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04 December 2007

Breaking the barrier between the academics and the practitioners

We note the following from Harvard, via the folks at Volokh, regarding efforts to introduce more current practitioners into the faculty of the law school.

“one of the reasons so few practitioners are hired by law schools these days is that very few people with substantial practice experience are actually putting themselves forward for entry-level academic positions. The market has shifted such that a much higher percentage of applicants are coming straight from law school or a fellowship.

Part of this may be due to the difficulty of producing published scholarship while working as a practicing government, nonprofit, or private sector lawyer. "I think that's a shame," said Kagan. "We'd like to see people with more practice experience who also show scholarly potential…”

We could not agree more with these observations when it comes to similar issues the intelligence field. We have seen too much recently of those with little real world experience suddenly holding forth in the halls of institutions which entrust to them those that will become the next generation of the profession. Lacking in-depth target knowledge, substantive understanding of applied analytical tradecraft, and relying on a too short tour (if even that) at a three letter organization or two, the result becomes a sort of punditry entirely divorced from the profession itself. The heart of intelligence scholarship must start with self-reflection, and is adrift when absent a body of personal experience upon which to reflect. It is for the same reason that those with uninteresting lives produce execrable novels – there simply is not enough formative material to work with, no matter how much the would-be author reads of others’ stories.

We know a few recent exceptions, where experienced professionals do indeed accept positions in academia, but generally it is not a welcoming place for those whose credentials are well nigh unrecognizable, except to others likewise in the know. But unfortunately, it is precisely those credentials which are needed most in order to build an independent and rigorous intelligence studies discipline – as opposed to one which is a pale copy of history, political science, or (shudder) even philosophy.

And while we are great fans of knowledge transfer between the generations, the profession needs more than just the war stories of the retired GS’ers attempting to augment their pensions and fill their days. As much as also believe those stories need to be systematically captured and explored for lessons learned, the new face of the community is very much needed in academia. It is a tough thing to accomplish, as the demands of the current craft - especially in the teeth of the Long War – are diametrically opposed to the kind of time and energies that must be devoted to successful education and research. But nonetheless, it is increasingly clear that if the academy is to continue to have relevance, and to produce the kind of education that will successfully shape a new cohort of professionals grounded both in theory and application, it must reintroduce those that actually do intelligence back into the halls where it is discussed.

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