A Dynamic Tension
- General. The SSAV Team’s assessment of culture is a broad description of what the Team members observed as the prevailing culture surrounding the RMC N/OCdts. These observations attempt to frame the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that distinguish the culture of RMC. From the interviews conducted, the SSAV Team identified some sub-cultures that exist in the four key groups at RMC, consisting of the N/OCdts, the Training Wing, the Academic Wing and the Support Staff. The SSAV Team concluded that each of these four groups bore characteristic “attitudes, behaviours, values and beliefs”.Footnote 18
- “The RMC Image”. To the general public the image of RMC can occasionally be that of the scarlet dress tunics worn by the N/OCdts on parade and ceremonial occasions. The culture is one of ‘Truth, Duty, Valour”, the College Motto, and is representative of the fit, hardworking young men and women from across Canada who complete their undergraduate degree in exchange for military service upon graduation. There is a clear sense of history and tradition bound up in this image of RMC. There is also a sense of elitism fostered in this culture which can be viewed either as positive for the sense of pride that accompanies it or as negative if it is perceived that N/OCdts or ex-N/OCdts manifest a sense of entitlement or behave in an arrogant manner.
- Support Staff. RMC support staff consists of the Personnel Support Programme (PSP) staff such as coaches and fitness instructors; and, general support staff, such as those directly involved in providing logistics support including personnel administration, food preparation, cleaning, maintenance, access control, etc. Although a diverse group, the SSAV Team observed that they appeared to have a distinct sub-culture that reflected a strong belief that the RMC experience is special for the N/OCdts and that they, the support staff, are most proud to be part of the College tapestry and dedicated to providing a constant and empathetic level of support to enhance every N/OCdt’s experience. Nevertheless, this group appeared frustrated by resource constraints and institutional inertia to address the issues that some believed directly impact on their ability to execute their responsibilities to an optimal level and at a level they used to be able to do so in the past. To their credit, they did not appear to allow these frustrations to be passed on to the N/OCdts or to any other group at RMC.
- Academic Wing Staff. The SSAV Team observed that the Academic Wing Staff seemed to have a sub-culture that included pride in the academic achievements of the professors, staff and N/OCdts, the challenging and ground-breaking programmes being offered by RMC (i.e. Cyber, Materials Science, Military History, Aerospace Engineering, etc.), and the critical research being conducted at the College. The Staff demonstrated a very high level of dedication to and empathy for the N/OCdts whether through efforts to enrich their experience, or in their availability to those N/OCdts requiring academic assistance. However, the SSAV Team also observed a sub-culture where some educators and professors were of the belief that RMC is first and foremost a university and not a unique national institution. As such, some viewed that other elements of the programme, specifically the Military Pillar, were carried out at the expense of study time and academic preparation for the N/OCdts. The Training Wing, in particular, was often identified as being responsible for over-programming N/OCdts and impinging on their study time. This was not a universal belief but it does have an impact where the authority of the Training Wing, military discipline, and ethos is eroded through those attitudes being transmitted to the N/OCdts.
- Training Wing. The SSAV Team observed that there are many facets to the sub-culture of the members of the Training Wing. Most members of the Training Wing appeared to have an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the welfare and care of the N/OCdts – to the point of some being clearly physically and mentally exhausted. Some others appeared to be unwilling or unable to engage with or mentor N/OCdts – indeed, the SSAV Team learned of a few individuals whose engagement with N/OCdts was described in terms of a “Closed Door Policy” apparently due to heavy workloads. Another attitude the Team observed was aversion to risk – that is to say some Training Wing staff did not appear to want to deal with N/OCdts who were not succeeding at one or more aspects of the ROTP-RMC programme, and to make appropriate decisions which, in a few cases, could include removing them from RMC or releasing them from the CAF. Nevertheless, there were many Training Wing staff, both officers and Senior NCMs, whom the SSAV Team saw as clearly outstanding leaders and role models to the great benefit of the N/OCdts for whom they were responsible.
- N/OCdts. By far the most distinct of the four sub-cultures the SSAV Team observed was that of the N/OCdts. Within the Cadet Wing there appeared to be a number of sub-groups or cliques (i.e. varsity, band, Franco/Anglo, academics, etc.) that influence a N/OCdt’s view of their experience at RMC as being either positive or negative. This appears to be dependent to a certain extent on the prevailing attitudes, external perception and degrees of success in the ROTP-RMC programme of the sub-group or clique with which they associate. Notwithstanding the existence of these sub-groups or cliques, the SSAV Team observed common characteristics amongst all groups of N/OCdts. It should be acknowledged that the SSAV Team heard both from N/OCdts who had positive views and experiences, as well as those who had negative ones.
- N/OCdt culture demonstrated many positive traits, including pride in the RMC experience, appreciation for the opportunity to be challenged on all aspects of the ROTP-RMC programme - particularly the academic aspect – and, the acknowledgement that someone was always there for them if they needed assistance, guidance or advice. Many N/OCdts who were interviewed were highly articulate, poised, thoughtful and confident. In perspective, RMC has, and continues to achieve success in fulfilling its mission and generating well educated, ethical and successful officers for the CAF.
- The negative traits were generally as a result of the issues discussed in this report and include the following:
- Cynicism about RMC rules and practices. Some N/OCdts question why they must follow certain rules (i.e. dress, parking, etc.) or are expected to conduct themselves in ways they feel are contrary to how things are done in what they perceive to be the ‘real world of the CAF.’ They tend to disregard those rules whose purpose is not obvious to them, resulting in chronic rule breaking because some in the Cadet Chain of Authority ignore the faults and do not provide the needed level of leadership;
- Resentment for the lack of trust and freedom. Some N/OCdts feel they are infantilized. They perceive themselves to be under constant surveillance and not afforded any time or place to decompress in their home resulting in frustration, cynicism and negativity towards Training Wing staff and the RMC experience;
- An attitude of mediocrity. Some N/OCdts apparently lack either the motivation to do better or perceive that mediocrity is all that RMC expects of them; and
- Living Conditions. There were some negative views of pay, living conditions, kitchen, support services, leadership and the overall RMC experience.
- Dynamic amongst Sub-cultures. The interplay amongst the sub-cultures not surprisingly includes clashes amongst them, partly based on generational attitudes, partly on a lack of understanding of the goals of the institution and their respective roles within it and always exasperated by a frequent lack of communication at various levels within and external to the College. Such clashes only serve to reinforce disrespect and cynicism amongst groups. This was evident in the SSAV Team’s perception that some within the Academic Wing and some N/OCdts targeted the Training Wing as a “scapegoat” for issues ranging from fatigued N/OCdts to failure rates within the Four Pillars. This in turn added to the isolation and pressures on the Training Wing staff and seemed to contribute to their exhaustion. The SSAV Team also noted that RMC leadership has put in place mechanisms to address this tension through combined faculty meetings and by combining academic and military personnel in meetings.
- As one of our interviewees said: “The Cadet culture is generally impervious to standard military leader influence. At one level, the collective Cadet Body and memory spans at least seven years (4th Years passing on to 1st Years what they were told when they were 1st Years). The net result is that the Cadet Body effectively transmits lessons learned over the years on how to keep the operant culture opaque from the Chain of Command (CoC); how to assess which rules to follow, which ones to bend and which ones to ignore; and how to band together to protect their buddy when somebody stumbles and gets caught. Their narratives to justify breaking the rules and insistence that this behaviour is specific to RMC (I wouldn’t do this in the real CAF) are illustrative of the confused identity and poor professional socialization. Part of the confused identity surrounding RMC is that CAF leaders struggle with being both supervisors of junior (adult) military members who are just learning the profession and being de facto in loco parentis raising experienced older teenagers who are just learning how to be adults. A key challenge (especially for the Squadron Commanders) is that they tend to rely on standard military leader influence and, in particular, the use of rules-based position power. This usually results in minimal compliance (until the N/OCdts can figure out how to evade the new rule set or Chain of Command supervision). Footnote 19
- The overall climate observed by the SSAV Team was one of intensity to achieve success as demonstrated by all groups at RMC. This is a positive trait as most N/OCdts, professors and military staff are all diligently striving for outstanding outcomes. Since the Cadet Wing is dominated in numbers by males, an alpha male approach by N/OCdts to the various elements within the Four Pillar construct exists. This does pressure those N/OCdts who are in the minority whether by gender, diversity or orientation to follow and accept the norms of the majority. For those who are reluctant to follow those norms or are unable to do so can be ostracized as they are seen to be unable to fit in. Whilst there are some leaders who recognize these challenges and who are dedicated in trying to mentor N/OCdts to ensure the needs of the non-dominant groups are recognized, considered, and met to the benefit of every individual, there are others who do not recognize this. This takes a degree of mature and subtle leadership skills at all levels to build the relationships necessary to prepare and educate successful N/OCdts for when they graduate.
- Another observation was that the N/OCdts schedule was so full that many N/OCdts are unable to find the time to relax and have some fun. For example, those who are undergoing an engineering degree have very little flexibility in their academic schedule given the classroom and laboratory requirements and demands on their time. This adds to the stress of trying to manage and balance their time in an effective and healthy manner.
- One of the real challenges for everyone at RMC particularly to the N/OCdts is finding the strength and emotional maturity to deal with crises surrounding issues of sexual misconduct and death. The SSAV found that there is a real focus on ensuring that the N/OCdts are well aware of the Medical and Counselling Services available to them. It is to the credit of the College leadership that these services are strongly supported and communicated to the N/OCdts. The SSAV Team heard from the College leadership of the steps that were taken, on many levels, to communicate and engage with the N/OCdts and staff on these occasions. This included the use of ‘directed cascades’ whereby every person at RMC is personally engaged by either their supervisor or a trusted friend to check on their wellbeing. However, the SSAV Team also heard that there was a perception, in particular amongst the N/OCdts, that these steps did not meet their needs or expectations. Communications is the key whenever an incident occurs and it is the SSAV’s view that communicating immediately in an open and empathetic manner to all RMC components when a significant incident occurs needs to be refined even more so than currently exists.
- An area that initially concerned the SSAV in terms of what we might expect is how female N/OCdts were being treated by their male peers. The message the Team received from those female N/OCdts interviewed was that they felt safe day and night at the College; they knew what acceptable behaviour was and were able to communicate quite emphatically and clearly to those few male peers who perhaps began to act as if they were ignoring the appropriate line of behaviour. Those who spoke to us all acknowledged to having high levels of self-esteem, to having confidence in themselves and their abilities and to having a strong ethos to succeed. They also stated that there were those who arrived at RMC not yet sure of themselves and with lower levels of self-esteem and were unsure how to cope with aggressive male colleagues – some struggle with this and do get subjected to varying degrees of inappropriate behaviour. It is the SSAV Team’s observation that those who come forward for assistance and counselling receive the help they need and disciplinary action is initiated to deal with alleged perpetrators.
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