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  • Professor Replies to Opinion of 3383 Bill Atwood – Re: Military Training & a University Education

Professor Replies to Opinion of 3383 Bill Atwood – Re: Military Training & a University Education

I am writing in response to the letter by Mr. Atwood (3383) published in last week’s e-Veritas. I’ve been a professor at RMC for twenty-five years. I teach in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

Mr. Atwood seems to suggest that military training and a university education at RMC are incompatible. This doesn’t square with what I see. At RMC, cadets learn about Aristotle through the Academic Wing and then about military command through the normal functioning of the cadet hierarchy within the Military Wing. This has been going on for years and has the blessing of the Government of Canada and the military. In the words of the current Commandant, BGen Eric Tremblay, the mission of RMC is to produce “officers well educated.”

As I see it, there are three elements of an education at RMC that differentiate it from other universities. First, cadets must take a balanced curriculum: cadets studying science and engineering must take arts courses; and cadets studying in arts must take some science. That I am aware, no other university in Canada requires this balance. Second, there is a physical education element that comes with an RMC degree. The traditional idea of an advanced education, one that dates to ancient Greece, is the training of mind and body. Physical education still happens at RMC through the military and athletic pillars. At other universities, care of the body is now accomplished with a diet of beer, pizza, and Chinese food. And third, professors at RMC, where possible, teach using examples that have direct application to the profession of arms. For instance, in one of my courses, I teach cadets about the mathematical theory of games. At its heart, game theory forces cadets to think strategically. They must choose a course of action given a thorough consideration of the strategic choices available to the opposition. Some five years ago I received a letter from a former student who was commanding in Afghanistan. In that letter, he described how he was able to apply game theory to some of the combat missions he was asked to do. He thought that it was a wonderful way to structure his thinking and urged me to continue teaching cadets what I had taught him. By the way, this student was a history major and only learned game theory as a result of having to take some science and mathematics courses.

Mr. Atwood’s proposition that the Academic RMC is expensive is simply not true. Some ten years ago, Dr Peter Dunnett studied the costs of the Academic Wing at RMC and found them to be in line with the costs of other universities after adjustment for the government mandate to offer all undergraduate programs in both official languages. At the request of the Canadian Military Colleges Faculty Association this year, Dr Dunnett updated his report to take into account the current situation. He found that, among Ontario universities, RMC was one of the most efficient, and this was true despite the very small average class size at RMC. The explanation is largely based on low average faculty salaries and high teaching loads. Dr Dunnett’s essential point is that the costs of educating officers by attaching a military wing to another university would be higher (and possibly much higher) than they currently are at RMC.

Finally, I must take exception to Mr Atwood’s reference to a free education at RMC. It is not free as the parents, relatives, and friends of Capt Nichola Goddard, Capt Matthew Dawe, and Maj Michelle Mendes will attest.

Yours truly,

W J Hurley

Professor, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science


  • 14153 Steve Young

    July 10, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I would also argue that the language program is an important aspect of officer training. When CMR closed in the 90s, the CF bilingualism program as a whole was adversely affected. With its reopening, we should certainly see an increase in the number of fluently bilingual officers.

    It is unfortunate that military colleges are easy targets for disgruntled folks to whine about. Having been both a cadet and a staff member, I can say with some confidence that the program is excellent in most respects. I commend Mr Hurley for his comments.

  • Ron Dickenson

    July 10, 2013 at 9:42 am

    It is heartening to see comments from a non-arts civilian prof recognize and appreciate the value and utility of an RMC degree to the professional development of military leaders.

    An intellectual, former Queen’s football star and excellent teacher, unlike some others Bill has his feet solidly on the ground and his head not in the clouds.

  • Bruce Beavis

    July 10, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Excellent response that lays to to rest “RMC is more more expensive than other options” argument that crops up again and again.

  • 22774 Capt Catherine McLellan

    July 10, 2013 at 10:27 am

    As with most debates it is good to see both sides represented. However during my trades training, and in the 8yrs since, I have noticed a difference between those of us who graduated RMC and my collegues who attended civilian university. The difference was not in the education but in how we adapted and function within the military structure. RMC grads benefit from the 4yrs “in the system” and generally seem to have an easier time with the big picture since as Dr. Hurley points out – we have a broader degree with both arts and science courses. All routes to becoming an officer bring with them their own advantages but it is the combination of these perspectives that makes for a rounded and functional officer core. The RMC Grad perspective is unique and valuable and should not be sold short – the RMC grad has a unique blend of military and academic formation combined with routine athletics and an unparalleled opportunity for bilingulism. Add the opportunities to lead in a safe environment and RMC grads come out with a valuable skill set. A degree teaches critical thinking which in young people is a needed lesson. It can be gained with experience but when 22yr olds are put in command of 50 pers that univeristy thinking can come in handy. As for it being “free” talking with collegues who went to civy university – we might not have had the student debt at the end but we earned our degree and many of us seem to stick around long after our 5yrs of obligatory service is up so I think we pay back the people of Canada just with our day to day contributions.

    In a climate of budgets cuts it is always easy to target RMC and other aspects that seem like duplicates of the civy world but let us focus on the out-put – are grads successful? If so then let’s not fix what isn’t broken and focus our attention on the probelm areas.

  • Tom Carty

    July 10, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I helped the RMC hockey team in 2006/2007 as an assistant coach. I was a retired high school English teacher with 34 years experience, a former Senior “A” hockey player, a graduate of Queen’s University and a long time coach. The RMC kids were simply the best group I had ever worked with and if they are the typical RMC cadets I believe they were, I am certain that Professor Hurley is spot on in his assessment.

  • Robert Charette

    July 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Bravo Bill, bien répondu. Tu as insisté sur les points importants qui différencient le CMR des institutions civiles et qui font du collège”une université avec une différence”. Et en tant qu’ancien professeur de français, langue seconde, au CMR pendant près de 30 ans, j’insisterais sur les cours obligatoires de langue seconde. Les élèves-officiers doivent atteindre un niveau minimal de compétences linguistiques dans leur langue seconde pour l’obtention de leur diplôme. On ne retrouve pas de telles exigences dans les universités civiles. Le bilinguisme est un atout important, aussi bien du côté militaire que civil et de façon spéciale ici dans notre pays bilingue, le Canada.
    Robert Charette
    ex-prof. de français, langue seconde, au Centre des Langues du CMR

  • Charles Mossman

    July 11, 2013 at 11:47 am

    As a former professor at another Canadian university, I would agree that Professor Hurley makes a strong case that the education and training at RMC is excellent. Juggling academics, physical fitness and sports, and military training is stressful for students, and forces them to learn very early how to prioritize their time.
    Professor Hurley is not really correct when he says that other universities do not require arts students to take science or science students to take arts, since almost all four-year degrees require some cross exposure, although not often as great as it would be at a military college. Engineering students at some other universities do not take courses outside their major, although some of their courses incorporate academic content from outside.
    Overall, I certainly agree that education is delivered efficiently at RMC, especially since it does not have much leeway in increasing its overall budget.

  • 6559 Gerry Mueller

    April 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I’m a little late to this discussion, however …
    I was a faculty member in Chemical Engineering at University of Waterloo for about 20 years, and in my time (early ’70s top late ’80s) all engineering students were required to take at least 6 non-technical (outside the engineering, sciences, and mathematics disciplines) courses, and this non-technical component was in fact part of accreditation requirements.
    Currently the requirement is for 5 such courses, the sixth being a mandated Engineering Economics course.
    I’m fairly certain that most engineering faculties in Canada have similar requirement, as they are all accredited to the same standard.
    As an academic administrator during some of that time, I fought hard to maintain this requirement despite the always present pressure to sacrifice some of these courses and put in more technical material. I also fought for introducing similar requirements to take courses outside the arts, humanities, and social science (eg. science and mathematics courses) for students in those areas (much like at RMC), but with a notable lack of success!

  • 3928 Don Smithies

    July 8, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    The Royal Military College gave me a foundation for an education process that has continued through my military career, short as it was, into my much longer career in administering, developing and at times curating displays in museums. It gave me a perspective for enterpreting the propaganda that sometimes passes for nes and commentary in this hemisphere. Many of my colleagues went on to higher education and served the colleges in later years on staff and in positions of responsibility in every walk of life. At the time I graduated other universities did not require mixing of social sciences with engineering. If it is going on now I suggest that it is emulation of a succesful policy. I consider the type of training at the colleges is unmatched in the era since WW2 and of immense value to the nation. I congratulate Professor Hurley for his excellent defence of this system.

  • 7077 Paul Wehrle

    February 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I have always found it strange that in the very year Pierre Trudeau instituted his programs for Canadian Bilingualism and Biculturalism, universities ceased requiring proficiency in the second language i.e. for English institutions in Ontario Gr 13 French was an entrance requirement until that year. Over the years, the military in Canada has had its ups and downs melding its own versions of the “Two Solitudes” and that omission has made it more difficult. Demonstrating a high degree of wisdom, RMCC adopted Bilingualism as one of its pillars. There is no other Canadian University which can lay claim to having all of its graduates with a proven proficiency in both official languages and exposure to the cultures each represents. This is not only unique but also necessary for our survival politically as a nation. It is sad that this pillar is so unique. Our joint history and our cultures are woven inextricably into the Canadian fabric, and more than anything else, it defines us as Canadian. That alone makes RMCC of inestimable value.

    Also as an addendum, if we are to survive and succeed in a battlefield environment, all of the previous commentators on this article are accurate. I have often made the observation that you “manage” the battlefied but you “lead” soldiers. Leadership in that context is not taught at other universities.

    However I digress, my comments are directed strictly towards the College’s unique contribution and value to the Canadian social and cultural reality.