A Matter of Degrees

By Mary Alice Davidson

First responders. Some homeland security programs focus on providing instruction for first responders. The National Domestic Preparedness Consortium is the principal vehicle through which the DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness identifies, develops, tests, and delivers training to state and local emergency responders.

Currently, the consortium operates in five sites: Fort McClellan, Alabama; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Louisiana State University; Texas A&M University; and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nevada National Exercise, Test, and Training Center.

Typically, these “how-to” training programs offer certificates or associates degrees at two-year schools, community colleges, or private training facilities. In some instances, funding for first-responder training is carved out of block grants given to each state by the DHS to be used for planning, equipment, and training. Schools that put bids in for training funds often reshape existing programs in public safety, law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical response to meet local requirements.

“We have more than 100,000 first responders around the country that need training,” says Bodalato of The Shaw Group, noting the high turnover among this group because they are mostly volunteers. In his view, retraining programs are improving, mainly through a coordinated effort to set standards and provide a basic curriculum that colleges and universities can adapt to local needs.

The Rocky Mountain Center for Homeland Defense, a part of the University of Denver system, focuses on training and planning related to the first response to terrorist events, according to Hill. Students receive a certificate of advanced study. The center also offers short courses, seminars, speakers, and consulting services to the region.

Going the distance. Distance learning and online degree programs are welcome alternatives for working professionals, and many institutions use these technologies either in part or as the primary delivery method. American Public University (APU) caters to students in the military, so online delivery is important because of the transient nature of the audience. In addition to its criminal justice, security management, and intelligence degrees, APU offers both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Homeland Security.

Students can select concentrations in such topics as homeland security resources, law enforcement intelligence, narcotics and homeland security, and public health disasters. “We want to make sure [students] understand the concept, history, theory, rationale, and social impact of terrorism,” says Roger Melton, CPP, department chair, criminal justice and security. As of July 2005, more than 800 students were enrolled in the APU homeland security degree programs.

Mainstays in Matriculation
Given the uncertainties about what constitutes homeland security, not all academicians see the merit in offering homeland security degrees or courses. For example, Richards says, “For us to go in and say we should do this when no one is sure what they need is premature.”

Stewart concurs. “Until there is consensus on what constitutes homeland security, I’m hard pressed to conclude that there is a common body of knowledge,” he says. “Our school’s assessment is that homeland security is not yet an academic discipline,” he says, noting that it could take the better part of a decade for topics to emerge that everybody agrees ought to be in a homeland security bachelor’s degree.

Others point out that the issues involved in homeland security have been around in criminal justice, law enforcement, emergency management, and security management classes for years.

“The reality is that the term [homeland security] is a new buzzword,” says Hill of the University of Denver. The UD Master of Applied Science in Security Management focuses on “the full suite of security measures and management practices needed to keep an organization safe,” says Hill. While courses include how to keep a business viable following a terrorist incident, he says, “We don’t think of it as focused on homeland security.”

Similarly, Webster University has not changed its Master of Arts in Business and Organizational Security Management, a degree initiated in 1986 through the collaborative efforts of Webster and ASIS. Administrators have discussed offering a separate homeland security track but are not ready to move in that direction, according to Richards.

“I’m not sure how it would differ” from Webster’s current course offerings, he says. The courses are delivered worldwide through Webster’s Distance Learning Center.

In Richards’ view, the university’s existing emergency planning curriculum already focuses on aspects of homeland security, such as preparing for and responding to a disaster. The program explains what should be done in a response effort, whether the incident is a terrorist act or not.

James Calder Ph.D., CPP, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), would consider presenting homeland security as an element of some other course, but is not convinced that homeland security adds knowledge and value to a student’s education. And he questions whether those programs will have much academic merit in the long run.

USTA’s alternative is to offer a global analysis minor in the political science department. Calder, who switched from criminal justice to political science this fall, will teach a new course called “The Intelligence Community and World Affairs.”

Courses in the minor will teach “the culture of analysis and how you do good analysis in the foreign policy area,” says Calder. The intent is to prepare students for careers in foreign service, intelligence, or international corporate risk analysis. “To me, that adds value to students,” he says

Lawrence Berenson, CPP, who is security director of L-3 Government Services, Inc., and a member of the ASIS Board of Directors, agrees. He says that launching a specific homeland security major is not the ideal.

“The concept of homeland security or security management should be a survey area in all majors,” he says, specifically political science, public administration, international affairs, economics, and the chemical and biological sciences.

“There is nothing new in homeland security, he adds, which, from his perspective includes such security mainstays as personnel security, physical security, intelligence, vulnerability assessment, and risk management. “It’s a perspective, a means of tying things together. As security professionals, we already know this.”

History Redux?
Academics and practitioners who have been in the security field for years draw parallels with funds flowing from DHS today and spending by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) in the 1970s, which sparked an interest in security education. By 1982, however, LEAA was defunded, and the security, police science, and criminal justice programs begun at many institutions faded away. Some fear that homeland security programs will experience the same fate should federal homeland security priorities change.

Others see another—more positive—parallel with early graduate programs in business administration, “which were regarded with disdain at many institutions before they proved their merit,” says McCrie. Ferraro remembers when courses covering criminal justice topics first came to campuses and the subject matter was viewed as neither academic nor a science. “It probably took three decades for criminal justice to gain acceptance and legitimacy,” he says.

The turning point was the development of a body of knowledge in criminology. As a result, says Calder, today “criminal justice has a highly credentialed and distinguished faculty.” McCrie seconds that view, noting that criminal justice is “the fifth largest undergraduate major for men in the United States.”

If homeland security is to advance as an academic discipline, says Calder, it needs the same level of definition now afforded to criminal justice studies. Without that consensus, he envisions that homeland security programs are “not going to have a good start, and may have a sad ending.”

Career Connections
Ultimately it is the marketplace that drives interest in academic degrees. Melton believes persons will continue to select a homeland security major because their jobs are related. While APU’s traditional student base has been military personnel in law enforcement or security positions, the university is seeing more interest in its homeland security degrees from civilians who currently work in medical facilities, sheriff’s departments, or with transportation and logistics agencies, he says.

Neal Olderman, program manager, College of Continuing Studies at the University of Connecticut, sees the same trend among mission statements from applicants for the first UConn cohort, finding that they were “people who have been profoundly affected by the events of 9-11,” and who want to “create change in their venues.”

Steven Avato represents one example of how these academic offerings are appealing to practitioners. Avato is also pursuing GMU’s Master of Science in Biodefense. He holds an undergraduate degree in biology but has been working for more than 24 years in law enforcement. Currently, he is a supervisory special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives within the Department of Justice (DoJ).

While DoJ does have a homeland security mission, he says, “sometimes you get investigators who are not technically savvy, or experts on biological weapons who don’t understand investigations, law enforcement, or even counterterrorism.” He plans to use his combined knowledge to provide a unique perspective.

For students not already in the field and for those looking to move up the career ladder, a big question is job placement after graduation. “I always tell them to become involved in the profession,” says Melton, through organizations such as ASIS. “Network with people who are already there.”

Professional associations can also be excellent resources for job opportunities and degree programs. ASIS, for example, offers a “Career Center” through its Web site. A recently updated brochure, Career Opportunities in Security, gives details on security disciplines, specialties, and certifications.

Gilmore sees job prospects in three categories: in state and local homeland security departments at the state and local level; in federal jobs connected to airport screening; and in new jobs created within DHS. “I don’t see a lot of new jobs that were created in the private sector as a result of homeland security,” he says, other than in companies that sell related equipment.

There have, however, been some top-level private sector opportunities that have opened up as large corporations recognized the need to strengthen their internal security departments after 9-11. For example, Bank of America hired Neil Gallagher as its homeland security executive following 9-11. Gallagher had recently retired as assistant director of the national security division of the FBI after a 29-year career.

Bank of America wanted “to understand their threat environment and know what they could do as a good corporate citizen to help this new concept called homeland security,” says Gallagher. While he reports to the bank’s corporate director of security, Gallagher acts as “an in-house consultant on matters that have a positive effect on the U.S. concept of homeland security and thereby a residual positive effect on the Bank of America.”

Gallagher does not foresee further staff expansion where he is. If he were expanding his team, however, the most desired quality he would look for in recent college graduates is analytical skills, someone who could “look at databases and help develop a clearer understanding of what is occurring in the environment that touches Bank of America.”

Calder, a former aerospace executive, agrees. As an employer, Calder looked for someone with “a thinking, critical investigative mind. I didn’t care what degree he or she had.”

Ultimately, the question remains: Does academia need to carve out an educational specialty called homeland security? Melvin Bernstein, Ph.D., director of university programs in the DHS Science and Technology Division, which itself funds a highly competitive scholarship and fellowship program, is not sure. The ultimate test “will be whether students who go through these programs find them to be of value in terms of learning and career development,” he says, and “I think the jury is out.”

“If the problem in front of us was more conventional, I think we would be much farther along,” says Ferraro. “But we’re dealing with a fast-moving target. The enemy is changing its tactics as fast as we can respond. What we teach today and qualify as a degree in homeland security may not be valid a year from now,” he says. “The landscape is going to change.”



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