Honor Committees remain unresolved

After an order from the university president and the Board of Trustees,  Norwich University’s honor committees are months behind in implementing a standard process to adjudicate honor cases independent of lifestyle, a process that became more complicated than many had expected.

 Although the honor system was not officially adopted at Norwich University until 1951, it has always been a strong aspect of the school’s lifestyle. The student honor code states that a “cadet shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do,” and the code maintains a minimum standard of ethical behavior for students to live by.

Norwich’s president, Richard Schneider, reported in The Guidon’s last issue that according to the Noel Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory Survey, which NU has retaken every other year since 2006, students are not satisfied with the discipline system. Additionally, both the Civilian and Corps Blue Ribbon Committees, which assess student satisfaction as well, discovered the same problem: an overall dissatisfaction with the discipline system.

Honor Committee chairs from both lifestyles from left to right: Thomas Houghton, Brian Dunne, and Kayla Weimert (not pictured: Katie Anderson)

Honor Committee chairs from both lifestyles from left to right: Thomas Houghton, Brian Dunne, and Kayla Weimert. Not pictured: Katie Anderson (Thomas Carson Photo)

Norwich’s Board of Trustees has looked at both the disciplinary system according to the rules and regulations as well as the different honor committees and how each functions. Since the standards of living and some rules differ between the corps and civilian lifestyles, the board was comfortable with separate, but parallel discipline processes.

“The honor code has the same standard for everyone,” said President Richard Schneider, NU’s president since 1992. The concept of reconstructing the honor committees was announced in the spring of 2012 to both civilian and corps honor committee members.

Nearly a year later, the implementation of the new process has not been fulfilled and the two committees are currently both working to come up with a solution that satisfies both lifestyles as well as the administration.

When introduced to the student committees, the university administration stated that this change would be a process everyone was involved in. During the summer of 2012, the “interim construct,” or temporary pause for the process to be developed, for the honor committees was put together by the administration and ready in the fall for student input, Schneider said at a meeting he held with both the civilian and corps honor committees.

The construct included two honor chairs for each lifestyle and when the committee was in a hearing, the majority of the board members would be “of the same flavor” as the person being tried, he said.

“Last year, they told us that we’d be in the process the whole way when it came to constructing a new committee,” said Daniel Hein, 21, a criminal justice major from Nashua, N.H. Hein acts as the vice-honor chair of the junior committee for the corps. “A lot of the interim construct was completed over summer break when no students were here. That’s one huge flaw that we don’t agree with at all,” he said.

Changes are not new to the corps honor committee, assured Reverend William Wick, who has been advisor on honors for the past 15 years. When he began working with the committee, he researched 50 different schools and their honor codes, created an efficient adjudication process, and tweaked it. Every year since he began, the entire honor committee team has adjusted the manual to fit the students of the time.

Next fall, Wick will say his goodbyes to working with the honor committee as Lt. Col. Duncan Currier takes over the new honor system. “I haven’t had many nights at home with my wife in 15 years. It’s been a privilege to work with it but it may be time to close that chapter,” Wick said.

As it stands currently, the corps and civilian honor committees run their systems very differently. The corps honor committee is divided into a sophomore, junior and senior honor committee. These three sectors work together as one to have a just and efficient system. Each class year has 12 members who are elected by their peers, with each class year fulfilling a specific role.

The senior committee holds the hearings and decides the verdict of the case. The corps honor committee is currently chaired by Brian Dunne, a 22-year-old senior criminal justice major from Peabody, Mass.

The junior class is responsible for doing the investigation and collecting all necessary information for the trial. The sophomore class is in charge of assisting the juniors during the investigation. “We compile all of the case packets, and we also assist at all of the trials for the seniors,” said Regan Stein, 19, a biochemistry major from Eastpointe, Mich., who is the sophomore class honor chair.

For each case that goes through the corps honor committee, the student being tried had a choice of whether they wanted an open-hearing, meaning that the public was able to witness it, or a closed hearing. As of this semester, this is no longer a choice for the student. “At the moment, we’re not having open hearings at the direction of the president, and we’re waiting on some legal clarification for that,” Dunne said.

Another aspect unique to the corps honor committee is the honor advocate liaison officer (HALO) a position developed by students years ago to help the person being tried understand what was going on and have a peer on his or her side to work with.

This 36-person team does most of the work on their own, with the advice of Wick. “I sat back and let them do their work. They are placed their by their peers and they can do their jobs,” he said.

Although this large team all have separate tasks, the size of the committee triples that of the civilian honor committee. “There is nothing wrong in having 10, 12, but not 40. I think once we almost became the size of a club, I think that takes away some of probably what some of this is all about,” said Dean Martha Mathis, the dean of students who has worked with the civilian honor committee in some way over the her 22 years at Norwich.

The civilian honor committee currently has nine members, said Timothy Fuger, 20, an architecture major from Long Island, N.Y. Fuger was the civilian honor chair for the fall semester, but turned it over to two co-chairs for the spring as he studies abroad in Rome.

The civilian honor committee members are chosen based on an interview held by Martha Mathis, dean of students. The investigations for each case are completed by the administration and then the students determine the verdict.

The civilian honor committee began when civilian students first were admitted to Norwich in 1993.  The committee has always held closed hearings. Up until this year, the civilian honor committee was also involved in the disciplinary process, said Ryan Johnson, the assistant dean of students, who became the honor committee advisor last year.

The structural differences in these two committees have set the stage for a great number of opinions to be voiced regarding the impending change.

This past fall semester, Schneider was not seeing the expected progress being made on the implementation of the new system. In response, he held meetings with all of the administration involved along with both honor committees. “When I asked the staff what kind of progress we have made on the interim construct and what advice have the students have given you about changes that they want to make to it, they said, ‘we haven’t even talked about it yet,’” Schneider said.

“We’ve written a proposal and passed it up the proper chains of command,” said Dusty Shimkus, 22, a history major from Collinsville, Ill. Shimkus is a member of the senior corps honor committee as well as this year’s cadet colonel. “We don’t feel like the president has been told the truth the whole time by the administration,” he said.

This lack of communication ran deep. So, Schneider ordered the committees to create a sub-committee that will work solely on the interim construct and plans for the future of Norwich’s honor committees.

“The entire committee has been involved because we are the future of the honor committee, so basically all opportunities to meet with the president, they’ve said that anyone who wants to go can,” Steen said.

“In the beginning of the semester, there was some miscommunication with everything that was going on which is difficult, but I feel that recently, there was a memorandum put out by Gen. Schneider so now they are making a committee with two sophomores, two juniors, and a senior from the corps honor committee and the civilian honor committee and it is going to be their job to come up with a proposal for the new system and they have to have that done by March and they will presenting it to everyone else and checking back with both of the committees along the way to get input,” she said.

“The seniors had to fight to get one member onto this committee because they will not technically be a part of the group that puts this idea into place,” Shimkus said. “The seniors kind of had to reinstate themselves into the conversation, because it seemed as if the administration was just waiting for the seniors to graduate because they are most strongly opposed.”

Michael Guzman, a 21-year-old physical education major was the senior selected to be a member of this committee. He says that he joined “to show that I am still relevant.” The seniors are the only ones that have done the deliberating for a trial and have a lot of information to offer the underclassmen.

“Making sure that every side is being heard and that things actually get accomplished. Our biggest problem so far has been the lack of clear communication,” said Kayla Weimert, 21, a senior engineering major from La Plata, Md. “If we’re having this planning committee, at least it sets a spot for people to bring ideas forward.” Weimhart is one of the civilian co-chairs for this spring semester and has been a member of the committee since the end of her freshman year.

Speaking on behalf of the civilian honor committee, Fuger said that when the committee was told about the changes and about the interim construct year, “We were happy to hear it and very enthusiastic.” They view the corps of cadets’ process with the honor committee to be one that the civilians would like to adopt. “The honor code is the honor code,” he said.

“The huge issue is the civilian and the corps honor committees merging and that wasn’t addressed at all during the second meeting,” Shimkus said. “We’re on board with one system, but there are different courses of actions we can take to keep the integrity of the corps, but still meet the mission set up by the board of trustees.”

As this sub-committee works on a plan for the future, many details are subject to change. Besides a shift in administrative leadership, discussion is underway regarding open or closed hearings pending legal advice, the existence of a HALO, the composition of the board, the number of students on the committee, how the students become members of the committee, and who votes for the final decision.

“Personally, it was one of the main things I had an issue with because I believe that open hearings are part of that whole transparency thing,” Steen said. “People can come and see the questioning and hear the decision and everything.” Shimkus agreed, questioning what other way the students could gain the trust of the committee.

“I think open hearings as an option allow people to see the process and it takes away a lot of the mystery with us and any sort of fear,” Dunne explained. “Doing business behind closed doors (is) how rumors and conjecture start.”

“If they can hold onto something like that as this is put together, that’s the only thing I can really say, has been very unique to what the corps has done and I respect that very highly,” Wick said regarding the HALO position.

While the sub-committee works out these details, the civilian and corps committees are required to have one person from each sit on the other’s hearings to increase knowledge of how each group works. “For now, as the seniors deliberate, there will be a civilian non-voting member sit in which is just temporary until the committee comes up with a new plan,” Steen said.

The composition of the committee has an unlimited amount of possibilities. “I think we should maintain two honor committees under the same system, so that we’re both working from the same playbook and I think that would be best for everyone involved, and that actually does fit the criteria for what the board of trustees directed,” Dunne said, giving his personal opinion.

The working group has to have something to present to the president before spring break. “The group will present something to the president, he will take a look and make sure it fits the criteria, and then he’ll pass that up,” Dunne said. “With any luck, that will be that.”

While the students wait to hear what will become the honor committees, communication among the leaders of the change is improving.  Next year’s honor committee elections are approaching and the sub-committee is working hard to fight for what they believe in.

Comments

  1. So, just the fact that they want to merge them just proves how politically correct we have gotten. To a point where everyone is a winner. I have no problem having Corps and Civilians on cases that are specifically for civilians. Dean Mathis picks the civilian honor committee personnel, as most of us know. The corps votes on the people who are to lead. The corps picks based on democracy, not a dictatorship style.

    If the Corps merges with the Civilians honor committee, we might as well just give them an MCV diploma, because apparently our four years of military leadership style training means nothing at all, and our ring might as well be handed over for the Civilians as well. I am really disappointed that the school would simply roll over and say “Civilians are the same as Corps”. Well then, why do they have their own oath? Why do they live off of the Upper Parade Ground? Why don’t they wear uniforms? Or at least come out and salute the flag like the NUCC does.

    If they wan’t to be treated the same way as the corps in terms of honesty, integrity, character, and overall demeanor, they should switch their lifestyle to Norwich University Corps of Cadets.

    It reads in my rookbook: The Honor System is an essential element in the character molding which goes on at Norwich University and which is one of the greatest assets of the institution. It is a vital influence in the day-to-day life of every CADET. Instances are constantly occurring which show how much the system means to the corps of cadets.

    The simple fact that cadets on the committee take off their rings to show we are all the same under the honor code should be enough to prove that merging them is a terrible idea. Most cadets will wear their rings every day to remember the struggle and time spent in blood, sweat and tears, to earn that ring. Most civilians will not even bother ordering one.

    In one of my most read books, lies a message from President Schnieder that reads: Read this book carefully and review it routinely throughout your four years at Norwich. Take this book with you and when you are troubled or facing difficult times, reread this book. It will provide the right moral compass.

    That book is called the Rook Book, or Cadet Handbook. It is not issued to the civlians at Norwich University. How can we merge them when they are not held to the same standard as us? Is this not the Military College of Vermont? When it came to choosing what I wanted to do at Norwich, I took the road less traveled by, I chose the NUCC, and that made all the difference.

  2. Why do the two have to merge? Let the Corps be as it has and let the civilian component run theirs. Why is there a need to undo every tradition in the USA and or NU? Am I missing something?

  3. Paul Bartomioli says:

    As a parent, I have been following this. I know that shortly after it was announced, the reaction of alumni was not at all positive. I do not believe that idea has changed. The tension between Corps and Civilian mirrors contemporary society. The Corps is unique. The Corps is Special. The civilian population is no different than that found at any other insitution. The civilian side of Norwich allows those that choose not to be part of the Corps to study in a unique situation. All of the benefits without the cost, PT, discipline, regimentation, and so on.

    All that being said, I agree with Mr. Black and the other members of the Corps. This is a PC motivated decison, that did not consider its full impact on Norwich. The fact that this change is more difficult than anticipated should be fair warning. Stop the process.

  4. Mark Maitag NUCC'94 says:

    “Lifestyle”…that is an interesting word: denoting difference in culture and values. Both “lifestyles” attend the same classes, play on the same sports teams, and probably interact more often then not for extracurricular activities – they aren’t much different from one-another beyond “Corps” activities and standards. If we assume that both “lifestyles” share common values and culture with respect to the honor code/system, then perhaps merging the two would ensure equitable outcomes for both “lifestyles.” If that is the reason for merging, and not some other interest, then I support the concept. However, if the merger is based on some kind of reason of “inclusion”/political correctness, or if the honor code is debased as a result of the merger, then I withdraw my support. As a former cadet, my opinion is probably not popular, but I find it hard not to support an egalitarian system for an honor code that is the same for both “lifestyles”.

    If I’m reading the article correctly, currently there are two different systems for adjudicating honor violations…that doesn’t seem very just considering the honor code is the same for both – and probably the impetus for merger. Also, the issue of merging seems complicated by competing processes and trying to decide what the resulting process should look like. What is missing from this article is what guidance was given by the President or the Board of Trustees, or what was discussed with the administration. I’d be interested to see how this effort is being guided by the administration, and what criteria is required in each potential course of action. What are the areas of friction beyond Corps vs Civilian mantra? I’m trying to figure out why coming up with a common system is so complicated? Something is missing.

  5. Let water seek its own level…leave Corps and Civilian Honor committee alone….

  6. Paul L. Murray says:

    Just another nail in the coffin of the Corps of Cadets!

  7. Pitchapa Chomduang says:

    1. to do all good,
    2. not to do any evil
    3. and to purify the mind.

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