Rook Recognition: Delay, controversy, and the story behind it all

Norwich President Richard Schneider has issued a statement on the delay in Rook Recognition to alumni. To read it, click on this link:

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The Corps of Cadets’ administrative and cadet leadership confer over Recognition.(Left to right) C/CSM Matthew Coston, C/COL Ryan Sutherland, C/LTC Jacob Griffin, Brig. Gen. Frank Vanecek, C/LTC Nathaniel Edmondson, Col. Russell Holden, and C/MAJ Elle Kadel. (Photo: Nick Castro)

They had been talking on the main floor of Plumley Armory for over an hour. The staff and cadet leaders clustered around the phone while the upper class cadets leaned over the track railing above the leaderships’ heads. They waited, listened, and watched until 2315 (11:15 p.m.), when Cadet Colonel Ryan Sutherland looked up and gave the signal.

“Rook Recognition” had been cancelled.

According to the 2013 Cadet Handbook, Rook Recognition was scheduled for Jan. 19, 2014. However, 15 minutes before the traditional ceremony was set to take place, the administrative and cadet leadership took the unusual and controversial step to postpone the ceremony, a key passage in the four-year military life of Norwich cadets.

Behind the decision were vigorous last-minute back and forth phone conversations among NU administration and cadet leadership, focused on a host of issues around what standards Rooks had to meet, the fair implementation of those standards and concern about a lack of written rules spelling out how they would impact recognition. In the process, a Rook class of 2017 was left hanging late at night, confused and uncertain about their fate.

Rook Recognition is a traditional ceremony marking the end of a first year corps member’s transition from a green novice Rook to a cadet. “We have been studying and analyzing recognition for a long time,” said Col. Russell Holden, the commandant of cadets and a NU alum. Its history is not totally clear. “Recognition is a very old tradition at Norwich, but to be honest with you, I don’t know how far back (it goes),” said NU President Richard W. Schneider. However, one thing that is sure is that the amount of “fanfare” or ceremonial practice has changed drastically over time.

“The regimental commander, with the commandant, would decide when the Rooks had done enough (and) that they could be recognized as a class,” Schneider said. Over the past few years, he says, an increase in standards Rooks must meet pushed recognition out to March. “We were requiring them to do more things.”

In the past, Holden says, recognition was not a structured event and could happen as early as November to as late as April, depending upon the cadet colonel’s decision. In more recent years, the date of recognition has been placed in the Cadet Handbook. While this year’s recognition date is not a new addition to the Corps’ calendar, this is the first year that the training for Rooks had been codified, and that is where the issues over recognition arose.

About three days before planned recognition, the cadet leaders with Sutherland at the helm, presented a “very compelling argument” not to recognize around 50 or so Rooks who had not passed a physical fitness test (PFT) or a Rook Knowledge Exam.

The basis of this argument traces back to the beginning of the academic year. This year marks the first year in the history of Norwich University that the corps has implemented “Technical Standards,” Schneider says.

The Technical Standards allow the leadership to “control” the types of students allowed to enter the corps, particularly considering their mental and emotional states prior to arrival. The standards also answer the major question: “What does it mean to be a cadet?” said Schneider.

Representing the student corps, Cadet Col. Ryan Sutherland, 21, a senior computer security information assurance major from Palmyra, Penn., has been a major supporter of the new standards, which he believes cadets have “always wanted.” “It is a huge change and I think that this is something that the Corps wants,” he said.

In the discussions preceding the recognition date, because all the standards had not been met by around 50 or so Rooks, the argument was that the entire Rook class could not be recognized.

“The way that we (the cadet command staff and commandants) interpreted the Technical Standards was that these are the minimum standards to be a cadet,” Sutherland said. As a result, a plan was approved to not recognize just the 50 Rooks specifically until they had met all of the standard requirements.

However, Schneider reversed that order the day after it was approved by corps leaders on the Thursday before Sunday recognition. “(Not planning on recognizing individual cadets) is where we were Friday night,” Schneider said, “and I said ‘Guys, that’s not a good solution.’”

The main flaw pointed out when considering the cadet command group’s logic behind the partial recognition was the idea that the Technical Standards “were never linked to recognition,” Holden said, calling that an error that occurred among the NU cadet leadership and the administration, except for Schneider.

Additionally, the prospect of only partial Rook Recognition raised some logistical issues and, as Schneider put it, there wasn’t time to “prepare the battle space” to argue for it because Schneider had not briefed alumni groups or the Board of Trustees. There was no plan in place for handling having unrecognized Rooks in rooms with recognized Rooks, he noted.

Another problem was that there had been a consistent tradition of recognizing the entire Rook class, which had never been called into question before. “Up until now, recognition had been the whole class,” Schneider confirmed after considering his conversations with alums of all class years.

On the day before recognition, Saturday, Sutherland said that he “accepted orders” from the president and declared that all of the Rooks would be recognized. However, when the night of the ceremony came, he reconsidered his concession and approached Holden in Plumley Armory minutes before the ceremony, launching the last minute deliberations.

“So I called the president at 2200,” he said, knowing the ceremony was set to begin in just a few minutes at 2215 (10:15 p.m.). According to Sutherland, he said to Schneider: “At least afford me the opportunity to sit down with my staff and my peers to discuss this.”

Sutherland, Schneider, three other cadet leaders present, Vice President of Student Affairs Brig. Gen. Frank Vanecek, and Holden deliberated about whether or not more time was needed to plan for recognizing all of the Rook class or not.

“What I have often said to my commanders is that many of the decisions you make as a cadet, are difficult because of time constraints,” Sutherland said. He wanted more time to collaborate with his fellow cadet leaders before the ceremony. “There were a lot of unanswered questions.”

At 10:10 p.m., Sutherland said, Schneider asked him for ten minutes to consider the delay in recognition. During that time, Sutherland sent his runners to tell the Norwich Artillery battery (NAB) to hold fire and to spread the word to hold off on Recognition.

In the end, Sutherland says, Schneider confirmed that the cadet colonel had the right, as the “voice of the Corps,” to postpone recognition if that was the consensus of the corps.

“It was better not to do anything, I agree with the Regimental Commander,” Schneider said of his support for Sutherland’s call as an extension of the corps’ overall opinion. “It’s their (the cadets’) corps, not mine.”

Though he openly admitted that nothing might change in the week’s worth of time, Sutherland thought it was worth a delay to think through the decision to recognize the entire class despite their not all having met the Technical Standards. “But at least we would have the time to discuss the best course of action,” he said, “and that’s all I asked was for time.”

Having made a request on behalf of his fellow cadets, Sutherland said leadership was aware of the potential backlash from both external and internal groups. “We all felt that more time was needed, but we were all concerned for the unintended consequences.”

The majority of the feedback, however, was positive and supportive, save about ten total calls from parents and some negative comments via social media. Internally, however, the backlash was strong.

“Obviously a lot of Rooks were upset,” Sutherland said. Some Rooks approached their cadre staffs and expressed the desire to leave the university. Others blamed themselves for the cancellation of their class Recognition.

Concerned, Sutherland held an open forum with the Rooks and cadre the following Tuesday in Dole Auditorium to explain why recognition was postponed, to reiterate his pride in having watched their progress, and to counter the idea that any one individual is to blame. “The Rooks should know that I am proud of them,” Sutherland said. “It’s inspiring (to see how far they have come).”

That view is shared by Norwich’s president. “I would argue that this is one of the best-prepared Rook classes I have seen because they worked so hard on the standards,” Schneider said.

While there was obvious upset and some criticism, some leadership members also say Rooks gained an opportunity to persevere through what will be one of many “disappointing” moments in their lives. “This is not going to be the last thing that disappoints them in their life,” Schneider argued. “Nothing is given to you for free.”

“I don’t think that they should be disappointed by a single decision or a single night in their four years here at Norwich,” Sutherland agreed. “They shouldn’t feel like their accomplishments have been diminished.”

The reasoning behind pushing back the Recognition date for the Class of 2017 is important to understand, as is the benefit that comes of improving collaboration and discussion, Sutherland said. “The good that comes out of all of this is that the communication is opened up now,” Sutherland said, noting a newfound voice the cadet leaders have gained when making decisions about their corps.

“I think that this is a very good thing for Norwich,” Holden agreed, referring to the discussions spurred about the Technical Standards and how those do, or do not, link to whether or not a Rook should be recognized.

In the end, the Rook class of 2017 was recognized in a traditional ceremony held the following Sunday, a week after the postponement and after the cadet and administrative leadership had time to consider the issues around the ceremony.

At 10:25 p.m. on Sunday Jan. 26th, pushed back ten minutes for the sake of surprise, the cannons boomed and the cadre brought out the soon-to-be cadets for their long awaited recognition.

Still unresolved, though, is spelling out the rules for addressing the standards and recognition, which the Norwich President hopes will happen by April 1.

The hope is, according to Schneider, that the standards will apply to cadets of all class years, not just the Rooks. Norwich is moving toward a “lead from the front” mentality that challenges both upperclassmen and Rooks to meet the standards, he said.

According to Sutherland, now the “challenge” for him and his team is to plan out the next year’s major events, including recognition.

Looking forward, the leadership and administration have many questions to answer and standards to codify. “We don’t have in the Technical Standards what Recognition means,” Schneider said. “What does it mean to be recognized and what is the standard to be recognized? We are going to write it down.”


  1. Sutherland has guts. Always has. It’s his call, it’s his Corps. For once a commander was able to assert his own leadership without looking toward administrative officials to be told what to do. He consulted them, but he made the order. I understand many Rooks are upset. I would be too. But better to be recognized late than early. My Rook year we were “partly recognized” in Novemeber. To be honest it wasnt worth it; we weren’t all ready. The Rooks will understand as their time at Norwich passes by that this was a good decision. To anyone willing to leave a school behind after a bump in the road: perhaps you should. I can assure you that many more will come. When Junior year rolls around and the Cadre position you worked so hard for goes to someone else will you quit then? You’ve got to have thicker skin than we give ourselves credit for to make it through the Corps mentally. Just hang in there, your time will come. And again, I have much respect for Sutherland’s executive decision.

  2. Robbie Blish says:

    Rob Blish NUCC class of 1990, USMCR, Chief of Police

    I think the delay was a bad mistake and displayed poor leadership. A delay like this should not be done at the last minute. You should have made up your mind much sooner if you wanted a delay. It is pure indecisiveness, which is poor leadership. Schneider should have seen this and not allowed it to happen. I hold him accountable, he is the President. For him to schlepp the blame onto the Corps leadership by saying, “It’s their corps not mine”, is pathetic.

    Beyond that, let’s be realistic. For God’s sake, you are playing army at a Military school. While valuable lessons are learned, it is not the real world. It’s overkill to have all these so call “standards”. It’s college. You can not take this stuff seriously.

  3. Well Done, Mr. Sutherland. THAT is leadership.

    When I was looking at trying to get into one of the national military academies, I was told about Norwich by a the US Senator that would’ve sponsored me. He explained that Norwich was a Cadet Lead Corps that developed private sectors leaders and that the academies were much more about grooming future members of the military machine, with little opportunity for leadership during the school years. At that meeting, I withdrew my request for consideration to placement at an academy and had an application in to Norwich by the end of the week.
    Cdt. Col. Sutherland’s actions (and his staff’s) prove that sentiment of cadet leadership to be true over 25 years later.

    -Rob Pincus
    -NUCC 1994

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