Professor returns from prestigious assignment in Germany

October 27, 2008

Returning recently to the classroom after an extended leave of absence, Volker Franke said his jokes seemed a bit rusty and outdated, and he knew only a few of his students.

But Franke, associate professor of Political Science and International Studies, said the two years he spent working as the research director for the Bonn International Center for Conversion in Germany provided him with a bevy of useful classroom applications.

“The experience gave me a lot of ideas I can bring to class,” said Franke, a native of Germany who initially came to the United States in 1990 to pursue graduate studies in public administration at North Carolina State University. “I have a lot more practical examples and a better understanding of how to give my students practicable assignments.”

Franke was recently selected for McDaniel College’s Distinguished Scholar Award, an honor that will afford him the opportunity to pursue a faculty-student research project next semester.

He said the collaborative research project – a hallmark of McDaniel’s instructional program – will focus on the role of private military security firms and the people who choose to work for them.

“Although the issue of outsourcing traditional military functions is not new, the role of private military contractors and the lack of existing control mechanisms regulating their behavior in the field have been criticized heavily as a result of the involvement of contractors in the ‘interrogation’ of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison and the deadly shooting of civilians at security checkpoints around Baghdad,” Franke said.

“Incidents like these have raised questions about the proper vetting of security personnel by the firms and about ways to regulate the industry and hold individual contractors accountable for their actions in the field,” he added.

McDaniel students taking Franke’s classes, such as “National Security in a Changing World” and “Theories and Approaches to International Relations,” are the beneficiaries of his long-held interest in peace studies.

“It’s something I do with a passion,” said Franke, who wrote his doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University in the mid-1990s on the subject of how well prepared West Point cadets were to lead peacekeeping missions.

Franke said he believes that for peacekeeping missions to be effective, it’s important to understand the local culture and the people.

Franke’s passion for exploring nonviolent means of conflict resolution prompted him to accept the prestigious post of research director at the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), an independent, nonprofit organization that is one of Germany’s premier peace and conflict research institutes.

For instance, the center’s researchers look at how a local economy, from shops to delis to schools, will be affected by the departure of the military, and they help identify new uses for abandoned military barracks.

While at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, Franke focused on establishing clear guidelines and a system of quality control for the center’s researchers.

The center, which was established in 1994, conducts research on ways to prevent conflict. Its staff also acts as a consultancy, providing policy recommendations and advising governments.

Franke’s work included restructuring the center to refine its focus on identifying practical applications for policymakers, advising countries on how to transition from conflict to peace, and training for soldiers moving into civilian roles.

Back on campus at McDaniel since this summer, Franke continues to serve as a senior adviser to the Bonn International Center for Conversion.

“It’s a good way to keep my hands in it,” he said.

It also keeps him full of fresh ideas for his classes. He said his experience at the Bonn center has affected how he sees his students.

“My expectations are higher now,” he said.