Sudden change in Norwich ‘fraternization’ policy raises questions, concerns on campus

FratNorwich University Assistant Commandant William Passalacqua still remembers what it is like to be the leader of the NU Corps of Cadets, and after 25 years he still understands the importance of trust and respect in relationships.

He was not just the cadet colonel, but also once a 22-year-old college student who made a decision to take the high-ranking position within the Corps.

Now, in his position as assistant commandant in an executive position in the university administration, Passalacqua has the job of looking after the members of the regimental staff as well as assuring the structure of the Corps is upheld. In that role, he has recently changed the policy on fraternization in the Corps of Cadets, a move that has created some controversy on campus.

Fraternization is defined, according to the Norwich Student Rules and Regulations (NUSRR) as having a relationship, of an unprofessional manner, with an individual in the chain of command.

As a military institution, the rules for the corps are modeled after those of the actual military, including the “Frat Policy”.

However, since NU is not the military and is a private college, the rules are not unchangable to accommodate the needs of the students. “Although we try to follow the military format, this is a collegial setting,” Passalacqua said. “There are relationships that happen (among students) and we take that into consideration with the policy situation.”

Passalacqua explained that the policy was changed in the middle of the academic year, which left some questioning the decisions of the commandant’s office. But, he said the decision was not made overnight. “This was certainly midstream. It was signed off by the president mid-January,” Passalacqua said.

The commandants’ office stands by the policy change and is open to constructive feedback. “I think any time you change something midstream,” Passalacqua said, “you are going have people who are not aware of the policy change. They just haven’t caught up to it, so there will be issues.”

According to Passalacqua, those “issues” leave a lot for the commandant’s office to consider due to NU’s setting. “Some people are going to be in favor of the change, some people are not going to be in favor of the change. I think that’s the challenge, we are a collegial environment, we are a small campus and there is not a neighboring campus to find people to date.”

“You can find your future spouse here and we don’t want to say, for example the regimental commander, and there is one of him,” Passalacqua said, “that he cannot date anyone because everyone is in his chain of command, when you think about it. It’s difficult, and we do try to follow the military model,” Passalacqua said.

As a leader of the regimental battalion in the top corps post and the prime example-setter, the issue has hit home for Ryan Sutherland, 22, a computer security assurance and information major from Palmyra, Penn., and the current cadet colonel.

Sutherland said that he felt that the attention given towards his personal life because he is dating another officer in the corps is too much. He explained that he is not only the cadet colonel, but also a 22-year-old college student.

“I am not the only person who this applies to – I just get spotlighted. I don’t believe there is anyone who can tell me as a 22-year-old college student, who I can and cannot date,” said Sutherland. “I think when people put aside their personal prejudices against (someone) and see them more as college students and their peers, it becomes far less of an issue. I think a lot of people don’t realize that this probably doesn’t only affect me.”

According to Sutherland, he is not the first regimental commander to date within his chain of command. “Outside (of) Colonel (Russell) Holden’s (the commandant of cadets) office are pictures of the previous cadet colonels and one in six cadet colonels have dated and married a battalion commander,” Sutherland said. “That is a little-known fact, there are many people who date within their chain of command because we are all peers, we work very closely with one another, we are friends and we move into positions of authority and our friends stay with us.”

Yet, others on campus think rules on fraternization – and issues that may well be raised about favoritism – are worth shining a light on.

The change in the fraternization policy came about when Sutherland decided he was going to date a subordinate, according to George Bausch, a 22-year-old senior and political science major from Brewster, Mass. Bausch also heads the Student Government Association as the president.

Bausch said dating between the two Corps individuals was not allowed at the time due to the way the policy was worded. When the issue was brought up to the Commandants office, the action was taken to change the policy, not to take up the violation.

“The policy prior to this change which is section 20 of the NUSRR, talks about personal relationships. What has come to light is what is the definition of fraternization and what is an improper relationship. It states a cadet must not date a member of his or her chain of command, cadets must avoid both personal relationships that interfere with their duties within the direct chain of command,” Bausch said.

According to the (NUSRR), the new fraternization policy now states that “relationships between cadets of different rank are prohibited if they violate any of the five criteria listed.” The criteria are: compromise the integrity of supervisory authority or the chain of command, cause actual partiality or unfairness, involve the improper use of rank or position for personal gain, are exploitive or coercive in nature, or create an actual adverse impact on discipline, authority, morale, or the ability of the command to accomplish its mission.

Just how the nuances of that rule will be applied have already raised questions among Corps members. Recently, an officer was charged with fraternization and the definitions in the policy had to be closely examined.

“I actually had an officer who was charged with Fraternization and it went into a more specific definition of the word ‘amorous’,” said Nate Edmondson, a 21-year-old senior political science and criminal justice double major from Haverhill, Mass.

As the regimental S3 in charge of operations, Edmondson is third in command under the regimental commander and his executive officer. He says since the start of Sutherland’s relationship and the change in the fraternization policy, his relationship with the regimental commander has changed. Edmondson explained that he felt plans by himself surrounding the Rook culminating event were rejected for another plan made under the direction of the battalion officer Sutherland is dating, though it involved some of the same elements from his own plan. In his mind this is a clear example of bias.

Passalacqua stated that if there are any issues or concerns about bias or decision, they should be brought forth and evaluated. “The first thing would be investigate, if there is substance that one of these prohibited acts (in the new policy) are true, then it could be as simple as reassigning the individual to a different position or company,” Passalacqua said. “It could be potential relief of a position. It’s just a matter of what was violated and what is significant,” Passalacqua added.

Even with the change to the policy, freshmen cadets are still not allowed to date upperclassmen, which is consistent with the rules in the prior fraternization standards. Passalacqua explained after considering a change, the decision made was that allowing a freshman to date an upperclassman was problematic and not a good idea.

Senior and former regimental staff member Kelvin Huntley, 22, a political science major from Greensboro, N.C., said the larger issue is that the administration is looking at the policy from the wrong angle.

“I think they fail to realize, or appreciate, that policies and mandates such as a fraternization policy, alcohol policy or any policy that exists in a military organization, does not exist to protect upper echelons of command,” he said. “The policies are written to protect the lower level soldiers. I think that we have lost sight in that and that now we are maintaining the upper echelons and disregarding the general populace.”

That view resonates among many corps members, who feel that rules are put in place for a reason and changing them shows a weakness in the leadership. “A commander is responsible for the morale and welfare of their unit. This unit, being the Regiment, has the worst morale I’ve seen during my four years here. The morale of a unit is a reflection upon its commander. As a commander, but more importantly a leader, if you choose not to follow your own policies that you expect your subordinates to follow, expect a slight drop in the morale of your unit,” said Bausch.

Some might take the view that this is not a big deal, that the school is a “pseudo-military” university, in Sutherland’s words, and that this isn’t the real world. But when speaking to Bausch, he stressed that this policy change affects operations in the business world as well. A break in a chain of command will affect the running order of any organization.

“It is a business policy; we see it just about everywhere we go. That’s the purpose of a frat policy, people of an institution working to accomplish a mission do not get sidetracked over unprofessional behavior. They stay focused on that mission.”

Norwich, like every large institution, is made up of lower and upper levels of staff. If the upper management makes a decision then the lower levels will be affected by it, and many freshmen are feeling the change and have felt it for quite a long time, said Edmonson. He explains what he means.

“I have two staffers as the vice president of the student government association… Earlier in the year they would come to me ask why the (cadet) colonel was on their deck so often. At the time I would just say he is checking in on things, but eventually there is no way from keeping it from them,” he said, referring to the freshmen staffers. “Everybody knew what was going on and there was nothing you could do about it.”

Bausch agreed with Edmondson that freshmen were being affected by the policy change and there was a climate change in the regiment. “I can’t go and look freshmen in the eyes and tell them that the system is fair. It is not, it is broken, and it needs to be fixed,” Bausch said.

According to Edmondson, because of the events of this year, next year’s cadet colonel, Regan Steen is already trying to address a similar situation. She and her significant other have made the decision to create a command scenario in which he applied for a position no higher than the rank of a captain, to keep distance from her in the direct chain of command to avoid charges of favoritism of bias.

However, Huntley said he would like the administration to review the policy and discuss it more. He said that the policy shouldn’t be final, and in his opinion, the new fraternization policy should be repealed.

Edmonson said people should be wary of the effects on chain of command and the positions they have taken in the Corps if they decide to date within the upper ranks.

“I would say to avoid it at all cost. The fact that people are dating in their chain of command doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t affect their chain-of-command climate. There are other battalion commanders who are technically committing frat. There is only one that is causing problems. As long as it doesn’t affect everybody, then it isn’t a problem.”

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