A lot of history lies behind Norwich’s alcohol policy

IMG_0851Norwich University’s current guides on alcohol use have been evolving for a long time, and for a number of reasons, according to staff and a look at older NU rules and regulations.

The first printed restriction of alcohol, referred to as “spirituous liquor,” was in the Internal Regulations section of the school’s 1837 Prospectus, which was an older version of the Student Rules and Regulations. Before, the Internal Regulations section of Prospectus only vaguely restricted cadets from conducting actions contrary to, “true principles of correct military discipline.”

Although alcohol possession and consumption on campus was restricted in the 1837 Prospectus, there was no defined punishment meant specifically for violation of the alcohol restriction until the later 20th century versions of NU’s Rules and Regulations. Such punishments included “10 direct tours and 15 days of Closed Military Confinement (CMC),” according to the 1970s version of NU Rules and Regulations.

But major changes to the school’s alcohol policy occurred after 1984, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management of Student Affairs Frank Vanacek. In that year, four cadets, who were part of the Norwich Fire Brigade, died in a vehicle accident while responding to a fire. “They died because the Cadet driving the truck was intoxicated from the previous night’s party,” Vanecek said. “From that point on, the university starting taking a much more serious stance.”

Since 1984, the school’s alcohol policy has continued to evolve and the term “Violation of the Alcohol Policy” or VAP was later introduced, according to Vanecek.

Changes have been made to the VAP punishments over time, according to Chief of Security Michael Abraham. “It used to just be, you get VAP’d, you get a punishment, and then it started changing to where there were suspensions,” Abraham said. While punishments still include tours, community service, and suspensions, they later were expanded to include possible loss of an ROTC contract for commissioning for contracted students.

The loss of a ROTC contract as a VAP punishment is controversial and it is regularly discussed for modification, according to Vanecek. “A complete change of life policy, that’s traumatic,” Vanecek said, “but, the student made the decision to drink.”

Some students feel that the VAP punishments are too severe. “Underaged drinking is illegal, so there is nothing they can do about that,” said Nolan Fergusson, 19, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major. “However, the VAP-ing of people overage and on campus is not understandable. It doesn’t make any sense in my opinion.”

Despite the obvious risks involved in alcohol consumption, students are still caught violating the alcohol policy. “People just want to get away,” Fergusson said, “you start drinking (and) it just pretty much takes you away from the strains and stresses of the day.”

Vanecek admits that drinking will always be recurring issue. “There’s drinking, there always has, there always will, but what we are not going to do here at Norwich is, we are not going to turn our back on that issue,” h said.

Images from old yearbooks and alumni stories often associate NU with alcohol consumption. “The Norwich University Corps of Cadets is still here today and we used to have keg parties all the time,” Fergusson said. Most alcohol consumption on campus was legal in the past as the age of 18 once was the legal drinking age in Vermont, according to Dean of Student Life, Martha Mathis.

“When you hear from those alumni who remind us of their time here, you might want to ask when they graduated,” Mathis said. “If they’re from the 80s back, then it was a different time,” she said.

Despite the popularity of alcohol in past years, most alumni agree with the current alcohol policy, according to Vanecek. “I don’t have a lot of alums who come to me saying our VAP policy is too extreme, I don’t have that,” Vanecek said. “The good ol’ days and all the fun had a lot of consequences, significant consequences. There have been a lot of deaths over the decades from alcohol.”

“We’re concerned about alcohol consumption, because we’re concerned about the safety of our students,” Vanecek said, “We want them to live, we want them to learn, we want them to graduate, (and) we want them to be great Norwich alums.”


  1. Nick Slupski says:

    As an alum from 1991, I will say the current policy is far too harsh and ridiculous. It was illegal to drink in my time also, but the university would sponsor some events for those of legal age, and they went off well because they were in a controlled environment.
    Likewise, the punishments of today are far too punitive for first time offenders. As for saying that the 80s back was a different word, Mathis is not correct. I remember seeing poor guys doing 50’tours or more in blowing snow at night , and it was true, they drank and they knew the rules, but if they were of age, there was no attempt to wreck their military careers. Those tours were miserable enough. You cannot pile on punishment after punishment.

    I do not agree with the current policy. In the Old days as it was mentioned, it was handled better, and cadets were treated more like adults. And you can bet most of the students today are drinking anyway, either off campus or on. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

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