would be a selling point to recruit and keep more of the best scholars.  Civilian institutions usually provide such protection. It’s all part of the drive, now led by Admiral Harley, to, in his words, “normalize’’ the institution to make it even more of a prestigious research university.

This complex institution is much more heterogeneous than most of the public realizes. Consider that a breakdown of the college’s current Senior Course, with 224 students  (there are a total of 545 resident students this academic year) showed:

25 percent of the student body came from the Navy; 18 percent from the Army; 12 percent from the Air Force, and 2 percent from the Coast Guard. 21 percent were foreign students and 13 percent were civilians (usually mid- or high-level federal government employees). Many of the foreign students, as with the Americans, go on to become very high-level leaders in military and civilian life in their home nations. The faculty is a mix of military and civilian teachers.

Admiral Harley repeatedly cited the War College’s “giving back to the community.’’ This has included NWC personnel speaking at local schools and other venues, such as the Eight  Bells Lecture Series at the Seamen’s Church Institute, in Newport; at such organizations as the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations, and campus tours for local high-school students. He emphasized: “We’re very integrated with the community.’’ (I asked him why there were fewer events on campus that local civilians could attend than I remember from years ago. He cited increased security concerns as “the new reality’’ in the post 9/11 world.)

More outreach: On May 8, the War College ran a program for 26 students of the Rogers High School (in Newport) Academy of Information Technology. The event featured a technology-oriented introduction to wargaming, including hands-on experience with two NWC games.  Then there’s the 2018 Summer STEM Camp at the college for high school students. The July 15-20 in-residence program, called Starship Poseidon, is to “provide insight into career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.’’

Admiral Harley cited the NWC’s sending its foreign students to speak at local schools, noting that some students at the latter might otherwise have little opportunity to hear perspectives on international affairs.  And many of the foreign students bring their families to live with them during their time at the War College;  they, too, engage closely with the community.  War College personnel and students meet with many community leaders.

Commander Gary Ross, a public-information specialist at the NWC, said there were about 4,000 War College alumni in southeastern New England. They bring great expertise in long-established and relatively new (such as cybersecurity)  technological and managerial disciplines applicable to large and small, established and start-up business. Their presence provides rich opportunities to enhance civic life and economic development in southeastern New England.