So, the Auditor General of Canada has released his report on The Royal Military College (it is Report N0. 6 for 2017) and his overall message to government is:
- 6.9 Overall, we found that the Royal Military College of Canada emphasized academic education over military training and that there were weaknesses in military training. Recommendations from previous reviews of the Royal Military College of Canada to enhance military training did not result in fundamental changes. We also found that there was no clear measurable standard for leadership qualities and ethical military behaviour that graduates were required to demonstrate before receiving their commissions.
- 6.10 This finding matters because there are many other universities that can offer an undergraduate education to future officers. However, only the Royal Military College of Canada has the objective of providing an undergraduate education in a military environment with a focus on military leadership, ethics, and training.
Put simply, the AG has been critical of the military part of RMC’s business before … DND promised to do better …. nothing has happened to make him any happier.
As you can well imagine, despite the almost zero interest in government and the media ~ reflecting the fact that taxpayers neither know much nor care even a tiny bit about the military unless there’s a scandal with sexual overtones ~ this is a hot topic amongst many of my friends. Reactions range from:
- Hey, RMC is doing just fine, it is meeting its assigned mission ~ “The mission of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) is to produce officers with the mental, physical and linguistic capabilities and the ethical foundation required to lead with distinction in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)” ~ and who cares if it costs a bit more than, say, getting a tainted BA from Laurier?
… through to …
- Burn. It. To. The. Ground.
Most of my military friends and acquaintances agree, broadly, with the Auditor General:
- The Royal Military College is a pretty good university that produces well-educated men and women, most of whom are, perhaps, somewhat less than adequately prepared for further military training; but
- The Royal Military College is notably weaker than in years (decades) past and weaker than it should be, today, at producing young men and women who are physically fit, even tough, who have high ethical standards and who display an acceptable level of leadership skill and ability.
So, why, one might ask, is The Royal Military College an academically fine college but not so good at the military stuff?
Friends and acquaintances who are reasonable closely connected to RMC (current and former academic and military staff and/or officers in the parts of the HQ that have responsibility for RMC) suggest that the academic staff (currently led by the College Principal, Dr. H.J. (Harry) Kowal, CD, rmc, BEng, MSAe, MA(SS), MDS, PhD, PEng, BGen (Ret’d)) has a better focus on what it is doing and why it is doing it than does the military staff (currently led by the Commandant, Brigadier General Sébastien Bouchard, an Army officer from one of the engineering branches). Should Brigadier General Bouchard be fired and replaced with someone better? No, the problem is not his leadership ability, it is that Dr Kowal’s mission is clearer, simpler and easier to accomplish than is General Bouchard’s. In theory, the reverse ought to be true, but …
Most of my friends and acquaintances who are “in the know” agree that RMC’s biggest problem is that the military, proper, has far, far too little say in who gets in and once in students are not allowed to fail out for fitness (athletic), ethical or leadership deficiencies.
A while ago a friend related a story (it’s actually three or four stories, all put together) about one of the courses at the College ~ it was about a mid-term exam: one student was caught cheating, one simply failed to even write the exam and a third had to be given a second chance because (s)he had a learning disability. “Wait!” I exclaimed, “How in hell did someone with a learning disability get into RMC in the first place? How in hell will someone with a learning disability ever stand watch on the bridge of a ship, command a troop of tanks in battle or fly an aeroplane?” “Not to worry,” my friend said, “(s)he will never get that far … but (s)he will graduate.” He went on to explain that no one in “official Ottawa” is willing to enforce standards any more. No one believes that a person with a learning disability severe enough to require special attention like an exam re-write can ever do any useful job as an officer in the CF, but no one has the courage to say, upfront, “sorry, Margaret or Mike, but you are not qualified to study at RMC because we, the military, have our own, valid, operationally required standards and you don’t meet them.” In the 21st century we all know that every snowflake is special and every special snowflake will go to some human rights tribunal if the military tries to enforce reasonable, legitimate standards, and the admirals and generals and bureaucrats and politicians are far more afraid of a human rights story in the media than they are of North Korean missiles.
“But,” I said, “what about the one who cheated and the one who just ditched the exam?” They, I suggested, must, surely, have been given the old “heave-ho.” “Nope,” my friend answered, “the exam was just declared optional ~ it will count as, say, 15% of the final course mark so the young person who ditched it will still, most likely, graduate and the cadet who cheated was given a bureaucratic rap on the knuckles because no one in the military chain had the balls to fail him/her.” Failing someone, he said, is very, very difficult because even the military has adapted to a social system in which everyone must pass everything … only, he said, in a few (hard science and engineering) departments is there some doubt about everyone passing everything.
Others have, independently, confirmed my friend’s anecdotal evidence of systemic weakness. One acquaintance said that, for example, mandatory physical fitness standards suddenly became optional when failure loomed and other forms of cheating were no longer taboo.
So, what’s the answer?
The first thing the government needs to do is to define the problem. I say government because RMC is too central to the defence staff to ever imagine that it (the defence staff (the CDS and his top tier subordinate leaders) will take hard decisions. Before anyone agrees with “Burn.It.To.The.Ground.” government needs to answer the question: why do we have a military university?
That we need a military school to train officers is, or should be beyond question … the issue is does Canada need a military university that awards degrees?
Many will say “No!” Civilian universities award a vast range of degrees, surely the military can meet its educational requirements with the offerings of everything from UVic trough Laval to Memorial, can’t it? Many years ago, when I was still serving, the answer to the second question was “No!” Some engineering programmes offered at RMC were unique – specially designed to meet the needs of, for example, our naval and aerospace engineering branches. Most degrees of most types were, indeed, available, at most “civvy Us” (civilian universities) but not all … we needed RMC for a few students each year and, the reasoning went, as long as the Canadian Forces needed its own university for a few dozen students it might as well offer programmes for a few hundred.
If, after thoughtful analysis by a few senior experts, civilian and military, the answer is, still, “Canada needs a military university” then the solution to the problems highlighted by the Auditor General become easier to find: the other pillars (other than academic and bilingualism) of officer training, military skills, knowledge and leadership and physical and mental fitness, need to be strengthened within the overall framework of one, single Royal Military College. If Canada still needs a ~ just one ~ military university then there is a perfectly good campus in Kingston and all that’s needed is to define and enforce military (fitness, ethical and leadership) standards.
There is, in that model, I believe a place for a smaller, tougher to get into and tougher to stay in, Royal Military College that teaches both undergraduate and graduate (MA, MSc etc and PhD) courses in a relatively narrow range of subjects:
- Engineering courses that are not, generally, available in civilian universities ~ that will not, for example, include e.g. computer science or the life sciences fields;
- Military Arts and Science programmes that have both science/engineering and humanities courses ~ especially military history, economics and philosophy; and
- Military Logistics and Engineering Management.
At the undergraduate level these (few) programmes should be available only (without any single exception, ever, for any reason at all) to young (17 to, say, 23 years old ~ 30 years old for serving (enlisted) sailors, soldiers and air force members) people who will have, already, passed the basic military officer training course ~ a physically and mentally gruelling eight to twelve weeks that aims to weed out those unlikely to ever receive either regular or reserve commissions. At the higher levels (MA, MSc and PhD) RMC’s graduate degrees should be open to all, military and civilian students, including foreign students.
Graduating from RMC should require that each graduate achieves ALL of the four standards:
- Has a functional, albeit elementary, ability to use both official languages;
- Has achieved ALL the academic requirements for her/his bachelor’s degree;
- Is, in all respects, physically and mentally fit for unrestricted military service; and
- Has displayed satisfactory levels of performance in ethical and leadership testing situations.
A failure in ANY of the four must be a failure in all and neither a degree nor a commission as an officer should be awarded to anyone who fails anything. (Academic transcripts (which may be accepted at many other universities) should be given to all who complete any academic courses, whether or not they pass the whole programme.
If, on the other hand, it is clear that civilian universities can meet ALL of the Canadian Forces’ academic needs then the “Burn.It.To.The.Ground.” solution might make a lot of sense. If there is no need for the college part of The Royal Military College then, perhaps, the military bits can be done better and even cheaper elsewhere. (Of course no one really advocates physical destruction ~ rather, the Royal Roads model offers itself: repurposing the campus as a civilian university while retaining, in a museum, the campus’ military heritage. Or, perhaps, RMC’s graduate and specialist programmes can be retained and the College, per se, can become what many of my friends advocate: a “finishing school” ~ a “gate” through which all military officers must pass in order to achieve acceptable, common standards in bilingualism, physical and mental fitness, ethics and leadership.
In any event, I do not expect this topic to be of interest to anyone except a tiny minority … but thanks to anyone who made it all the way through.