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05 December 2007

The students which endure in the cold

The expansion of the intelligence studies field as an academic discipline in a number of institutions around the country has not been an easy endeavor. Even in the post 9/11 world, facing the hard realities of the Long War, there remains the stubborn and reflexively anti-government radicalism of many entrenched faculty and their indoctrinated followers in the student Mobb.

We know the phenomena well, having faced first hand the protests against even the most scholarly of historical educational activities – often nominally driven by issues so far removed from the real activities of the intelligence community as to be the stuff of tinfoil hat madness (and we might uncharitably say, laudanum or analogous substances frequently consumed in the dorms of many schools). But we have recently been encouraged by the increasing mainstreaming of the profession – and the continued honorable and upstanding conduct of the students which seek to pursue its study. Thus we frankly had allowed ourselves to forget the open hostility which many students must continually endure in order to continue their chosen course of intellectual inquiry.

A recent editorial in the Mercyhurst College student newspaper has given cause to remember this unthinking rejection of an entire field, out of the dictates of a politicized worldview distinctly at odds with collegiate ideals of intellectual freedom. An otherwise entirely unremarkable student writer chose to give written voice to what is likely quite literally a sophomoric argument under the guise of examining whether an intelligence program “belongs” at the school – though unfortunately an argument also heard frequently from some faculty at the institution itself. To the College’s shame, a program which has brought record enrollment and outside funding into what otherwise would be a small, failing and scandal plagued liberal arts school in a decaying industrial town, remains both literally and figuratively out in the cold. It is unsurprising then – though still disheartening - that so many of the recent developments in the intelligence studies academia have bypassed the first civilian university to enter the field more than a decade ago.

But we also note the overwhelming response by a far more articulate – and accomplished – group of intelligence studies alumni and current students in correspondence with the Merciad. (UPDATE: We note regrettably that these some dozen letters or so at the previous link have now been removed from the paper's website.) Perhaps one might have reminded the original piece’s author that while the freedom of expression and the press are among fundamental right of the democratic society that these students have dedicated themselves to protecting, these are not a grant of immunity from criticism and response – especially when debating with individuals that also buy their pixels by the barrel. If nothing else, it is fascinating to see the numbers of successful students that can now speak from their experiences in the program. They as a group – engaged, outgoing, and openly able to cite their contributions to both the community and to society as a whole – are a far cry from the few quiet individuals, tucked away in unacknowledged intellectual labour at all hours of the day and night, that characterized the program in years past.

And if the institution cannot address the problems of its narrow-minded and anti-intellectual culture, perhaps it will find that student body, alumni contributions, and research funding departing for far more hospitable climes (in both the scholarly and meteorological sense) of the educational alternatives that are now developing elsewhere. Then one might well consider the question of what best “belongs” on that excellent piece of real estate up on the hill.

But it is still worth sparing a thought – and kind word - for the hard working young intelligence students which must constantly struggle in the face of this kind of sentiment – and in the face of very real consequences to their grades (and levels of personal stress), at a time when they are fighting to break into one of the most demanding and elite of professions. The program might not today have the same brutal attrition rate of years past, but it is by no means a cakewalk - and these kids deserve far better than to be made pawns in political games on campus.

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