‘Jackman’ term sheds negative light on administration

Jackman Hall, where the university administration is located.

Jackman Hall, where the university administration is located.

 

Looming over the Upper Parade ground, casting watchful eye upon the Norwich campus, Jackman Hall hides away the heads of the university and sits as if in wait of the student passersby. The administration operating Norwich University (NU) has developed a negative image under the label “Jackman” that impacts the administrators’ relationships to students, according to a staff member.

“I have heard a negative connotation applied to references to Jackman,” said Steve Fitzhugh, the associate professor of electrical engineering, the department chair of electrical engineering, and the chair of the Faculty Senate at NU.

“Impressions can be driven by guilt (or) by association, both positive and negative,” said Rev. William Wick, the Norwich University chaplin. “Remember that Jackman is not a functioning organism, it is people in a building so it can run the gamut (of types).”

‘Types’, according to Wick, refer to individual people who should not be stereotyped together based upon isolated incidents. For him, erasing his mind of all preconceived judgments of people at the beginning of each school year is important.

However, according to Fitzhugh, who has worked in the corporate world and owned his own business prior to coming to Norwich, the tension between the administration, the faculty and students is normal.

“It’s not to be unexpected,” Fitzhugh said. “I think with any organization it’s always a possibility that there will be tension between the administration (or) the executive offices and the other employees.”

According to Fitzhugh, NU may have a struggle with tension comparable to that of other schools and organizations he is familiar with. “So, I wouldn’t say that (the tension is) different at NU,” he said. “I feel that it probably less of an issue here than at other places.”

On the other hand, it is undeniable that the problem exists. “There’s always a tendency for folks to harbor some distrust for the administration or whether it be in corporate America or in an institution like a university,” Fitzhugh said from his experiences in the corporate world. “And, in many cases, that mistrust is due to lack of transparency in the organization.”

The mistrust of the administration is an understood commonality that is not specific to Norwich, according to Kelly Smith, the executive secretary to the vice president of student affairs and the commandant of cadets. “I think that the majority of the administrators understand that this is not a situation unique to Norwich,” Smith said, comparing NU to her own college experience and knowledge of comparable schools. “Administrators at universities all over the country face the same sort of labels and I think we as a staff recognize that it’s not personal and we recognized that there are frustrations, there will always be frustrations.”

With this understanding, Smith does not take the students’ “depersonalize(ation)” of Jackman as a personal attack. “I don’t take when people say things about Jackman personally. I understand that there are frustrations (and) it’s not about me as an individual,” Smith said. “It’s frustration with processes and it goes back to communication.”

“I find frustration when I find students talking about finding the administration unapproachable because that’s not been my experience here,” Smith said. “As a staff, I think we do a very good job of working with students.”

Robin Taylor, NU’13 and a former mathematics major from Columbia, S.C., feels the mistrust of select offices in Jackman Hall did not deter her from going to Jackman for help. “I (could) walk into a building,” Taylor said of her comfort with going into Jackman during her time at NU, “but I will say there are some administrators that I would (have) prefer(ed) not to talk because I believe that they will twist my words or give me a wrong answer (or) misguide me.”

This is not to say that Taylor does not feel comfortable with Jackman in its entirety. “For the most part I am comfortable speaking to most of the administrators and expecting a straight-forward, clear-cut answer from them and them willing to be helpful,” Taylor said.

Maj. Kristine Seipel, NU’04 and current NU housing adjutant, has a unique perception of Jackman as both a student and an administrator. “It‘s hard to say completely no, that I don’t believe in (the label of Jackman) because I was a student once before and lived under the umbrella of ‘Jackman is bad’.”

She recalls her cadre staff, the upperclassmen students in charge of her freshman platoon during her rook year in 2000, using the term Jackman in a negative sense a passing on the negative connotation the building has had. As a result of her leaders’ influence, she perceived the building at the end of the Upper Parade Ground in the same light.

However, upon becoming a part of the administration herself, Seipel has a different perception of the term Jackman, a term that she now falls under.

“Working here, I get very upset when people say that I am Jackman,” Seipel said. “First of all, I am not Alonzo Jackman, who the building is named after. Second, I am an individual person and I think it upsets me too because (students) see it as a negative vibe.”

A large part of any positive connection between the students and the administration is the “transparency” of the latter, according to Fitzhugh. “The administration (and) the president have been, in my experience, very open and transparent as much as he can be in that role,” Fitzhugh said.

Conversely, there are those see a lack of crystal-clear transparency as a dilemma for the administration and students. “[One] thing about Jackman that is problematic for students, both corps and civilian,” Wick said, “is that Jackman can’t always explain to you guys the reasons for their decisions.”

Wick says that due to privacy laws, such as pertaining to one’s medical history, Jackman Hall is limited in what they are allowed to make public, therefore mucking the ideally transparent relationship between the administration and the rest of the NU community.

In spite of the slightly shrouded view that separates the students from Jackman, NU’s sense of community with one another is a strength. The closeness of the Norwich community, according to Fitzhugh, makes NU a better institution than the others he knows of. “Compared to other institutions that I am familiar with, Norwich is a much closer-knit group,” Fitzhugh said.

However, the administration is at the forefront of the university and because of its authority, there is a separation between it and the rest of the university. “(Jackman is) kind of the big house (or) the overseer,” said Patricia Ferreira, the associate professor of English.

Within the tight relationship of the bodies that make up the Norwich community, the common goal is the betterment of the university. “I think that the individuals who play (a part) work very hard for Norwich and work very hard for the school. Ultimately, I think that, just like faculty, they have the best intentions in mind.”

Even with good intentions and gradual steps toward improvement, there are still conflicts between the administration and the faculty. According to Ferreira, one such problem is the prioritization of matters to improve the university’s image, such as posting legalities and laws on the Registrar’s web page above daily matters and academic information.

While the web page issue is small example, according to Ferreira, it is “replicated in other venues” to indicate a broader disconnect within the university. “There seems to be a disconnection between what we are actually doing at Norwich and our image,” Ferreira said.

As a member of the faculty, Ferreira has been involved in various faculty positions and committees, which are planned by the faculty senate in order to include faculty members. However, the process of the faculty’s involvement in the governance of the university is often overlooked. “Sometimes there is an expression: ‘well, Jackman says’ or ‘the Registrar said.’ But there’s nothing written in terms of the academic memoranda (that is) evidence,” Ferreira said. “It’s kind of taken for granted that (the faculty will) be foot soldiers without asking where, or why, and when.”

However, in her nearly two decades of experience as a professor, Ferreira has seen great strides toward a stronger faculty presence that is supported by Richard W. Schneider, president of the university and head of the administration.

“I think that there have been great strides in relation to the faculty’s role in the governance of the institution but there are still some things that need to be improved upon,” Ferreira said of the gradual improvements made by a combination of the faculty’s determination and the administrative support. “I think that you have at Norwich right now a much more involved the faculty (and) the faculty are heavily involved in the welfare of the institution.”

Being summoned to Jackman Hall, even for punitive action, is not necessarily the terrible experience that students have a preconceived notion of, according to David Picardi, NU’13 and former criminal justice major from Hanover, Mass.

“Where that label comes from, from what I’ve seen, is that people think that Jackman is just out to get you,” Picardi said, “because they are the people who have to do all of the punishment.”

Picardi, who was ordered to Jackman for punitive action says that he had the preconceived notion that he was getting into even more trouble when he was called to Jackman.

However, this predisposition has proven false for Picardi. “When I was talking to Lt. Col. (Allen) Lane (an assistant commandant of cadets) about my punishment, he was a great guy,” Picardi said. “He’s got to do his job, the punishment needed to be dealt.”

Picardi served his working tours in Smith’s office. While getting to know a few of the Jackman employees, Picardi says that he respected Lane.

“I think if (students) really want to go talk to somebody, they have a tendency to (think): ‘it’s Jackman, I don’t really want to be here,’” Picardi said of the general student mind-set.

As a result of his positive experience working for Smith in Jackman, Picardi’s original generalization of the building has changed – yet he still avoids the building. “I don’t mind (Jackman) as much,” Picardi said “but I don’t feel I’d go there still.”

In spite of his changed view of the administration, Picardi associates Jackman Hall and the offices resident there with punitive action and a fear of punishment. “It’s just one of those things where I feel I want to avoid Jackman as much as possible,” Picardi said. “You don’t like to be punished.”

“I’m not tied in to punitive sanction for anyone,” Wick said, explaining why students may feel more comfortable going to him in White Chapel. “I can advise, I cannot command (and) I can counsel an individual. If I was a ranking officer like the assistant commandant or commandant, then I could give an order.”

Since he is housed outside of Jackman Hall, Wick has found that his non-punitive position, and being removed from the offices where students may face unpleasant discipline, has allowed him to develop personal relationships with students that the administrative officers of Jackman do not. As a result of not getting to know the students individually, administrators are more apt to make decisions on behalf of the university’s interest and not necessarily the student’s, he said..

“Authority without relationship can become abusive,” Wick said of one reason why students have a negative image of Jackman. “Authority with relationship does not, the point being that if we do not know our people then we could make a decision without realizing the consequences.”

According to Ryan Van Noordt, NU’12 and former political science major hailing from Forest, Va., the conflict between the administration and the students comes from a lack of a positive association between the two groups.

As a cadet leader who has worked with Jackman officials, specifically with punitive dilemmas and housing check-outs, Van Noordt has had the opportunity to build personal relationships with administrators and sees the difference that experience made for his judgment of Jackman.

“The problem is that some of the cadets don’t want the commandants to intervene too much with the cadets,” Van Noordt said, considering the commandants as “mentors” to cadet leaders rather than the primary managers. “(Those cadets) don’t want that micromanaging to happen; they’d rather the cadets do it. So, the only time you really see the commandants are for big things, like a VAP (Violation of the Alcohol Policy), otherwise you’re dealing with a cadet.”

The issue is a source of discontentment, according to Van Noordt, because students also do not see the work that administrators put into their roles in the university and become angered when their expectations are not met. “I think people expect a lot out of those individuals and don’t see the hard work that they put in,” Van Noordt said.

Interacting with the administration would benefit not only Jackman’s relationship with the student body, but also its relationship with the faculty, according to Ferreira. “Faculty (members) have to participate in committee meetings that we are involved in our daily life,” Ferreira said. “So, essentially we are in the venues of admin and I guess it would be nice to see some of the administrators in the venues of education.”

In recognizing the educational backgrounds and accomplishments of some of the administrators, Ferreira says that administrators could better see the faculty’s point of view by teaching classes.

“Sometimes, it would behoove the (administrators) to teach every now and then,” Ferreira said, “to remind them what it’s like to be in a Norwich classroom.”

“There is no doubt that the administration has Norwich’s best interest at stake, but I think what happens in the class room is what happens on the ground and it’s good to keep a hold on that,” Ferreira said. “It’s a crucial part of life here.”

Referring specially to his time working with Seipel, Van Noordt says that the negative connotation stems in part from the students’ selfishness. “She does the work of literally five people. She’s probably one of the hardest working people I’ve seen up (in Jackman),” Van Noordt said. “Everyone sees this negative connotation with her, because they’re just worried about themselves and she has a lot more on her plate than they know.”

“The folk who give their best can get discouraged,” Wick said of his colleagues in Jackman Hall. “That’s not the appreciation of all of the hours they put in to make [a task] happen.”

Making sure that the students get what they need often involves working overtime, according to Wick. “There are many lights that burn long past 4:30 in the afternoon at closing time. I find many colleagues up there (who) are there until the job gets done.”

As a result of the time and effort it takes to keep up with the job standard, those individuals who do not sincerely care for the betterment of the students often leave. “I would say that those who do not care for students don’t last long,” Wick said. “Many of those there really do care for students.”

Those individuals who continue to work in Jackman Hall, such as Smith, are impacted by the negativity of the label. “When I first started here, I didn’t realize (the prevalence of the label),” Smith said. “It took some getting used to when I would hear a student out in the hall say ‘no one in Jackman listens to me’ because I would think ‘well, I’ll listen to you.’ So, it was a little hard to get used to.”

The administration works to help the students to succeed, Smith says, and the negative image of Jackman is a source of frustration. “I find frustration when I find students talking about finding the administration unapproachable because that’s not been my experience here,” Smith said.

Similar to Seipel, Van Noordt first heard the term Jackman from his cadre as a freshman and compares its context then and now. “(They used the term) just because they saw it the way that we do now,” Van Noordt said. “They only saw the commandants when they were in trouble.

In his opinion, Van Noordt says that the term describes the frustrations both students and faculty share. “I think it’s directed, overall, at people’s frustrations (such as) frustrations with financial reasons, with registering for a class, and just getting in trouble in general.”

According to Smith, much of the frustration students feel toward Jackman and the administration blossoms out of miscommunication. “I feel like a lot of times, a lot of frustration can be traced back to just not understanding the facts or the processes behind why things are the way they are,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Jackman is (and) what Jackman does.”

Communication, according to Smith, is a major factor in the misrepresentation of Jackman due to the spread of misinformation. “There are a lot of ways in which we could improve (the student frustration) in terms of open communication,” Smith said.

Smith suggests that communication could be improved by not only employing technology, but using it in a way that students relate to. “One of the things that we could do a better job at is utilizing technology the way that they use it,” Smith said.

Smith often uses Facebook instead of e-mail because it is a form of communication that students use and understand. “I think that as a university we have resources available to us that we don’t take the most advantage of,” Smith said.

Another example of how the administration can improve communication with students, Smith says, is the use of the Team Sites for posting forms and passing on information. The commandant staff is currently updating its page to reduce the amount of paperwork involved in the administrative processes and to ease them all together.

From a student’s point of view, Taylor says that she does not foresee complete agreement within the “parent-child” relationship of Jackman and the student body. Yet, she does note the progress being made in improving communication. Taylor said. “However, I do see progress being made in a way. There is an open door policy (and) there is communication between the two groups.

Administrators like Seipel say they want to be recognized as individuals and not some building with a bad connotation. “I don’t like getting called Jackman just as much as my colleagues don’t like getting called Jackman either,” Seipel said.

“Jackman is a building,” Fitzhugh said, separating the individual offices from the condemning label. “The individuals in Jackman Hall are individuals and you need to deal with individuals on an individual basis.”

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