Teaching and Learning

By Daney Daniel Kepple


Andrew Michta teaching at the Marshall European Center for Security Studies

Early in his tenure at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Andrew Michta learned to set firm rules for his classroom. His students in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany were very different from the respectful undergraduates he taught at Rhodes. There his classrooms were filled with ambassadors and generals who hailed from all over the planet. Not infrequently there were participants in the same room who had fought recently on different sides of a war.

Back at Rhodes after a four-year absence, Michta rattles off the classrooms basics at the Marshall Center:

• Whatever is said in the classroom stays here.

• Respect the person; attack the argument as vigorously as you like.

• Speak for yourself, not your government. I can read that on the Web site.

Even with all that, he occasionally had to call time out.

“It was a highly charged atmosphere,” he says.

Michta had two titles at the center—Professor of National Security Studies, and Director of Studies for the Senior Executive Seminar, a program that he and his team created from the ground up. The program dealt with topics such as trans-Atlantic relations and terrorism recruitment. The American, French and German faculty often brought in high-ranking government officials to lecture.

In addition to teaching, Michta also did a great deal of outreach and policy consulting, all focused on security issues. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and Eurasia to destinations such as the European Institute for Security Studies in Paris and the European Parliament in Brussels. At the request of the U.S. government he presented a program on NATO membership requirements in Ukraine. Working with the Kennedy School at Harvard, he developed a curriculum for the Partnership for Peace Consortium Black Sea Working Group (NATO’s educational initiative for partner countries). He took students on field study trips to Washington, DC, and arranged briefings at the Pentagon, Supreme Court, State Department, Department of Homeland Security and Congress to demonstrate the U.S. security process. He kept up a frantic pace, with days beginning at 4:30 a.m. and lasting until 9 or 10 at night.

His private life was much more serene. He lived in a Bavarian cottage overlooking the mountains with his wife Cristina, daughter Chelsea and dog Sunnie. Garmisch compares favorably with Aspen, CO, he says. The family enjoyed cross-country skiing to the next village for dinner, and mountain climbing and hikes in the spring, summer and fall. Chelsea attended the Munich International School (MIS) in Starnberg and graduated with an International Baccalaureate high school diploma in spring 2009. As a varsity swimmer for MIS she competed in Europe and the Middle East. She was also very involved in the Model UN program, but her biggest accomplishment was to help build a school in Tanzania in summer 2008. Both Chelsea and her mother were avid volunteers. The U.S. Army Garrison-Garmisch planted a tree in Cristina Michta’s honor to commemorate her contribution to the U.S. community in Bavaria. They all enjoyed traveling around Europe.

It wasn’t easy to leave all that, and the leadership at the Marshall Center tried hard to persuade him not to (see sidebar). Michta, however, was feeling the pull of home. Although he and his family thrived in the cosmopolitan culture and the sports paradise of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, he is delighted to be back at Rhodes.

“I have been touched by the warmth of the welcome,” he says. “It is a pleasure to be reminded of the wonderful qualities of this campus and this city.”

He learned that while teaching generals, senior diplomats, ambassadors, ministers and parliamentarians is stimulating, “I want to make our students aware of the international environment in which they will have to live. Working with this generation is critical to the future of our country and the world.”

Besides, he had accomplished what he set out to do.

“I have always lived in two worlds—the academic world and the policy world,” he explains. “If you’re an academic you analyze and critique, often from the outside. You don’t really have a sense of how the machinery works, the culture of government agencies, how policy gets made. Only with that understanding can you understand how to effect change. This gave me a great opportunity to teach and learn at the same time.”

Now that he “gets” the process, he plans to work hard to change some policies in Washington.

“We are in one of the most difficult moments since 1945,” he began a lecture at Rhodes last spring. A “strategic pause” during the 1990s when there were no real threats to U.S. security came to an abrupt halt on Sept. 11, 2001. “The attacks didn’t change everything, but they changed the way Americans think about national security,” Michta says. On the other hand, “Nine-eleven didn’t change much for our allies. There was no sense of shared danger, especially as Europe has had much more experience with terrorism. They never agreed with the way the Bush administration framed the so-called Global War on Terror. They saw America’s emphasis on the use of military power to fight Al Qaeda as a misdirected strategy, and instead emphasized the law enforcement and police aspects.

“Today, all defense budgets in Europe are declining, but the budgets of their interior ministries are going up. In fact,” he amends, “NATO did agree to support the war in Afghanistan in 2006 but the national governments began to say, ‘Hell no!’ In addition to the U.S., only a few other NATO countries allow their soldiers to engage in combat operations in Afghanistan. Others have caveats often limiting their operations to support missions under a strictly defined set of conditions.

“So the structure of the alliance began to fragment. Today, even though countries removed some of the caveats, NATO in Afghanistan operates as if it were an alliance à la carte. And following the introduction of our new AFPAK (Afghanistan/Pakistan) strategy, the U.S. has been assuming even more of the burden. We are in effect Americanizing the war in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, the economic status quo also began to shift. For example, “The Chinese are modernizing and accumulating resources not unlike the U.S. did in the 19th century,” Michta points out. “Countries that industrialize rapidly gain confidence, then go for regional dominance and beyond. The U.S. did it first. Now it may be China’s turn. We should know soon enough.”

For our part, “The U.S. was heavily leveraged even before the recent recession and resulting bailouts, trying to meet the demands of two wars and domestic spending that became disconnected from revenue. Our level of ambition has been too high for two decades,” Michta believes.

“When I listen to American radio and watch television I see that our conversations with ourselves are about issues that don’t count on the global stage,” he complains. “The ‘bandwidth’ of debate in the U.S. doesn’t allow for a middle ground. We just hurl labels at each other.”

How does he plan to change that?

“Our country needs a serious discussion about national security priorities,” he maintains, and, using his contacts in Washington, he hopes to spark such a discussion and participate in it. He will also use those contacts and others forged at the Marshall Center to bring guest lecturers to Rhodes to help students broaden their perspectives.

Michta will engage with other contacts as a recently-appointed senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, a nonpartisan institute for advanced study and informed dialogue that brings pre-eminent thinkers together to interact with policy-makers through diverse programs and projects.

What’s more, he has two book projects in the works. One will be a scholarly treatise on the shift in trans-Atlantic relationships.

“Alliances are about shared threats,” he says. “They are built on a community of interest vs. a community of values. Much has changed in our relationships within NATO. That needs to be more widely understood.”

The other project will be a rebuttal of the theories of best-selling author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

“The world is most definitely not flat,” Michta contends. “History has proven over and over again that the social contract in each country is measured by how well you take care of your own. At this point we have mortgaged our young people’s future. It has to stop.”

Andrew Michta states his ideas in clear and compelling language and welcomes debate. There will be lively classes in Buckman Hall in the coming years.

Superior Civilian Service Award Medal

Most faculty members at Rhodes lead intense professional lives. They spend untold hours mentoring and counseling students, grading papers and preparing for class, not to mention conducting their own research. Thinking of returning to that life, Andrew Michta said, “I’m looking forward to a slower pace.”

While life at Rhodes may seem hectic, his pace at the Marshall Center was frenetic—after a 12-week teaching cycle on the campus he would head out to destinations around the world to give lectures and workshops and consult with governments and think tanks about security policy.

Apparently he was good at it. When the time came for him to return to Rhodes, his colleagues at the Marshall Center tried very hard to talk him out of it. When he stood firm they gave him a medal—the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Award, the third-highest honor for a civilian. It is comparable to the military Meritorious Service Medal.

The award, which is given for a “pattern of excellence,” can be granted only by individuals of the rank of brigadier general or above, or its civilian departmental equivalent. The award was presented at a ceremony in Garmisch, Germany.

“I was pretty touched by the ceremony and by how many European and American friends and colleagues turned out for it,” Michta wrote to Rhodes president William E. Troutt at the time. “As I am preparing to return to Rhodes, this was a nice gesture indeed.”

Growing a World

Heather Houser ’09 learned many things at Rhodes. One of the most meaningful was this: “Attending a small school with an outstanding faculty made my world bigger.”

Her world was already pretty large when she arrived. Born in Zimbabwe, she grew up in Botswana and Namibia before moving with her family to Texas. During her first year at Rhodes, she participated in the Bonner program and explored service in the Memphis community. Following that first year she returned to Africa to do HIV/AIDS education work in Zambia.

After declaring a bridge major in Economics and International Studies, Houser participated in a Development Studies program with the School for International Training in Uganda.

While conducting research with an indigenous minority group there, Houser became interested in the influence of developed countries on the development process.

“Donor countries and development organizations have a huge impact on domestic politics in Uganda,” she says. “Understanding the perspective of developed countries contributes to a better understanding of the realities faced by developing countries.”

Houser applied for a Mertie W. Buckman Scholarship in the summer following her junior year. Professor Steve Ceccoli, chair of the International Studies Department at Rhodes, suggested that she intern at the Marshall Center, and he contacted Professor Andrew Michta on her behalf. She agreed to take advantage of the opportunity, but, “I was nervous about working there. It was an area I had very little experience in and, though I had never met him, I had heard rumors about the ‘Michta legend’ at Rhodes.”

She quickly learned, however, that Michta’s sponsorship carried a lot of weight.

“I was part of a planning team that consisted of current and retired military personnel from the U.S., Italy, France and Switzerland; a retired CIA officer; and professors at the top of their field.”

Heather Houser, who graduated in May, had few regrets about her time at Rhodes. Like many seniors she wished her four years had lasted longer. She also wished she could have had the opportunity to take a class from Professor Michta.

“I have a deep respect for Dr. Michta. He is a person who quickly earns your respect, and demands that you earn his. I know that the Marshall Center tried hard to keep him, but he returned to Rhodes because he has a genuine belief in the necessity of training the next generation of leaders. Rhodes is lucky to have him.”

"Dr. Michta was by far the most influential professor I had at Rhodes. I am so happy that Rhodes did not lose him. He is truly an asset to the school and I hope that he can bring the IS department back to the stature it had in the mid-90s." - Peter Lamotte ′98

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