Select students this Spring will have the chance to take a class on civil-military relations with retired United States army general Martin Dempsey, who served as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2011 to 2015.

Dempsey, who earned his master’s degree in literature from Duke in 1984, is a Rubenstein Fellow for 2016. Besides his teaching duties, he is also involved with the American Grand Strategy program, which is dedicated to studying foreign policy. The class—which required an application to enroll—will be co-taught by Peter Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy, who emphasized the unique view that Dempsey brings to the classroom.

“When General Dempsey came to Duke, I suggested that he co-teach this course because he would bring such a special dimension to it,” Feaver said. “The research I’m doing, and what this class focuses on, is how people who have served in General Dempsey’s position have interacted with civilian leaders. He has lived that reality. I think it is a nice connection for students to see that interplay of theory and practice.”

For Dempsey, the experience he brings to the classroom is the culmination of 41 years of military service in the U.S. Army, having graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1974.

Dempsey has served in a variety of roles, from deployment with the Third Armored Division in support of Operation Desert Storm to commanding the 1st Armored Division and ultimately being named the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He has earned numerous awards throughout his years of service, and it was recently announced he would receive one the most famous forms of recognition from Great Britain for his work to strengthen ties between Great Britain and the United States. In October, he was awarded knighthood.

“I was humbled,” wrote Dempsey on learning about the knighthood. “The honor means that our instinct about collaborating with like-minded nations who share our values and who want to make a positive difference in the world is the right instinct.”

The ceremony will be held at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. some time in the next few months, officially bestowing on Dempsey the title of honorary knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. 

The honorary knight’s return to Duke as a Rubenstein Fellow was based on his interest in developing leadership in young people.

“What brought me back to Duke was the commitment of the University to develop leaders of consequence,” he wrote. “As a nation, we will need to think our way through the challenges we will face in the future. Our nation’s leaders will need expertise, humility and courage. Duke is committed to developing such leaders.”

Dempsey splits his time at Duke between the Sanford School of Public Policy next Spring and the Fuqua School of Business this Fall.

Outside of the classroom, he has been very involved with the American Grand Strategy program, helping to bring in high-profile speakers for the program such as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

“I think this is one of the most important benefits of Duke attracting professors who come from such important positions, like General Dempsey,” wrote senior Tyler Coe, who plans to take Feaver and Dempsey’s class in the Spring. “These professors are the people who are best positioned to then bring other people from important positions to Duke."

For Feaver, co-teaching with someone who has such extensive experience in the field makes the course a learning experience for him. In the classroom, he says, Dempsey plays the role of practitioner and has a military voice, while Feaver is the professor and civilian.

“I really enjoy teaching with him,” Feaver said. “I respect him for the service he’s given our country, but he’s also just a delightful human being. It’s a lot of fun.”

Dempsey wrote that his favorite thing to do in his free time is to be with his wife, Deanie, and his nine grandchildren.

He also tries to be active in the Duke community and share his time with “the next great generation here at Duke.” Dempsey explained this comes from his belief that those blessed with “uncommon leadership opportunities should share those experiences.”

Feaver also shared an experience from the last time he taught with Dempsey. 

“He had the class over to his house at the end of the course. That was a special thing for the students,” he said. “He’s famously Irish-American. He also has a large collection of Irish whiskey, so he was very proud to show off his incredibly extensive collection.”