SGIS Professor of Practice Gene Coyle teaches classes focused on the topic of espionage, where his work is to uncover some of the secrets of the trade. Upon reviewing student course evaluations at the end of the year, one comment consistently stands out to him.
“Every year, I get two or three comments that say, “It’s so cool having someone teach this who actually did it,” Coyle said.
Gene CoyleThe experience Coyle draws from is more than three decades as a field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Working for the CIA was a dream career for Coyle, one he began striving for while he was a student at IU.
Originally thinking he wanted to be a diplomat, Coyle spent the summer between his junior and senior year working at the State Department. While there, his colleagues commented that he might be “too goal-oriented” for State, and the CIA might be a better fit.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in American history and political science, Coyle applied three consecutive years before being accepted to the CIA in 1976. He thinks newly-gained life experiences made the difference the third time around – as he explained, operations officers are typically between 26 and 27 years old, and his time spent abroad in Hamburg, Germany, proved that he was more than “a hick from Indiana.”
Throughout Coyle’s 30-plus years in the CIA, he spent 14 abroad in countries including Russia, Brazil, Portugal, Kyrgyzstan, and Greece. As a field operations officer, he met with foreign diplomats and scientists to gain secrets about their countries. For his work, he was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit, one of the highest honors awarded by the CIA, for a mission he conducted in Moscow in the mid-1980s.
Out of the many moments that filled his lengthy career, one that stands out in his mind is the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Coyle had just had double bypass surgery, but he sprang into action, traveling overseas to investigate counterterrorism efforts.
“I was under medical restriction, and I couldn’t lift more than 10 pounds,” Coyle said. “But, I like to tell my students, I said, ‘A fully loaded glock only weighs seven pounds.’”
Three years later, Coyle’s notable CIA work led IU to hire him on as a visiting CIA professor, where he split his time teaching for the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. What was supposed to be a two-year position turned into a 12-year career as a professor of practice. Coyle works with students from SGIS as well as the Hutton Honors College. He also teaches two courses – one in the fall, one in the spring – for the Global Village Living-Learning Center housed in Foster Residence Center.
Coyle said he teaches many students majoring in political science and international studies, but he is often surprised by the eclectic mix of students his classes draw. In the past, he’s taught students majoring in violin performance, business, opera, and even fashion design.
“I’m convinced undergraduates don’t read course descriptions,” he said, laughing. “They just hear about cool courses from friends and sign up.”
This semester, Coyle’s courses focus on espionage and contemporary security issues. Coyle said one of his goals for his classes is to demystify the Hollywood version of espionage most people are exposed to and show his students what really goes on at agencies like the CIA.
“The total budget [for the CIA] is secret,” Coyle said. “But as a future taxpayer, it’s important to know what you’re getting and what really goes on.”