The thing you have to understand about Ivy-League institutions is that they masquerade as an intellectual discourse. The school will put itself up on a pedestal and act as if it is a forum of enlightened thought where people of diverse backgrounds come together and discuss the quandaries that plague our times before coming up with logical compromises and solutions. Of course, this is merely bullshit window-dressing which camouflages the reality that in class, the conclusions are all pre-determined and the professor will guide you (with force and coercion applied as needed) to those conclusions.

Columbia University is one such college.

Yeah, you have your frustrating moments. In a class on comparative politics, we were asked to give some examples of a failed state. I raised my hand and said, “Mexico.” The professor was flabbergasted and claimed he had never heard anyone argue that Mexico is a failed state. I was shocked as well. How can a professor in the political-science department of a major university not even be aware of an argument openly debated in books, on television, and in professional literature?

I got a B on my paper on Chinese intelligence. The teacher’s assistant who graded the paper read it and did not understand how open-source intelligence collected from hundreds of thousands of sources could be used as strategic intelligence. It’s okay, he is really just a microcosm of America’s entire defense intelligence apparatus when it comes to that misunderstanding. I shared that paper with our SOFREP readers though, so I figure I got the last laugh on that one.

But there are also some great professors in the mix that you can find if you go looking for them.  I had a professor in my African politics class who was amazing.  She was the only teacher I had at Columbia who would assign us readings and then openly defy them and make her students question the conclusions in the papers. Almost like, you know, critical thinking or something! Most professors just assign readings in a very low-brow, pedantic way in order to fill up their syllabus—or as one history professor joked, it must look like a “COLUMBIA SYLLABUS.”

That means that the school values assigning quantity over quality when it comes to readings. I got the impression that some of the professors hadn’t even read all of the stuff they assigned. If I was assigning nothing but drivel, I wouldn’t read it either. One other thing on this topic:  I love the students who pop in the first day of class, ask the professor to add yet more readings to the syllabus, then drop the class and are never seen or heard from again. Buddy fucker.

Some other good classes I took included ‘Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict’ as well as ‘Understanding Intelligence Operations’. These were graduate classes that I was able to sneak into, something I did as often as possible. By the fifth poli-sci undergrad class, you are sick of hearing about Hobbes and the state of nature. Now this is the other thing about college: no matter how stupid it gets, you have to keep an open mind and be open to learning new things. I did learn quite a bit from political-theory classes.

Despite being a SOF veteran and someone who writes on these issues for this website, I approached my classes on SOF and intelligence from the perspective of a student rather than some self-styled “expert.” I learned a ton in those classes. When I was in the Army, I served as an anti-tank gunner, sniper, weapons squad team leader, and as a Special Forces weapons sergeant. I knew a lot about weapons, but the more knowledge I gained, the more I realized how much more was out there that I didn’t know.