Faculty uniforms: A longstanding tradition

Prof. Sean Prentiss (center) wears the Vermont State Militia uniform as part of his teaching job at NU.

Prof. Sean Prentiss (center) wears the Vermont State Militia uniform as part of his teaching job at NU.

Faculty uniform policies have long been a source of debate among students and faculty members at Norwich University. Despite questions about the need to have full-time faculty members wear a uniform under Norwich’s long-established Vermont State Militia (VSM), the practice will continue, according to the NU director of human resources.

As the oldest private military college in the United States, Norwich has numerous traditions and one of them is the wearing of uniforms.

“I don’t know too much about the history but I assume the policy has been in place since the school was designated as the Military College of Vermont,” said Jay Wisner, NU’s director of human resources.

According to Wisner, all regular faculty members are expected to wear the uniform, with the exception of faculty members in the architecture department.

The architecture department, according to Wisner, was established in 1978 when Vermont College in Montpelier was bought by Norwich. The civilian program was later transferred to NU in 2001, and professors of the architecture department were permitted to not have to wear the uniforms.

Wisner, who is responsible for human resources policies, procedures, employee benefits and salaries, as well as employee relations, said that the uniform for professors pays “respect to the Corps of Cadets and the institution.”

Although the uniform is designed only for the members of the Vermont State Militia, it is based on active duty uniforms in other services. “The uniform, as I understand it, was modeled after the U.S. Army’s Class B uniform,” Wisner said.

Two different authorities oversee NU faculty uniforms. “The commandants manage the standards of the uniform, whereas the academic administration is in charge of the enforcement,” Wisner said.

According to Wisner, the enforcement chain of command runs from the senior vice president of academic affairs to the deans to the department chairs.

“If any faculty members have any questions about the uniforms, their immediate supervisor would have the first responsibility,” Wisner said, adding that he usually directs professors to their colleagues or to the commandants.

Wisner also added that the uniforms are supplied at Norwich’s expense and faculty members are given an annual stipend to replace uniform items. “It is not cash, but a certain amount of items can be replaced at the uniform store.”

Though the actual date of the first faculty uniform is unknown, the uniform is believed to have originated around the mid 19th century. “Starting in the 1870s a comprehensive uniform policy began to emerge. It was more fully developed in 1898 when Norwich was recognized as the Military College of Vermont,” said Gary Lord, a professor and Norwich’s official historian.

“In 1909, a more comprehensive set of regulations was adopted that provided a foundation for uniform policy that evolved subsequently in the 20th century,” Lord said. He added that there were few regulations in the 19th century due to the institution’s small size.

“Some of the instructional staff members, including Capt. Alden Partridge, were U.S. Army veterans and could have worn the uniform of the military branch they previously served,” Lord said, mentioning that many staff members were cadets, so rules or separate uniforms were unnecessary for staff members.

The earliest known reference to a faculty uniform can be found in Prof. Alonzo Jackman’s journal entry in 1838. It is written that he “dressed in the uniform of the university” when he traveled to Quebec.

In 1874, the first faculty uniform was prescribed and in 1898, Norwich professors were given ranks according to their academic ranks, such as an assistant professor or a professor.

According to Lord, a more detailed uniform policy for the faculty was published in the Regulations for the Government of Norwich University. For example, the rules state that faculty members are required to appear in proper uniform when on duty and the lettered collar devices will change from “U.S.” to “N.U.”

While Norwich professors who wear the uniform are part of the Militia, that does not mean they have all had military training.

“I don’t know if the Vermont State Militia can even hold a formation,” said Travis Morris, an assistant professor at the school of criminal justice and sociology studies.

Morris, who obtained his doctoral degree in the summer of 2011, applied to teach at Norwich from Omaha, Neb.

“Vermont Militia is a historical function. I guess if New Hampshire was to revolt, they can count on us. However, I don’t see that happening any time soon. I see the Militia as a historical function,” Morris said, noting that there is no training or any form of military involvement in Militia.

Morris, who served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army and also as a police officer, said he didn’t mind being asked to wear a uniform because he was used to it.

“I was told about the institution and one of the things they told me and asked was that I had to wear a uniform and if I was okay with that,” he explained. “I went over to the clothing store, they fitted me for everything, and there was a diagram on the faculty website that said how we were to wear the uniforms,” he said.

Professors, according to Morris, receive instructions by the school on how to wear the uniforms. “Colonel Van Arnam, who was the commandant at that time, and an actual colonel, discussed the uniforms a week before the semester started.”

Although all full-time professors are expected to wear the uniform, Morris said he wears it as a sign of respect. “I don’t wear my Army decorations because I see this as a different part of my life. I wear the uniform regardless of its name – it can be Norwich Militia – I wear it out of respect to the institution that I work at.”

Not everyone may have the same approach, he said. “I haven’t noticed anything that is glaring around my college,” Morris said regarding the standards of his peers. “However, I walk across the campus sometimes and see someone with a Leatherman in their B’s (Winter B uniform) or white socks.”

Although Morris agreed that some professors do not wear the uniform properly, it’s not because they don’t care. “I don’t think the professors lack education; it’s mostly up to the professors preference or they are simply not informed,” he said.

The requirement to wear a uniform can have an impact on faculty in some instances. An NU alumnus, who has requested anonymity, said that he had a professor who openly refused to wear the uniform.

“A psychology professor told us on day one that she refused to wear the uniforms because it was not fashionable,” he said. The alumnus said he was one of the 20 students who complained about the professor’s noncompliance on the course evaluations. The professor started to wear the uniform in second semester, according to the alumnus, but did not remain at NU.

He said she is currently working at another university as a non-uniformed faculty.

The department chairs read course evaluations and uniform standard can be part of the evaluations.

Johannes Wheeldon, a new assistant professor in the school of justice and sociology came to teach at Norwich after meeting some of the faculty.

“I met some professors at the American Society of Criminology last November and I was impressed by them,” said Wheeldon.

“It was made clear to me that it was required to wear uniforms,” Wheeldon said, noting that faculty is required to wear the uniform from Monday through Friday, nine to five, when they are teaching on campus.

“I have read in The Guidon and other places that some professors dislike wearing uniforms,” Wheeldon commented, but he said there are important reasons for the requirement.

“I don’t necessarily love this uniform because I don’t like the material, but I think it makes sense for us to be in some sort of uniform given Norwich’s history and tradition,” he said.

Wheeldon would not mind if the current uniform was modified. “As we have seen with the Corps of Cadets, uniforms can change. With proper support and motivation, it is possible to change.”

He suggested gray pants, white shirt, and maroon sweaters to represent Norwich.

“Uniforms are part of the tradition here at Norwich and people recognize that. However, we can retain the important part of the tradition without being held to the past ways,” Wheeldon said.

Although Wheeldon is a new faculty member, he does think that an effort should be made to wear the uniforms as required.

“I think it’s very important that if you are going to wear it, wear it correctly. That shows respect to not only students, but to the university as a whole,” Wheeldon stated, adding that it was an “in for a penny, in for a pound” type of a deal.

Wheeldon believes that if you sign up for it, you have to live up to the standards.

Many students agree. According to a poll conducted on the Overheard group – a Norwich student-based Facebook group – 96 students out of 136 agreed that professors should continue to wear the uniform, but they should wear it correctly.

“My only concern is the proper wear of the uniform. If the students have standards, so should the professors,” said Samuel Gozo, 21, a senior criminal justice major from Rahway, N.J., commenting on Facebook.

Many students agree that professors must show that they care about the school by properly wearing uniforms. But other students in the Facebook site voted for professors to be given choices to wear the uniforms.

“I say it should be their choice because it’s very clear which professors don’t want to wear the uniform by the way they are wearing the uniform,” said Amber Marie Carini, 20, a history major from Knoxville, Tenn.

Carini believes that professors reflect how they view the school by the way they wear their uniforms. “If we’re teaching uniform standards as a corps then either the professors need the same type of teaching or they shouldn’t wear it all because it seems awkward to teach and enforce the uniform standard when your professors are not upholding it,” Carini said on Facebook, adding that some professors do not seem to know how to properly salute either.

Not every professor is unaware of the uniform standards. “I have left comments about my professor not wearing his uniform right in the end-of-the-year course review,” said Vicki Fielding, 25, a sports medicine major from Southbury, Conn.

Fielding said her professor shaped up and lost weight to look respectable the year after. Many faculty members agreed that students could help their professors.

“You can’t tell me that everyone in the Corps is absolutely perfect and looks all the same. I see cadets walking around whose uniforms are all messed up and it’s worse if I can notice it,” said Morris, who was a former Ranger, Airborne and Air Assault qualified.

Morris served with the 10th Mountain Division and retired as a captain.

“Sometimes students can help professionally. You have that knowledge and you have attention to detail but what it’s really saying is that it matters to you,” Morris said, adding that students must be respectful and professional.

“If I am standing in a lecture with my collar messed up, that’s what most of the students will pay attention to,” Morris added.

“Don’t be shy, although a faculty member could be intimidating. If you see a faculty member wearing uniform incorrectly, be calm and respectful to point it out. I think all faculty members will appreciate that,” Wisner said.

Wisner said that since the U.S. Army is phasing out the old green uniforms, Norwich would be able to maintain its uniform as the distinctive uniform for the Vermont State Militia.

Although some members of the U.S. Army still wear the green uniform, it has been, by policy, phased out.

“The green uniforms are no longer the official U.S. Army uniforms. All of the officers have transitioned to the blue Army Service Uniforms and so did most enlisted personnel,” said Rob Kumpf, an active duty non-commissioned officer who is currently serving in a Warrior Transitional Unit in Illinois.

Kumpf, a Norwich alumnus, said that the concern should not be what the uniform is; it’s how the standard is enforced for the students and faculties.

Although uniform standards and legitimacy have been a debated topic for the Norwich community, it’s a respect and honor for the tradition of the institution that will keep them being worn by faculty members.

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