Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 13, 2011

“Fundamental challenges of homeland security education:” Preliminary findings

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2011

This post summarizes some preliminary findings from an empirical study of homeland security education.  Because Homeland Security Watch has been discussing education this week, the author allowed me to post this summary.  However, since the findings and conclusions are still provisional, the author requested not using the author’s name until the study has been finalized.  Once it is, I will provide information about how to obtain the full work.


Fundamental Challenges of Homeland Security Education

A growing question is arising as to the focus and status of the “academic discipline” of homeland security.  This is not unique to homemade security.

A quote attributed to Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Laureate Economist, in his Collected Scientific Papers on the state of the discipline of economics seems appropriate: “Economics has never been a science, and is even less now than a few years ago.”

Similarly, homeland security education seemed to be more coherent a few years ago than now.  A few graduate programs were engaged in educating homeland security practitioners, assessing the value and relevance of the curricula, and making deliberate, thoughtful changes based on the evidence.  Educational volume increased and many in academe as well in the workforce established their versions of “model” curricula.   By 2007 the crowded field was metastasizing:

The homeland security academic discipline is currently an evolving ungoverned environment of numerous programs purporting to prepare students for various positions of responsibility. Many of today’s homeland security offerings are an amalgam of pre-9/11 programs and courses that have since been revised to reflect some undetermined level of education and instruction in homeland security issues.[1]

Curricula appear to be touted more than tested.  However, rather than take a completely negative position, there is support for a synthesized “way forward” toward an academic homeland security discipline.

Abbott describes academic disciplines as social and cultural entities for which there are few rules but two main functions:

Reproduction (of Employment for Academics): “being an academic means, willy-nilly, being a member of a discipline” and

Preventing Knowledge from becoming too Abstract or Overwhelming: “Disciplines … define what is permissible not to know and thereby limit the body of books one must have to read.”[2]

One function is self-serving, the other is self-limiting.   Neither function is especially appealing at this stage of development of homeland security education but the need to assess the status of homeland security education has never been more important.

The Homeland Security Education Project

This [research] project began with an assumption: the emerging discipline of homeland security is in the germinal stages of development with a clear direction and focus, even if the elements of the discipline are somewhat unclear.

The research presented here does not support the assumption of a discipline, and it is not clear that there will be an academic discipline of homeland security. The future will be determined by the degree to which academics in homeland security can offer better solutions to problems, and subject-specific knowledge than parallel disciplines.

Issues Facing Homeland Security Education

There are many good reasons to applaud the emergence of homeland security as a new academic discipline.  Encouraging the coalescing of research and knowledge around the critical issues inherent in homeland security is important.  A colleague is fond of quoting a line from Mao Tse Tung, “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences….”   If homeland security is destined to be an academic discipline, it should become increasingly evident as more research is conducted, more theories tested and refined, and more scholarly publications emerge, not simply an increasing number of degree programs seeking to increase head-count.

Students, particularly undergraduate students, rely on faculty and university administrators to exercise good judgment in developing academic programs and pursuing the students to populate them.  There are two honorable reasons to lure students into classes – enhance vocational capabilities and become better educated citizens.  Some programs blend or balance the two, probably compromising one, the other or both.  One issue at hand is the degree to which homeland security education, as currently conceived, addresses either of these objectives.  If it does, students should be encouraged to enroll, complete degrees and accomplish the objectives of the education.  If it does not, homeland security is still a viable research area, attracting multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary attention to the safety and security issues facing the nation.   …[But] the trust of the consumers of education, the students, should not be lost.

The method adopted for constructing this [analysis] is the customary research process common in the social sciences.  Problems and issues are articulated, research questions identified, literature reviewed to formulate possible answers to the research questions, research products described, and conclusions stated that flow logically from the research.  Based on the answers to these research questions, recommendations on a way forward will be made, based on all evidence.

[“Research Method” not included in this summary]

Research Findings [excerpt; supporting data not always included in this summary]

1. Who should be the consumers of homeland security education?

The most critical, and perhaps the exclusive consumers for homeland security education today are practitioners, with homeland security administrative or leadership responsibilities, working in the 51 professional disciplines or groups identified in the research.  Additionally, the most appropriate tier of education is at the first graduate level (Master’s degree).  Committees sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, meeting in 2004 and 2005 identified some core elements of a homeland security curriculum, however, the report stated clearly and unambiguously, “Not a single workshop participant, or any of the committee members, voiced support for an undergraduate degree program focused specifically on homeland security.”[3] Additionally … that education is [probably] best provided at the graduate level.[4] Training is appropriate for many others in the professional disciplines but the objectives and capabilities described [in the study] are most appropriate for graduate education.

2. What is the efficacy of such education?

The research suggests that graduate education could prepare professionals in homeland security leadership positions to be much more effective in their capability to operate in an ambiguous environment …, engage in strategic collaboration …, and engage in critical thinking ….   It would appear that undergraduate vocational education in homeland security, as an employment opportunity, is not central to the largest potential employment, law enforcement, even though the professional discipline is engaged in homeland security preparedness activities….  It would appear that homeland security vocational education at an undergraduate level would not be effective in enhancing employment.

3. What learning objectives and capabilities should be the foundation of the education?

Based on data gathered since 2004 from 19 independent survey groups, across all major professional disciplines in homeland security, the most important objectives and capabilities for homeland security leaders and administrators are:

Strategic collaboration

  • Ability to coordinate, collaborate and communicate across agencies
  • Ability to identify and build strategic relationships within your homeland security organization and across the homeland security community
  • Capability to build, sustain and operate within interagency teams/task forces
  • Improve efforts for collaboration, information-sharing, threat recognition, and target hardening between various disciplines
  • Communicate appropriately with other agencies and organizations to insure the sharing of critical information during and following a homeland security threat or incident

Critical thinking and decision-making

  • Ability to think about complex issues using scientific/critical thinking approaches to solving problems and make sound judgments
  • Capability to take action that is consistent with available facts, constraints, and probable consequences
  • Ability to operate in extreme ambiguity.

The objectives and capabilities [identified above] were the items scored highest in importance by the [survey groups].  The entire list of categories of capabilities, from most important to least important, was:

  • Strategic collaboration
  • Critical thinking and decision-making
  • Foundations of Homeland Security
  • Analytical Capabilities
  • Leadership
  • Legal Issues
  • Strategic Planning
  • Cognate or Specific Knowledge
Arguably, [the] top two categories — strategic collaboration, and critical thinking and decision-making — could be imbedded in every course in a graduate curriculum and the results would enhance practitioners’ capabilities regardless of their professional discipline.

4. Is there sufficient agreement [about what] homeland security courses [should educate] appropriate students on the appropriate capabilities?

Based on available literature, it appears that there is no more agreement on homeland security core curricula today than in 2007 when Rollins and Rowan found “The homeland security academic discipline is currently an evolving ungoverned environment of numerous programs purporting to prepare students for various positions of responsibility.”[5]

5. Are established, more mature, parallel disciplines better capable of educating students on the appropriate capabilities?

While it was initially expected that existing programs such as Public Policy and Public Administration would better accomplish the two most important elements [above] and cognates could address the remaining ones, examination of the core courses in those disciplines seems to suggest otherwise….  The conclusion is … these parallel programs do not suffice in meeting the needs of homeland security graduate education.

6. Is homeland security a viable academic discipline?

The answer to this key research question is “Not at this time.”  Whether it is an interdisciplinary or a multi-disciplinary study area can be debated but it appears not to have evolved to a point where idiosyncratic theories and methods of research in homeland security are better paradigmatically than those of the disciplines initially producing them and coming together to address or assess the issues in homeland security.  Homeland security education appears to be too immature and amorphous, with its educational goals in dispute, to merit proceeding vigorously in the development of new programs beyond those providing the knowledge and capabilities needed by those leaders already in defined homeland security roles and key public safety positions, and producing evidence of the efficacy of the education.

Consider, for example, the list of things homeland security education is missing, according to Kiltz:

To date, there is no agreed upon definition of homeland security, no grand theory explaining the phenomenon of homeland security, no standardized curriculum, little discussion of the history, paradigms and philosophies of the field, and ill defined faculty roles.[6]

Faculty in the emerging discipline of homeland security, seeking to craft (or cobble together) courses and coursework, in their zeal to incorporate and homogenize the theories and research of others, may drift away from the areas of their expertise and do a less-than-creditable job instructing students when faculty more central to the disciplines being instructed are available.

A Way Forward

Steps forward are still possible, despite the skepticism of the paragraph above….

Continue to encourage graduate education, but strongly encourage the inculcation of [such objectives as ] … strategic collaboration capabilities, the ability to think critically and analytically, and the capability to operate in the ambiguous environment of homeland security.

The recommendations, going forward are:

  • Assess the courses and the program using those key [objectives] as dependent variables in the assessment processes;
  • Assess impact of homeland security education using disciplined, reliable methods that can discriminate effects…
  • Disseminate the results to other universities and colleges with recommendations of smart practices…
  • Encourage (through special journal issues, fellowships, and proactive recruitment) faculty in existing disciplines to adopt homeland security issues and problems within their research agendas….
  • Encourage the Department of Homeland Security to partner with the U.S. Department of Education, Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies to take a leadership role in a process similar to the Bologna Process…, using homeland security education as the example….
  • Engage representatives of more mature disciplines, already contributing to homeland security education and research, to be manifestly involved in the development of theories, methods, and analytical capabilities that should be considered in the development of graduate homeland security education….

Based on these recommendations, it should be feasible to then begin to formulate model curricula that are evidence-based.

[1] Rollins, John and Joseph Rowan. (2007). The Homeland Security Academic Environment: a Review of Current Activities and Issues for Consideration. Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

[2] Abbott, Andrew. (2001). Chaos of Disciplines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. P. 130-131.

[3] Committee on Educational Paradigms for Homeland Security, National Research Council (2005). Frameworks for Higher Education in Homeland Security, National Academy of Science Press, p. 19. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11141.html

[4] Common, Michael Lamport. (2008). Introduction to the Model of Hierarchical Complexity and its Relationship to Postformal Action, World Futures, Vol. 64: 305–320 and Common, Michael Lamport. (2008). Implications  of Hierarchical Complexity for Social Stratification, Economics, and Education, World Futures, Vol. 64: 430–435.

[5] Rollins, John and Joseph Rowan. (2007). The Homeland Security Academic Environment: a Review of Current Activities and Issues for Consideration. Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

[6] Kiltz, Linda. (2011). The Challenges of Developing a Homeland Security Discipline to Meet Future Threats to the Homeland. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Vol. 8(2), Article 1, pp. 1-22, at p. 13.



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Comment by John Comiskey

August 13, 2011 @ 3:21 am

Colleges and Universities are not just sieves that sort and train students. They are also incubators, temples, and hubs for the development of cultural dispositions, network formation, knowledge production, and institutional relationships. Mitchell Stevens, Elizabeth Armstrong, & Richard Arum argue so and I agree. [1] Were they thinking about HLS?

Assuming that HLS is about securing the Nation and its interests (therefore a National Security ancillary), what is it that customers and practitioners of HLS need and want from education?
Core outcomes: critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and writing. That’s what the university strategies say and the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) tests undergraduates for. [2]

The results are not good. So says Richard Arum and Josipa Roskas’ “Academically adrift: Limiting Learning on College Campuses.” Market forces, credentialism (I have a degree so I must be qualified mindset), academia metrics predicated on scholarship and not student facilitation, watered down curriculum, grade inflation, and other issues are not facilitating the above core outcomes.

As I have previously written in this blog, globalization is impacting our economic and hence national security. If the US is to compete globally, the Nation’s education system must promote and facilitate genuine higher education.

Assuming that the proper place for HLS education is at the graduate level and if the prerequisite undergraduate schools are producing substandard graduates, what can be expected of incoming graduate school students?

Graduate schools presume that credentialed students (BA/BS) can think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and write. Shouldn’t they? The point is we need to strengthen our undergraduate foundation.

Who are the appropriate students for HLS graduate-level education? IMHO, the program is best suited for the front-line supervisor, mid-level manager, and executive HLS practitioner and not necessarily for entry-level (some exceptions) and HLS-aspirants.
Inherent to the degree, a holder of a master’s degree is presumed to be a master of certain field. In the case of HLS we are encumbered by the jack of all trades and master of none hazard. The entry level employee and aspirant are doubly encumbered by their novice or pre-novice status and the jack of all trades and master of none hazard. I raise this point because we are starting to see recent undergraduates and HLS aspirants who are not finding jobs and are returning to graduate school in want of another credential to distinguish themselves to prospective employers.

On the other hand and to counter my own argument, might these ambitious (or bored) students serve as a counter to the institutionalized mindsets (writer’s general observation) of front-line supervisors, mid-level managers, and executive practitioners?

Assuming the underlying framework of HLS is predicated on strategic collaboration and critical thinking and decision making, shouldn’t HLS education promote those core outcomes? IMHO, a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates (interdisciplinary-element) those core outcomes throughout the curriculum will evolve the HLS education-paradigm.

Final point and we are beginning to see this, certain functioning capabilities, e.g. WMD will be served by program tracks or specialized programs. See FBI’s WMD program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. [3]

[1] Mitchell Stevens, Elizabeth Armstrong, & Richard Arum, “Sive, Incubator, Temple, Hub: Empirical and Theoretical Advances in Sociology of Higher Education,” Annual Review of Sociology 34 (2008), 127-151
[2]The Council for Aid to Education website http://www.collegiatelearningassessment.org/
[3] FBI Establishes Graduate Degree in WMD Studies, http://nsspi.tamu.edu/pauloscornerarticles/2011-07/fbi-establishes-graduate-degree-in-wmd-studies

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 13, 2011 @ 6:36 am

I am impressed by this preview of the analysis, agree with the conclusions, and am looking forward to reading the full study. (Even as a worry about confirmation bias rearing its ugly head.)

There is one reference above that prompts considerable concern: “There are two honorable reasons to lure students into classes – enhance vocational capabilities and become better educated citizens.”

These are honorable reasons. There is, at least, a third. Moreover I would argue achieving this third reason is a precondition to fully achieving the other two.

Education ought to empower the freedom, acuity, and effectiveness of individual reason applied to fulfilling the potential of both the individual and community.

This purpose encompasses vocation and citizenship, but is aimed at cultivating the whole person… which is much more than the sum of vocation and citizenship.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 13, 2011 @ 7:10 am

So has any curricula been developed to promote effective line drawing between Security (National and/or Homeland Security) and Rights of Privacy, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties so that democracy can continue to flourish? How about the dangers of Secrecy?

And how about the paradigms? Suppose National Security and Homeland Security or even Emergency Management are not sets or subsets of each other but fundamentally incompatible for historic or other reasons in a democracy? What is the true history of Homeland Security? I would argue that no history of that subject can avoid discussion of military/civil issues in US History including the CIVIL WAR, and discussion of censorship, the Palmer Raids, J.Edgar Hoover, Senators McCarran and McCarthy, and others who have twisted democracy in the USA into more of pretzel than any coherent system of government. And I guess that includes the real risk assessment done post 9/11 and whether the labeling of terrorism as worthy of the same level of effort as the COLD WAR was a sound judgement by the polity and leadership of the USA.
I think I could mount a coherent argument that HS has helped destroy federalism as designed in the US Constitution without adequate replacement for that concepts design or regard for it.
I could also argue coherently that the use of contractors by DHS has helped to undermine critical thinking within DHS itself.
And of course readers of my blogs know that I don’t believe FEMA is “New” but it does have larger staff than anytime in its history (whatever the level of training of that staff) but still lacks the same difficult addressing of wicked problems that underlay the Katrina failures–for example unprepared STATES and their local governments. And the wisdom of using the National Guard to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and the long run implications of that usage for domestic purposes.

And finally the failures in DOD to effectively incorporate NORTHCOM and its civil relatives in DOD into effective HOMELAND DEFENSE.

It is interesting that almost no published analysis exists of how the Executive Branch organizations actually relate to each other on Homeland Security, EM, and Homeland Defense! One might ask why? Or how the STATES and their local governments are actually incorporated into Homeland Security and Homeland Defense?

Well plenty of work to be done to design an educational system for HS in the face of the challenge.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 13, 2011 @ 8:31 am

Question? Should Homeland Security officials be a uniformed service? Why or why not?

Comment by John Comiskey

August 13, 2011 @ 10:39 am


In part, HLS is designed to address the distinction between homeland defense and homeland security. Posse Comitatus and other don’t cross the Rubicon-like mechanisms are well intentioned antinomies that have impeded 21st governance and security. See: 9/11 Commission and Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent.

Homeland Security is about public and private partnerships including the military. They should be talking to each other about all threats (intentional/natural/accidental) and creating a grand collaborative strategy to prevent, mitigate, communicate, respond to, and recover from all threats and hazards. *Could be HLS-HLD-EM-education-paradigm. That is the 10,000 foot view and will take more than a little doing.

Recent civil liberty concern noted today. BART says it shut off cell signals: Move to disrupt protestors plans blasted as violation of free speech. See San Francisco Chronicle: http://webmedia.newseum.org/newseum-multimedia/tpt/2011-08-13/pdf/CA_SFC.pdf

Effective 21st century security measures can be big-brotherish and taming big brother is a security-individual rights conundrum.

In response to your second post,HLS officials are public and private, uniformed and non-uniformed.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 13, 2011 @ 10:46 am

Right to assemble is a Constitutional right! BIVENS violation by BART?

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

August 13, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

Very interesting and provocative posting. I look forward to seeing the full paper, knowing the identity of the author, and continuing the discussion.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Should Homeland Security Education Sleep With the Fishes?

August 15, 2011 @ 1:31 am

[…] a thought as post-script to an interesting HLS Watch post this weekend provided by a mystery scholar…(perhaps it should have been labeled the […]

Comment by Linda Kiltz

August 16, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

Excellent article summary. I look forward to reading the entire study. It seems that many of the categories listed as competencies are quite similar to what we require of our Master of Public Administration students. If that is the case, then should homeland security education be situated in an applied discipline such as public administration for graduate students? If not in MPA programs then where should it be situated given HS is not recognized today as an academic discipline?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 17, 2011 @ 5:00 am

Actually I find it strange that Public Administration seems so far to have largely ignored HS but I could be wrong as always.

HS to me is a fundamental chore of good governance.

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