Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 7, 2009

Homeland security vision, mission, purpose, and accreditation

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 7, 2009

Last Thursday here at HLSwatch Dr. Matthew J. Blackwood argued, “A standard curriculum and accreditation process for under-graduate and graduate programs focusing on homeland security will assure quality control.” Read his blogpost and related comments here.

I am opposed to a standardized curriculum and skeptical about quality “control” in higher education, but enthusiastic regarding the potential for accreditation. Accreditation usually does not — and to my way of thinking, should not — imply a standardized curriculum.

Others commenting on Dr. Blackwood’s blogpost have suggested it would be premature to settle into a standardized curriculum.  I concur.  Moreover, reading Dr. Blackwood leaves me doubting tight standardization is what he was meaning to suggest. The exemplar he offers is the Accrediting Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). Quick references were made to other professional accrediting bodies.  In each of the professions he points to there is a diversity of curricula and a track record of educational innovation.

The American tradition of higher education accreditation is federalist  — even individualist — in its values. It seeks to cultivate comity and mutual respect through institutional transparency and explicit communication.  As explained by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), “The higher education enterprise and our society thrive on decentralization and diversity of institutional purpose and mission.” Different institutions or different programs within institutions can pursue considerably different purposes and missions and still be accredited.

Fundamental to accreditation is clarity of vision, mission, and purpose while demonstrating coherence and consistency in executing vision, mission, and purpose.

Demonstration of coherence and consistency is achieved through programmatic self-study and peer review.  The internal process of periodic self-study encourages faculty, administrators, students, and others to take seriously their program’s stated vision, mission, and purpose. The external and usually collaborative process of peer review encourages both accountability and the cross-breeding of good ideas across the field. More on these processes are available from a CHEA document entitled: An Overview of US Accreditation.

Precisely because homeland security is a still emerging and ill-defined profession a meaningful process of accreditation could be immensely helpful.  Accreditation — properly undertaken — encourages communication, collaboration, and ongoing consultation between and among a range of institutions and programs.   Too many so-called HS programs are, as Dr. Blackwood noted, retreads of preexisting academic offerings.  Accreditation would discourage this.  There is a lack of discussion regarding vision, mission, and purpose.  The accreditation process should encourage much more serious attention to these foundations.

In most of the world educational quality assurance is a governmental function focused on minimum equivilencies. In the United States private  accreditation arose as a voluntary process of self-improvement and mutual consultation.  When mindfully and honestly engaged (not always the case, it is true), accreditation encourages diversity and confidence in the value of diversity.

Accreditation empowers innovation by asking innovators to be explicit regarding their goals.  The innovators are then required to defend their plans, processes, and procedures for achieving the goals to those with an ability to ask probing questions. 

In the vast majority of cases, accreditation is a process that encourages self-correction around each program’s unique sources of meaning.

In the long-run the nation’s security and liberty would very much benefit from a serious and sustained argument over the vision, mission, and purpose of homeland security.  This is unlikely to occur — and could be unwise to principally occur — within the Department of Homeland Security.  The accreditation process can provide a conducive national setting for practitioners, academics, policy-makers, private citizens, and others to engage in inquiry, exploration, and rigorous mutual recognition of different — but equally valid — visions, missions, and purposes for homeland security.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 7, 2009 @ 7:27 am

Okay here is a suggestion! Each academic discipline that believes it has a role in Homeland Security develop some course materials discussing that role with those outside the discipline. Then outsiders can take those courses as electives and hopefully gain insights and knowledge of the role in HS played by the discipline providing the course. This would be complimented by a course or courses for each academic discipline that believes it has a role in HS for those within the discipline. These might be sponsored even by DHS but should be given the toughest peer group review by the members of the discipline and outsiders interested in what that discipline brings to HS. Is this off base? Hey the text book publishers will probably like this idea!

Comment by pat longstaff

July 7, 2009 @ 8:11 am

Bill has come up with one way to increase communication and collaboration within the academic enterprise. I’m sure he would agree that similar ties with professionals are important.

I find myself agreeing with Philip a lot here, but I am not sure I can on this issue of accreditation. I can agree that it COULD be a vehicle for communication and collaboration, but, having recently been a part of that process for my college and my university, I have to say that it often falls short of those goals. Instead, it can be a vehicle for spreading sameness and what is known (often wrongly) as “best practices.” And it is important to remember that academic institutions are competitors for students, grants, professors, etc. It is where we are different that we compete so that is not where a lot of open, frank discussions take place.

It is one of the great ironies that the institutions known collectively as the Academy are not known for their openness to innovation – at the same time that their mission is innovation in the individual disciplines. Changing a department or a curriculum comes at a glacial pace and once something is in place it will not turn on a dime. That is why new programs are usually bolted on to the system and are highly competitive in their early years. But, lacking resources to create all new classes, they must use the resources on campus that are operating at the slower scale. The tension between these two scales of operation is frustrating and confusing for students.

Perhaps it’s time to get innovative with HS training and education (they are different things). If a dialog about the higher principles of HS is needed, a new institution that can accommodate the dialog without threatening the competing institutions would take place on neutral territory and keep the discussion above the tactical level. Ideas?

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 7, 2009 @ 9:45 am

Agree with PAT that non-academic professionals and practioners must be more collaborative and cooperative with others. Interesting question about development of first principles. One of course would be that the Constitution cannot be waived either in times of emergency or for HS purposes. Many others but this could be fruitful topic for further posts IMO!

Thanks Pat!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 7, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

Pat reminds me why I left academic life more than twenty years ago. Not sure I appreciate being reminded. While acknowledging the challenges, this does not negate the potential of accreditation. I have seen institutions and programs engage the accrediting process with integrity and without turf protection. Especially for a new profession it is possible; even while the cautions are well-placed.

Comment by christopher tingus

July 8, 2009 @ 9:24 am

While from the street aka Mr. & Mrs. Citizen Joe, I believe in “accreditation as folks must choose and commit to learning a discipline, however from my perspective, this is all wonderful for ensuing discussions and debate among academics, however there is little time remaining for DHS HQ and the executive tier of government and all others thereto related to get its act together for the Taliban, AQ, the Iranians and the Germans have real strategy in play….they are playing the real game. We are being perceived as a weakened bunch of self-indulgent fools and though as a very proud American that understands the scope and strength of this nation, there is indeed much concern when one sees the shananigans of the beltway. More taxes and taxes, increase in fee after fee is not a solution and in fact, the founders of this Republic fled the King’s taxes and oppression.

From what I see, DHS has indeed made some significant strides in understanding the realism to those seeking our demise, but the agency best clearly dictate its purpose especially within its own walls for the Russians, China and others convey much clarity in their intentions…

This great nation quickly becomining impoverished is in dire trouble. The folks here on the street know it and despite all the politicizing on the local, state and national theatre, we are not worried about HS academic courses and accreditation, but rather a government by the people and for the people, servants to us, not believeing that they (the pols on both sides of the aisle) are the masters for the Chinese are stockpiling for the future and we have no clarity in proclamation in commitment to our Constitution and to the principls of our founding Fathers so help me God!

This wonderful blog can surely discuss the need for HS academic preparation and accreditation, however I (we) are frustrated with current challenges as apparently the Taliban and AQ have made such great strides internally in AfPak which is a global problem, not just America’s anxiousness.

Let’s press Washington to understand the consequences to homeland security that the government of Pakistan is under attack.

Is it time for the pakistan government to request the US to help safeguard the 60 or so WMDs in Pakistan for no academic or unprepared DoD and DHS and others will curtail the growing support and positive mentality of the people of Taliban in their focus to take control of those nightmare weaponry not too many kilometers from their present GPS positioning. What a nightmare to evolve!

I reiterate that this essential blog allowing any and every discussion concerning our nation and its security be shared, however when (we) here on the street with only our graduate degrees and not the PHDs are weary and fearful of the fall of Egypt soon as active fundamentalist cells are eroding the present government’s influence and we see AfPak so riddled with challenges…

Pls do discuss the merits of academic accreditation and the planning for those who seek such preparation, but we have little time for China’s new naval presence in the Atlantic as well as in every ocean, the German led-EU soon to bring cohesiveness to a composition of only ten (10) nations and its reach to become the power broker in the Middle East engaging the Iranians head on with the Vatican’s support, this discussion is informative, however we are truly worried about the conflagration promised before us and US policy-making by this administration which is out of touch!

By the way, once the discipline with courses is established, I, too am interested in pursuing the course requirements as I am avid reader especially when it comes to HS, however I remind the folks at the helm that if the policies being pursued on both sides of the aisle are followed without altering course, pls do make sure that the course offerings are in Chinese and German. Oh, that’s right….already 275+ million throughout Europe are fluent in German. Yes, should we be worried that the Germans may ignite the next war!

Further, as we debate academic courses in HS, to the Persians who are dying at the bloodied hands of the “regime of thugs” so committed to self-agenda willing to beat their well-educated youth and murder Nada who will forever stand with her proud people to willingly shed precious Persian blood on the streets of Tehran to thwart the continued oppression of the people and women who are treated with such disrespect….We as American people from Persia, Greece, the Balkans, Middle East and from all over, we support you as you deserve much more….

The reality of the ever present evil doers lurking at every corner provokes the urgency that the US populace should be better informed as to the existing threats and we as a nation should be at full alert vigilant of everyone within and far yonder.

It is not the complexities of establishing a HS accreditation that concerns me, but that the first graduating class will see such despair on our streets and a world far different than ever imagined if you Mr. President and your cohorts, this Pelosi-Frank mentality are permitted to gain prominence in your socialist mandates for this is not what we elected you to do…but to stockpile not only precious metals and other items as the Chinese have been doing to assure stability for its populace, but to understand that the Putin KGB “snicker” at the olive branch you propose as does the Muslim who sees weakness in the west and its lack of willingness to stand with unity and passion for our way of Life is of much worry.

Recently, it has been suggested Mr. President that you and your staffers see anyone questioning the direction you are attempting to take our country are construed as radicals and free speech and my right to bear arms is not allowed in your agenda….Another unsubstantiated rumor….

Yes, we must hold all who choose to pursue a career in HS to a high standard, yet it is time to sound the alarm for it is not only the present lack of truthfulness, the broken promises of you Mr. President in your first 150 days…oh…you are so young….and (our) Congress so riddled with self-serving agenda makes me recall the story of an Army soldier who steered a boat with six officers up a river on an island in the Pacific to meet with opposing Japanese officers who wanted to meet and sign a treaty in peace and asked to return to pick up his commanders the next day, when looking ahead the next morning to where he was supposed to meet his US commanders, instead of six officers holding a doctrine of the island’s Japanese surrender, he found six rifles with only the heads of each officer hanging on the top of each rifle…

Mr. President, the olive branch is a nice gesture, however the hoodlums (we) as a nation, just as in WWII and before encounter, may greet the first lady with false graciouness, however the reality is that even our allies have other motives i.e. (Germans), never mind the fundamentalists and others not so apparent whose self-agenda and lust for power are capable of anything….

Initiate an immediate civil defense program here in this country. Use the 9.6% unemployed, not the promised 8% and jump start a program to allow neighbors to help neighbors to be prepared to survive a calamity…

If you and the “good ‘ol boys” can somehow stand before the good and most charitable people in this great nation who have reached out and helped so many around the world for decades and you can blatently lie that somehow $760 Billion+ in the initial stimulus funds cannot be accounted for and that the push to muster support to have stimulus funds out to the public in a hurry with today having only 10% of the monies actually out in the street…What a sham!

Let’s take the unemployed and set up a civil defense bureaucracy for it would at least save Lives in the event of calamity especially since you have the “fiat dollar” printing presses going, let’s immediately fund what the esteemed Willam Cumming, an astute HLS.Watch regular contributor suggests, an organized and prepared civil defense organization as well as federal support of our “first responders” to assure response to desperate 911 calls as department after department throughout this country is becoming understaffed or simply having to close because the local politicians prefer strolling the streets of Argentina with girlpal in hand while shirking his/her responsibilities to constituents and to Homeland Security, not mere an academic issue to discuss its merits, but a serious national commitment to assuring that we will not become a third world country or a nation with stricken cities and fellow citizens, our family and friends.

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich, (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA

Comment by Joel

July 10, 2009 @ 10:38 am

This same issue was recently dealt with in the public health community (my other hat, aside from emergency management). Public health, unlike homeland security (as a professional field) has been around a long time, but LIKE HS didn’t have much in the way of standardization. Other than a graduate degree in public health there was no professional accreditation as an indicator of quality.

I was part of the Charter Class of the certification, and can now tag myself as “Certified in Public Health”. For the first few years these new accreditations don’t mean much, but if they are well-defined then they can become valuable.

The other, clearly relevant, example that comes to mind is the CEM program managed by IAEM.

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