Faculty uniforms: A long-standing tradition

The Vermont State Militia (VSM) uniforms worn by full-time faculty at Norwich University have a long tradition behind them – and sometimes a touch of controversy when students think faculty don’t follow rules or show the uniform enough respect.

This likely stems from the rigid rules and standards military cadets at Norwich must follow – and a feeling that faculty should be subject to them as well.
Uniforms at Norwich date back nearly 150 years. The school did not need a prescribed faculty uniform policy until the 1870s due to the small quantity of instructional staff working at the university at the time. The small number of faculty usually possessed knowledge of proper uniform wear due to their prior military background, according to history professor Gary Lord.
The first uniform regulations were published in 1874. The origin of the NU uniform is unknown, according to a Nov. 7, 2013, issue of the Guidon. But uniforms are worn today by faculty to signify NU’s military culture and to respect the students who wear the NUCC uniform, according to Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Vanecek.
“The Corps of Cadets is here because (students) want to be in a military environment and that requires the staff to be uniform,” Vanecek explained.
Today, most full-time faculty wear a modified, phased out, United States Army uniform with Vermont State Militia (VSM) insignia. Prof. Lord explained that the wear of the uniform is military styled and possesses a US military rank structure because of Vermont State legislature’s recognitionof NU as the Military College of Vermont in 1898. The rank worn on the faculty uniforms does not represent an actual military rank in the U.S. military, but a tier in the school’s faculty hierarchy.
Full-time faculty are required to wear the VSM uniform while working at NU, according to Dean of Faculty Guiyou Huang, but part-time and architecture department faculty do not. Architecture faculty professors were exempted from having to wear the VSM uniform because the architecture department originated from Vermont College, a school in Montpelier that merged with Norwich in 1972 and was later integrated at Norwich in 1993.
Just like any military uniform code, faculty members who do wear the uniform are expected to follow a prescribed method of proper wear and etiquette. Howevfacultyuniformser, for many new faculty, the VSM uniform is the first time ever wearing a military uniform because most new faculty do not have prior military service, according to Cadet Col. Regan Steen, who heads the Corps of Cadets.
At the beginning of the school year, during leader’s week, new faculty staff undergo an orientation with a series of classes to familiarize them with the school’s traditions, explains Vanecek. One of the classes, led by Col. Russell Holden, introduces proper uniform wear to new faculty and formally teaches all guidelines. Faculty who miss these classes by entering later in the school year are expected to learn how to wear the uniform through other means, according to Huang.
Throughout the school year, faculty are required to attend at least one breakfast session, held on a monthly basis, by President Richard Schneider and Vanecek to discuss any issues with the school – where uniform wear may be a subject, said Vanecek. Breakfast sessions are held on a monthly basis so new faculty who missed the orientation week in the beginning of the year have an opportunity to familiarize themselves.
Faculty who wear the uniform are not taught and inspected on proper uniform wear in the same manner as cadets or rooks, Vanacek said. However, he explains that faculty are expected to learn the ropes. “When in doubt, ask. It’s the way we learn, we need to ask someone who supposedly knows like your chain of command,” he said.
According the NU Staff and Faculty Uniform Manual, faculty are expected to present a “Neat, clean, and professional appearance” while in uniform. The manual provides explanations on basic guidelines and rules about wearing and how to act in the uniform, while referencing the US Army’s dress regulations, known as AR 670-1, for further details. All faculty are provided access to the school’s uniform manual, explained Vanecek, while AR 670-1 is easily available and accessible through online searching.
Vanecek stated that, “All faculty staff members need to do is follow what our guidelines are.” So what are examples of not following guidelines? Some examples students cite are putting hands in pockets, not wearing a white crew neck shirt under the green button up shirt, white socks or dress socks instead of black, gigline not in order, “Idiot” button undone, long hair or being unshaved or having multiple ranks on the uniform, damaged brass or insignia, poor salutes or wearing wrinkled uniforms and unshined belt buckles.
The school does not have a formal enforcement policy on faculty wear of the VSM uniform. “Do we have a formal enforcement policy? No, it’s a manner of a leader doing what they’re supposed to do,” Vanecek said.
Vanecek agrees that there are discrepancies in faculty wear of the uniform that aggravates some students in the corps, but said that faculty leadership is ultimately responsible for proper uniform wear among professors. “It’s the faculty leadership that needs to make sure the faculty are in uniform appropriately,” Vanecek said.
“I think most professors wear the uniform correctly, but there are some that don’t,” said Cadet Justin Banks, 19, from Brockton, Mass.
Steen agrees discrepancies are still being noticed by students in faculty wear. “If there are rules (for uniform wear), no one is really telling them there rules” Steen said.
Vanecek believes that faculty are not intentionally disrespecting the VSM uniform but just aren’t aware of their uniform wear. “You can’t get mad at someone who just didn’t know better, how do you solve it? You talk to that person,” Vanecek said. “It’s just a manner of getting information out to people.”
Steen argues that it’s also true many professors see wearing a uniform as a way of showing support for the military.
Vanecek said it’s acceptable if a student or faculty member notices a discrepancy in a uniform for a student or faculty member to respectfully and appropriately bring it up.
“We, as an institution, do not go around looking for uniform problems. We assume all the faculty in uniform are professionals and will wear the uniform professionally as expected in the manual and if they have any question, we expect them to come to us to ask. That’s the concept of being a professional,” he said.

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