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Teaching in the Department of Social Sciences


No mastery of command can substitute for an intelligent comprehension of the economic goals, the political impulses, the spiritual aspirations that move tens of millions of people. But your greatest opportunity for enduring contribution to America may well be the council table, far removed from war.
--President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressing the USMA Graduating Class, June 1955
Teaching undergraduates is a great privilege and a greater challenge. At West Pont we have the opportunity to contribute to the development of outstanding young men and women who have made a commitment to military service. Our role is not only to help them discover themselves through a liberal education, but also to help prepare them for the challenges they will face as military professionals. Consequently one of our central tasks is to show cadets how intellectual curiosity and creativity blend with self-discipline and selfless commitment in our best leaders.
The tension between liberal education and military training creates an understandable competition for cadet time. The demands we place on cadets must be consistent with the time available to meet our standards. Striking the correct balance requires constant review and a clear understanding of how the academic, military, and physical programs contribute to the Academy’s goals.
The Academy's institutional vision identifies West Point as the nation's most accomplished developer of leaders. The entire West Point Experience is designed to systematically transform cadets into commissioned officers by fundamentally shaping who they are, what they know, and what they can do. Developmental experiences will challenge cadets to think and act independently and will offer appropriate support and feedback to facilitate their growth. The end result of this developmental process will be leaders who can decide for themselves what is right and then act accordingly - officer leaders of character.
The Military Academy’s mission is “To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth throughout a career as an officer in the United States Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the Nation.” While the institutional vision explains why West Point exists, the mission clarifies precisely what the Army requires West Point to do.
Based on this mission, the Academy has developed outcome goals for its graduates. In once sentence, the Academy envisions that graduates will be commissioned leaders of character who, in preparation for the intellectual and ethical responsibilities of officership, are broadly educated, professionally skilled, moral-ethically and physically fit, and are committed to continued growth and development both as Army officers and as American citizens. In support of this overarching goal, graduates must:
  • The profession of arms and the application of a broad liberal education in the arts and sciences to that profession;
  • The ideals of the American Constitution and the responsibilities of commissioned officers to its defense;
  • The values and ethical standards of the United States Army - The Professional Military Ethic
  • Personal devotion to the duties of a commissioned officer;
  • Intellectual curiosity, imagination, and creativity;
  • Ability to act rationally and decisively under pressure;
  • Mastery of the basic military and physical skills required for entry into commissioned service;
  • Inspiration and motivation to lead American soldiers in war and peace - leadership characterized by a winning spirit;
  • Ability and motivation to achieve and sustain unit climates that are conducive to military effectiveness and professional excellence;
  • Personal commitment to the selfless standards of officership within the United States Army.
    The developmental systems and programs at the Military Academy will be structured to contribute to instilling these characteristics in each of its graduates.
    The outcome goals – which might be summarized as academic, military, leadership, physical, and ethical goals – appropriately focus on long-term personal and professional development. As a member of the faculty you will be intimately involved with cadet development in each of these areas. While your primary focus will be on academic development through teaching, counseling, and designing courses, you also will play a key role in training and motivating cadets within an environment that stresses the highest standards of personal integrity.
    This emphasis on long-term personal and professional development explains why West Point has retained a predominantly military faculty. You are in a unique position to explain the importance of intellectual growth to professional development, and you can help cadets to understand the profession they will be joining and the standards of discipline, integrity, and service that will be expected. The common commitment of the faculty and cadets to professional growth creates a bond that distinguishes our program and creates extraordinary opportunities for faculty-student interaction outside the formal classroom environment.
    While the predominantly military faculty emphasizes direct ties to the military profession, civilian faculty members provide an important balance and depth for the development programs. Diversity is an inherent aspect of a liberal education, and cadets need to learn that commitment to intellectual development and to public service is not confined to members of the military service. With their length of service on the faculty, knowledge of, and commitment to the Academy, civilian faculty members provide an invaluable resource to contribute to all aspects of programs and cadet development in addition to their disciplinary expertise.
    The focus on long-term professional development also provides the rationale for the priorities that exist in the academic, military, and physical programs. Graduates must of course be prepared to move directly into positions of responsibility as lieutenants, and the program at West Point must prepare cadets to excel at that level of responsibility. More important, the program is designed to encourage patterns of personal discipline, self-confidence, and intellectual curiosity that will sustain continuing development throughout a career of progressive responsibilities.
    The mission is clear, but even in a four-year program time is limited. The demands of intellectual development, military training, physical fitness, and moral commitment are enormous. The challenge you will face in helping cadets to establish personal priorities and to meet those goals can be overwhelming, but you also will discover that the personal and professional rewards of working with this outstanding group of young men and women are well worth the effort.
    As one of the thirteen academic departments under the Dean of the Academic Board, the Department of Social Sciences presents programs in economics and political science that contribute to the overall goals of the academic program. Those goals are as follows:
    General Academic outcome goal: “graduates anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political, and economic world.” In support of this general academic goal, there are several supporting academic goals. As a result of the entire academic program, USMA graduates should be able to:
  • Think and act creatively.
  • Draw on an appreciation of culture to understand in a global context human behavior, achievement, and ideas.
  • Draw on an appreciation of history to understand in a global context human behavior, achievement, and ideas.
  • Understand patterns of human behavior, particularly how individuals, organizations, and societies pursue social, political, and economic goals.
  • Communicate, especially in writing, in precise language, correct sentences, and concise, coherent paragraphs--each communication evincing clear, critical thinking.
  • Recognize moral issues and apply ethical considerations in decision-making.
  • Demonstrate the capability for and willingness to pursue progressive and continued educational development.
  • Understand and apply the mathematical, physical, and computer sciences to reason scientifically and solve quantitative problems
  • Apply mathematics, science, and technology, and the engineering design process to devise technological problem solutions that are effective and adaptable.
  • Understand and apply information technology concepts to acquire, manage, communicate and defense information to solve problems, and adapt to technological change.

  • [In an effort to ensure that the Academy curriculum provides the most current and best possible education for graduates, the last three goals are proposed, and are in the process of being formally adopted by the Academic Board. They are provided so that you will have the most up-to-date information.]
    The rationale for study in social sciences is clearly very explicit in the academic program goals and objectives. The general educational goal of preparing “graduates to anticipate and to respond effectively to the uncertainties of a changing technological, social, political, and economic world” defines the key role of political science and economics in the academic program.
    As in most academic institutions the set of courses and the range of disciplines now assigned to the Department of Social Sciences resulted more from historical accident than from careful analysis, but the current blend of political science and economics has proven to be a happy marriage. For those interested in pedigrees, the lineage of the Department of Social Sciences extends from the old Department of English, History, Economics and Government (1910-1921), through the Department of Economics, Government and History (1921-1946), to the current generic title. As the role of the social sciences in the curriculum expanded, the Department spawned disciplinary offspring.
    For example, the history curriculum in the 1930s consisted of two blocs of instruction on the history of modern Europe since the reformation, and the history of Asia since 1750, which were given only to cadets whose averages were high enough for exemption from comprehensive final examinations. The history curriculum ultimately grew to include two full core courses on modern history. In 1969 responsibility for those courses and instruction in the history of the military art, which had been presented b the Department of Military Art and Engineering, shifted to the new Department of History.
    Courses in geography shifted from the Department of Social Sciences in the 1950s to the new Department of Earth, Space and Graphic Sciences, which became the Department of Geography and Computer Science, and is now known as the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering. Courses devoted to the behavioral sciences (in this case psychology and, later, sociology) expanded after World War II, based primarily on General Eisenhower’s interest in leadership instruction. These courses came under the Office of the Commandant until the separate Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership formed in 1977.
    Thus, the portion of the social sciences offered by the Department of Social Sciences declined as the importance of those other disciplines expanded in the curriculum and a series of more specialized departments emerged. But while the precise range of disciplines in the Department shifted over time, several essential aspects of the Department’s mission remained unchanged.
    The Department supports the broad Academy goals of preparing cadets for long-term personal and professional development by working with them closely in the classroom, in extracurricular activities, in counseling, and in a wide range of other activities. Specifically, the Department provides instruction and sponsors related extracurricular academic activities in the related fields of political science and economics. Each course and each related activity is designed to give cadets an understanding of the subject matter covered, to present the methodology for handling problems in these areas of knowledge, and to indicate relationships to future duties and responsibilities cadets will assume as citizens and officers.
    While the Department teaches courses that are very similar to courses in the same disciplines taught in civilian undergraduate colleges, the context is always the broader professional development of cadets. The teaching techniques and the climate of association with cadets, inside and outside the classroom, emphasize the professional relevance of our courses for cadets as they develop into their role as officers.
    The social sciences deal with important issues of human choice for which there are no neat, simple answers. Our disciplines do include models of behavior and even some equations that suggest how variables tend to be related, but we offer no unequivocal solutions. Instead our emphasis is on establishing the relationships among competing objectives and examining how individuals, institutions and governments can and do make difficult choices.
    A central problem in the social sciences is sorting through the plethora of evidence we see and attempting to decide which observations are relevant to the question at hand. Thus, establishing criteria of salience is more important than simply accumulating information. Clearly an understanding of basic facts and relationships is important to provide a framework for making such judgments. But our goals go far beyond accumulating data. Our objectives are to establish an appreciation for different perspectives, to develop techniques of analysis, and to nurture intellectual curiosity. The point is not simply to master some discrete body of knowledge, but to develop competent approaches to dealing with the conflicting elements inherent in political and economic judgments. The social sciences do not contain a set of formulas that the instructor can reveal to the student. Rather, they emphasize a balancing of perspectives that can only be reached as the student recognizes inconsistencies and works to resolve them.
    Our philosophy of teaching flows in at from the nature of our subject matter, and in part from a recognition that we are working with highly talented and motivated young men and women who will be serving with us in the future as fellow officers. Brigadier General George A. Lincoln, Department head from 1949 to 1969, for whom Lincoln Hall is named, summed it up in these words:
    The engraving on monuments does not mark achievement. Only the engraving on the character and competence of our cadets and our young officers counts towards fulfillment of our mission.
    The objectives that we seek can only be measured indirectly, and you will have to struggle against the temptation to settle for things that can be measured more easily. The following quote from William Cory, schoolmaster at Eton in the last century, illustrates the subtlety and importance of our most important objectives.
    You are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental effort under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you have spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school, not for knowledge so much as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moments notice a new intellectual posture, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the habit of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for soberness. Above all, you come to a great school for self-knowledge.
    -- William Cory, 1861
    Our philosophy is built on respect for our students and commitment to their professional growth in a climate that reinforces those “arts and habits.”
    The USMA curriculum is designed to provide a sound academic foundation for the myriad responsibilities an officer will assume over the course of an Army career. The goals and objectives of the academic program, discussed earlier, provide the architecture for designing course sequences. A substantial core curriculum, 31 courses containing roughly 75 percent of the academic program, is required, including sequences in mathematics, sciences and engineering, the humanities and social sciences, and selected “professional’ courses such as military law, military history, and military leadership. The remainder of the program permits study in depth in either a major or field of study to provide the added rigor of specialization and to improve the foundation for future graduate work.
    The core curriculum in mathematics, sciences and engineering is sequential, building from the basic to the applied sciences. The courses in the humanities and social sciences – English, modern history, language, psychology, philosophy, political science, economics, international relations, literature, and law – are of course interrelated, but they are far less sequential. Instead, they provide different perspectives on the human condition, an appreciation of various cultures, and an understanding of the forces that constrain social choice and guide decision processes.
    The Department of Social Sciences offers core courses in American Politics, Economics, and International Relations. These courses constitute a major portion of cadet requirements in the social sciences and emphasize the central theme of how political and economic choices are made given inevitable resource limitations. These core courses introduce fields of study in political science and economics and they also contribute to the inter-disciplinary fields of management and foreign area studies. The Department’s majors in political science and economics are designed to ensure a rigorous foundation in those disciplines, with emphasis on clear analysis and exposition.
    The courses offered in the Department are therefore focused on groups of students that differ significantly in background and interest in our subject matter. In the core courses you will face students who intend to specialize in a wide variety of fields, many of whom are only taking the course to meet the requirements of the core curriculum and whose greatest aptitudes may lie in other areas. Thus you will face the dual challenge of meeting the needs of future majors and demonstrating the relevance of the subject matter to those with other primary interests.
    In the elective courses you obviously will have students who have chosen to study politics or economics, and you typically will enjoy a higher level of active participation by most cadets in the class. The field of study and major programs are designed to build on that interest and challenge students at every level of ability. Remember that the objective of study in depth is not to produce graduate-level political scientists and economists, but to demonstrate the relevance of such specialization and rigor to progressive development throughout a military career. Certainly many of our fields do support specific Army specialties, but our objectives at the undergraduate level are not to limit possibilities but to expand the potential for future development. In supporting that development, mastery of the techniques of specialization are far more important than the subject matter of any specific discipline.
    Students at the Military Academy are carefully screened at admission. They have combined scores on College Board verbal and quantitative examinations that average over 1200, placing them well above national averages. Moreover they are achievers – the percentages of valedictorians, class presidents, and team captains are impressive. But while our students are bright and energetic they also face a demanding schedule of academic courses, military training, physical education, intramurals, and chain-of-command responsibilities – not to mention voluntary extracurricular activities – that is staggering. The core curriculum forces all of them to take courses that they would clearly be able to avoid in other programs: engineers must also take international relations, political scientists must take physics, and all must take a foreign language. The requirements of the core curriculum force all cadets to allocate time away from their primary interests.
    In your zeal to present outstanding, challenging academic courses you will have to confront and deal with those conflicting priorities. Your task will be to find the correct balance of challenge in your course, consistent with the inevitable time constraints placed on cadets. This appreciation for constraints does not mean that we must sacrifice academic standards, but it does mean that our expectations must be somewhat different than what you might expect at a liberal arts college with only four courses per semester. We attempt to adjust to these constraints by providing more materials directly to cadets instead of having them search for journal articles in the library, by coordinating major requirements across courses to reduce peak loads, and by paying greater attention to cadet progress as the semester develops. The small section format, typically with an average of 15 cadets in a section, permits us to know cadets well and to be alert to problems they may be having in other areas. The constraint of the broad range of cadet requirements means that academic excellence must be achieved through greater sensitivity to the individual needs of each student.
    Within the Department we seek to maintain an atmosphere of open intellectual inquiry, based on the understanding that the faculty and cadets share a common bond of professional commitment. Faculty relationships are open and informal, with emphasis on volunteerism to meet inevitable requirements and the motto of “Be Kind” to guide interpersonal relationships.
    All of us are deeply committed to the primary mission of teaching cadets and guiding their personal and professional development. This commitment leaves very little time for detailed supervision by the senior faculty; given the high quality of our faculty, very little is required. The broad range of interests you bring to the Department means that most jobs naturally fall to those with an inclination in that area. Thus, you will have broad latitude in choosing your particular areas of interest and in setting your own priorities.
    Beyond the central task of teaching, we seek an environment that permits instructors to interact with cadets in a wide variety of settings. The Department strongly supports a number of academic extracurricular activities, an active program of cadet counseling, academic research to enhance classroom instruction and involve cadets in advanced projects, outreach to assist the Army and DoD agencies, and incorporate practical issues into our teaching, Academy level extracurricular programs ranging from varsity athletics to a broad spectrum of club programs, and a rich summer academic enrichment program that places faculty members and cadets in internships with government, private, and not-for-profit agencies.
    The Department has primary responsibility for the Debate Council and Forum. The intercollegiate debate program typically involves several offices as coaches. Forum activities include the Domestic Affairs Forum, the Model UN Team, and the Finance Forum. In addition the Department sponsors the annual Student Conference on United States Affairs (SCUSA) that brings students from all across the country to West Point each November.
    The Department also has a strong tradition of supporting research, particularly in the area of national security. This activity includes conference presentations, briefings for various agencies and officials, temporary duty with different organizations in Washington, and appropriate publication of research results. Our emphasis in teaching and the lack of a graduate program understandably limit the amount of research that can be done, but the faculty clearly benefits from remaining current in areas related to our course material; our record of research and publication is impressive.
    Research also contributes to the continuing professional development of the faculty. Service at West Point is by no means out of the mainstream of the Army – most officers serve in similar nominative assignments at the same career point – but the length of graduate schooling and the teaching tour means that you will have to work to maintain currency with issues in the field. All military faculty members spend one summer working with cadets on summer training, typically at Camp Buckner. This experience is an excellent chance to get to know cadets in another environment outside the classroom and to contribute to their military training.
    Getting to know cadets in a wide variety of settings is important, and it will pay large dividends when you are counseling them on their academic programs or their overall personal and professional development. Each faculty member is a counselor, and you should encourage cadet questions in those areas. The Department’s extracurricular activities provide substantial opportunity to interact with cadets, but you may also wish to consider the following three Academy programs. The Mentor program provides a chance to get to know two or three cadets very well in a social setting. The Company Academic Counselor program provides the chance to work with a cadet company and give general guidance on the academic program. The Values Education Teams include officers who work with a cadet company and lead discussions on ethical behavior. Any way you find to get involved with cadets outside the classroom will yield high returns in personal satisfaction and inevitably will improve your performance as a teacher.
    All of us work to foster an environment in which cadets and faculty alike can work to their full potential. We seek to treat each other with the respect and trust that has been earned. We think you will find that this open atmosphere will permit you to grow and mature as an instructor, and that you will look back on this assignment as one of the highlights of your professional career.