Among faculty at Norwich, survey reveals there is uniform dissent

Unlike some of his colleagues, Prof. Edwin Schmeckpeper, the department chair for civil and environmental engineering, thinks faculty uniforms are an important part of Norwich tradition worth keeping.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Prof. Edwin Schmeckpeper, the department chair for civil and environmental engineering, feels faculty uniforms are an important part of Norwich tradition worth keeping.

Michael Kelley first donned the Norwich cadet uniform in the fall of 1970. In 1974, he traded that in for the uniform of a US Army officer.

Following a two-year break to further his education, Kelley wore that uniform for the next 27 years, rising to the rank of colonel. Eleven of those years were spent as a professor at the United States Military Academy, better known as West Point.

When he retired in 2003, he returned to his alma Mater and donned the uniform of the Vermont State Militia, first as the Vice President of Student Affair and Commandant of Cadets, then as an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, where he remains today.

Despite his 44 years wearing a uniform and long history with Norwich, he isn’t convinced that wearing the Army Green uniform is the best choice for the school.

“My recommendation would be: retired military, if you wish to, wear your retired military uniform,” he said. “If you were not in the military, I would go on the side of wearing appropriate civilian attire.”

He is not alone.

In a Noel-Levitz satisfaction survey administered by the faculty senate last fall, one of the questions asked for the faculty’s opinion of the wearing of the Vermont State Militia (VSM) uniform. Fully 65 of the 87 professors who replied voiced some level of concern over the current policy; 45 of those thought the issue was a high priority.

The responses were completely anonymous and were extremely varied in their content. While some of the respondents felt they had not earned the right to wear the uniform, and corresponding rank, others felt that the uniform’s fit on various body shapes lead to a decrease in professional appearance.

“Personally I think wearing the uniform should be a matter of preference,” said Gina Logan, an assistant professor of English. “I don’t think it’s necessary any longer. Our identity as a senior military college is well established. I think that if we had a uniform, it should be the academic dress of our profession.”

Prof. Kelley also feels that it might be better for the faculty to wear a non-military uniform. He mentioned that during his time as commandant, he suggested the wear of an informal business attire, an idea that he said was well received by the faculty he mentioned it to.

“While I personally have no issues wearing the Vermont Militia uniform,” he said. “I don’t know if my presence in Vermont Militia uniform really is significant in the experience of the members of our Corps of Cadets.”

Norwich University has a long-standing tradition of the wearing of military uniforms by the faculty. The original charter and by-laws mention the militia responsibilities as early as 1834. The first firm regulation appears in the 1874 regulations published by the university, stating “the uniform of the faculty will be that of the staff of the U.S. Army, with the Vermont button.”

“I think it’s very important to our history. For me, it’s common sense that we [wear the uniform],” said Richard Schneider, president of Norwich University. “This has been a longstanding tradition at Norwich, and it is a condition of employment. It’s actually in the contract that they (the faculty) sign.”

While there is debate about the traditions surrounding uniform wear, there also is a concern that the requirement to wear it is driving away potential faculty employees.

“I have no doubt potentially great faculty members never made it past the first phone interview question because of the uniform,” said one survey reply. “All the administration and Board of Directors do by insisting faculty wear ill-fitting, poorly made, and hard-to-source uniforms, is hurt the education our students obtain.”

That, however, is not the view held by the administration.

“I think we’re still finding great professors. I’d stack the one’s we are hiring against anybody’s,” said President Schneider. “There’s a lot more to being a faculty member at Norwich than just being smart. It’s about supporting the mission of the institution. I think we have been able to hire unbelievably qualified people.”

Also, according to President Schneider, each professor at Norwich is issued the uniform free of charge when they are first hired. They are also allowed to trade in uniforms, or get them tailored, free of charge as their bodies change.

Of the 25 percent of the faculty that did not feel that the uniform policy should be changed, the responses were often adamant that the VSM uniform is a strong part of Norwich’s history.

“NU was a military college when the faculty came here. If they didn’t like the fact, they didn’t have to accept the job here,” one anonymous survey reply said. “No one held a gun to their head.”

Not everyone was quite as outspoken, but the idea of tradition was a common thread.

“I feel it’s one of the unique things that make Norwich what it is,” said Prof. Edwin Schmeckpeper, the department chair for civil and environmental engineering. “I feel that if Norwich wants the uniform, they have the historical ties to justify keeping it.”

In addition to the VSM faculty, Norwich also has a contingent of active duty military instructors in the ROTC departments.

“Because it is a Senior Military College, I believe they should all wear the military uniform with the Vermont Militia insignia,” Said Capt. Dana Lafarier, an active duty officer and assistant professor of military science. “I think it holds true to the tradition, and holds true to who we (the university) are.”

Of the six Senior Military Colleges, only three still require the faculty to wear a military uniform. Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and the University of North Georgia no longer require it, according to the 2015-2016 issue of their faculty handbooks.

“VMI, the Citadel, and us are all very similar. The three of us have always treated our Senior Military College status very seriously. More so, I think, than Texas A&M and Virginia Tech,” said President Schneider. “Those schools made the decision to grow their civilian side, and we’re not going to do that. We are going to stick with the ratio we have, so I think the uniform makes perfect sense.”

Unlike Norwich, the service academies don’t require civilian professors to wear military-style uniforms.

“At West Point, those of us who are on active duty wear our uniforms. The civilian professors wear coat and tie,” said Prof. Kelley. “At first I wasn’t sure about that, but I saw it worked very well. The cadets there afford the same courtesy, it didn’t make a difference if your instructor was civilian or military.”

Members of the Norwich Corps of Cadets also have diverse opinions on the faculty wearing uniforms.

“I think it is a good idea,” said Alyssa Pinard, 22, an international studies senior from Brookfield, Conn. “However, I know it bothers a lot of the students when the professors don’t wear it correctly.”

Many of the professors in the survey make reference to the fact that cadets don’t seem to respect them when wearing their uniform.

“The uniform policy is absolutely ludicrous,” said one reply. “It embarrasses the faculty in front of the students and reflects poorly on the university.”

Another survey reply mentions the lack of respect from the students calling it a “travesty that students feel entitled to criticize their professors in front of other students. It also happens more to women professors than it does to male professors.”

“The university has an obligation to make sure the faculty that wear the uniform are treated with courtesy and respect by the cadets,” said Prof. Schmeckpeper. “I have generally been treated well by members of the Corps of Cadets, but some of the women faculty have not been treated well. If the university is going to require us to wear the uniform, it’s a two-way street.”

Much of the criticism from the students stem from the appearance of the uniform and how it is worn. Though the school provides initial guidance on the standards of wear, multiple professors indicated in the survey that they were still left with some confusion on how to wear it properly.

“I think what has to be integrated into professors’ reception, or even yearly, which we do in the Army, is Army Regulation 670-1 training, which is what Norwich uses as its standard baseline,” said Capt. Lafarier. “I’m not too concerned on whether or not a professor of academics has everything perfect. But I think retraining would help them.”

Another problem area mentioned in the survey is the wearing of actual rank by the professors.

“No faculty member should have military rank; I did not join the military. I did not go to basic or [Officer Candidate School],” said one response. “That’s incredibly disrespectful of the time and effort of those who have actually served.”

Captain Lafarier, who has been on active duty since he graduated from Norwich in 2006, disagrees. “Professors have significant academic achievement under their belt, and I think that should give them the right to wear the rank.”

The rank of the faculty is determined by their academic standing. The Public Laws of Vermont 1033, section 4412, specifically grants the right of the faculty to wear military rank.

“[The faculty] military rank is equivalent to their academic rank,” explained President Schneider. “For example, a full professor is a colonel, because it takes just about as much time to make colonel as it does for a professor to go through schooling, become an assistant professor, an associate professor, and then become a full professor.”

Not all professors are required to wear the uniform.

“I don’t wear the uniform,” said Prof.Logan. “My position as non-tenured track faculty does not require it. For those not required to wear the uniform, they should dress professionally.”

Additionally, adjunct or part-time faculty do not need to wear uniforms. Also, faculty in the schools of nursing and architecture are allowed to wear civilian attire since they were originally part of Vermont College programs in Montpelier before the schools were merged into Norwich.

Some of the faculty find that to be a double standard.

“When they moved here, my lawyer actually said that I could have them wear the uniform here, but in my book I didn’t think that was ethical, because when we hired them, and tenured them, they were in Vermont College,” said President Schneider.

“Now I do think it’s fair, if the faculty Senate makes a recommendation, I’m prepared to tell them [the new professors] that they will have to wear a uniform.”

As for the future of the faculty uniform, it seems to be here to stay, judging from President Schneider’s views.

“The fact of the matter is, it’s an honor. It’s an honorific title, and an honorific position, and it’s one to be respected,” said Schneider. “And they all knew about it when we hired them, and if they didn’t want to do it, they shouldn’t have signed the letter and come work for us. It’s that simple in my book. It’s been our tradition here, and I don’t intend to change it.”

Comments

  1. David Anastasi 91 says:

    If you are retired military, or a Norwich Alumni of the Corps, then you should wear the uniform.

  2. Major Generak Kit Wongskhaluang, RTA, NU'84..NU Honor Tank Platoon says:

    Please keep our great military college going. NORWICH is no Texas A&M nor other military colleges in the US. From where I’m standing as an active duty Gen. Officer along with having my two kids as a cadet there, I’ve seen many changes, evolution in better deals as well as the worse. According to the great military traditions that we had and having, I say we are doing well on infrastructures. But the core values of being a U.S. Cadet is one of the greatest, I say, tradition, discipline and core value along with the glory hearts of our founder and alumnus like me. Tradition is manmade which man can create and erase….true. But many good traditions should be kept for the remembering of the past when we walk through this gate! And by the way, where is the Gate? There are many good changes in the past many years. The Corps of Cadets changed the uniform from the army green to a real grey and dark blue like others but keep reused of the Founder’s uniform as our full dress. That was great. Too bad some guys concern that the bucket of shako will be too expensive, which is not. They go out and spent more at the Rustic. We should bring it back. More Friday Parade. Invite the citizens of Northfield and make another one of Vermont trade mark. If you are in our state of Vermont, this is a place you must visit. We welcome tourist neighbor states, etc. Invite them to the Friday Passing Reviews on Sabine. Winter time may have less in the new hockey??? The Rooks class system got to be memorable, hard but save. Why hard? If you went through the 4th class system/Rook System like a walk in the park…
    Rook System that going through some civilian fraternities is much tougher, allow me to ask you, what kind of stories you would mouth off in the officer club at the Bragg? When you will run into those outstanding officers from The Citadel…VMI…. and they were mouthing off how tough it was on their first hell nights? Answer me? When they turned to you and ask how was at Norwich…ahhh well they canceled the Shark Attack because some one said it’s not army. No it’s not, it is our good tradition
    They all remember shark attack and telling their family, friend and grandparents about it of how they survived the first hell week. Hell Week got to be a real one, meaning full and sure profesiional and safe. That is why we should have a Tac Officer to every company. Not to give trouble, but to advise! And those T Officer can also be assigned from the ROTC Junior Officer from army, navy, air force, marines or those faculty members with officer prior experience.
    The order in the barracks is another issue. When I was there, upperclassman are allowed to politely reset the furniture in their quarter, but they are not allowed to have a teddybear of miss piggy design of the bed sheet on the bunks absolutely. Thier bunk from Rooks to Regi Commander should look the same in a same standard. It is not that after Rookdom, I am free! You may allow to have another extra blankets in your room for the winter in Vermont is severe. But after utilizing them in the night time, you got to put it away from the basic cadet utilities. And I ‘ve never liked to see an upperclassmen are allowed to wear civi to the dinning hall. During my time, he will be walking to the rest of his life. There ahould be at least 2 formations a day. Morning and the Corps marchdown to the mess hall. And Evening formation, but these are depends on Vermont’s weather. Do not have class at 0600 or 0700 in the morning for from tap to 0800 should be the Corps time. Not academic! The classes in the evening kinna deal are more of a Master Degree fashion. So, don’t mixe them up. Afternoon from 1600 should be no class for the cadets can go do their own things, including remedial PT. Or Company activities. Flag football, session for the Rooks, own workouts or time to see their academic advisor. Other thing, Norwich Cadets do not know how to spit shine their shoes…LOL
    Evening Study Period should be enforced. Quiet hours should be very quiet. Hallway got to be off from chatting or socializing during that time. After quiet hours, you can mouth off in the hallway again until tap. WHY..? Bexause there are many cadets, classmates who want to rest, concentration on textbooks, and they have rights too. We got to train or cadets to be come a good citizen soldiers, not a loser from any civi colleges. Mess Hall should be a family dinning hall like before when the Corps sit and dine together. If some administration worry about the tradition student will feel out of place or offended, we can have them have their own facility upstair where Rooks eat. Rooks and the Upperclassmen got to be together not fraternizing but involving.
    Now if you are not a cadre, don’t even come close to my recruits. During my time of the hell week, we had Meet Line after evening mess where all the upper classman are standing suround UP and the Rooks will walk pass cheering their company of proudness. Cadre will pick the recruit and ask the Rooks’ knowledge. Ask those on our trustee board! Uniforms of the faculties are definitely not fashion. It is a uniform of our great army and all the American warriers who fought for our freedom. Actually all faculties should be wearing those uniform with pride, and it is not a matter of how many years you have been wearing it. It is a sign of the great US military strong. Instead, the faculty should be proud to be honored to wear with respect and pride. I like the idea of letting the prior military service can wear their own service uniform as a retired officer. The rest shall all be in Vermont State Militia uniform. All..included alumni officers , not just those faculty who are involved with the student only. We are not some madhouse colleges. We produce good citizen soldiers.
    Another thing: stop calling our Norwich Cadets a student. They are cadets. Student is those traditional students. Bring up morale and our high standard. It is quite difficult to be promoted to a Good Gen. Rank in our armed forces if you are not an academies graduates, but with my Norwich background, I am considered quite a success! I can stand tall and mouth off how tough and how we do proud with traditions which is the oldest private military institution, and it was founded nearly 200 years old…a hell lot older than many of them. Parents do not be scarde of the tough Rook System. It will pay off afterward. It’s a brotherhoodship / sisterhoodship among a group of fine cadets of good tradition and great reputation on all of the above. Keep in mind our Cadets Code….we do not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do. Keep it serious in your hearts. Wear the Ring with pride! Show off your Ring! If we do not take the code the value and motto seriously, we are nothing than a.. . And why wasting your parents money, Govt funds or even your own to pay for such a deal? Because honor may not be bought. You got to earn it.
    I am now a Senior Advisor to Counter Terrorist Operations Center in Bangkok, Thailand. I am over halfway around the world, but all my true heart is for Norwich. Why I put all I got to have my son and daughter to a school in Northfield, a town many of us have never heard of. I am going back for my graduation in May. This time, I will also buy a plot on Norwich Cemetery as well. Why a Thai General like me is so connected to this school in Northfield? It is stated above. Be proud and be true to our alma mater. Keep our tradition back. By the way get the MCV Gate back to where it belongs. If our traditional students/brothers are offended by the glory world of the Military College of Vermont…..so, let’s build a Civilian Gate of Traditional Gate for them, which actually, they should be pround of our great value too. THE MILITARY COLLEGE OF VERMONT is a signature of Norwich. I WILL TRY
    O.

  3. Bob Anthony (NU '70) says:

    I agree 100% with President Schneider.
    Change is fine but TRADITION is to be respected and honored.

  4. Walter Franklin says:

    Growing up, my mother often said, “Dress like a gentleman – act like a gentleman.” The Norwich faculty has a responsibility – no, an obligation – to support and cultivate the core values and traditions of the university. Professors should present themselves as the epitome of the citizen-soldier. They should be respected not only for their academic prowess but also for their patriotic commitment to those same Norwich values. Most people, especially young, impressionable students would interpret a desire to wear civilian clothes in a military environment to be an expression of resistance to those values.

    There are 2,474 public/private 4 year colleges and universities in the United States. There are 21 colleges and universities in Vermont. How could a genuine educator of young people choose to teach in an environment he/she did not fully embrace when so many options abound?

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