After 24 years heading Norwich University, President Schneider still loves his job

President Richard Schneider is Norwich's longest-serving president – and he still loves his job.

President Richard Schneider is Norwich’s longest-serving president, tallying 24 years on the job.

As the 23rd president of Norwich University, Richard Schneider has set a record as the longest-serving president and in the process, gained a 20-plus year history and legacy. While President Schneider is on his 24th year at Norwich University since being appointed in 1992, he has no plans of stopping until he is finished.

“My goal is to continue to advance us, to leave us in a stronger place even than we are today. Forbes (magazine) just rated us as a Class ‘A’ school, and let me tell you, we weren’t in ‘92 when I came, so I’m happy, but I’m not finished yet. I am still as committed to Norwich as the day that I was when I started, maybe I’m even more passionate about it,” said Schneider, who offered a reflection on his tenure during an interview in his office.

President Schneider never wanted to originally leave teaching at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. But he volunteered for different positions and that led him into eventually deciding to seek a presidency job. “My last active duty job was teaching physics at the Coast Guard Academy, I volunteered to be the assistant dean. You volunteer for stuff because you never know what you’re going to learn. So then I went to the University of Delaware, finished my graduate work, and then I went to Drexel. And there they went through three presidents in eight years and I learned of what not to do as President,” said Schneider.

“I was the treasurer, and my doctoral dissertation is in finance. I learned a lot at Drexel, and then you guys (Norwich) came looking for me,” said Schneider.

Spend more than two decades in any organization and you will make a lot of friends, – and probably some enemies. But go around campus to talk with those who know Schneider best and have worked with him, and you’ll find many faculty speaking of their favorite memories over the years of President Schneider, from the very beginning when he first was seeking the job, to the current day.

“Well gosh, all of my memories are good with President Schneider. I first met him in 2001 and I was assistant commandant, and he’s a very likable and approachable guy, very thoughtful, and he quickly demonstrated to me how much he loves the Corps of Cadets” said Col. Russell Holden, the current Commandant of Cadets. “He’s a critical thinker and when I go to him for assistance in resolving issues in the Corps of Cadets, he’s always extremely supportive of them, he sincerely loves the Corps, it’s almost as if he’s an alumni,” said Holden.

President Schneider was making waves even before he was actually hired for the school.

“The memory that sticks out was when I first met him, he was not hired (yet). He was brought into a hotel room in Boston, I was on the search committee, and we were interviewing him. We did three or four others before him. They would come, they would sit down in an open circle that we had and the candidate sits at the top of it and then we would begin asking questions,” recalls Frank Vanecek, the Senior Vice President for Student Affairs.

“Well, that was not President Schneider. He walked in the door and he said, ‘Okay just a minute, I just want to meet everybody,’ so he then walked up and went around, 15-20 people, and he greeted every single one of us individually, and he knew one thing about all of us. He did his homework.” For Vanecek, Schneider was clearly different.

“I said to myself, this guy is going to be the president. It shocked everyone at that search committee,” said Vanecek. Schneider had used his expertise from his research position at Drexel.

“I knew you guys better than you knew you, I looked them all up, and I did my research,” explained Schneider.

Over the years, President Schneider has traveled all over the United States recruiting and raising money for Norwich University. He worked very closely with Dave Whaley over the years. “I would never check a bag, he always insisted on checking a bag. And yeah he could get a suit in there, and yeah I would always have to iron mine when I go to the hotel. So we’re heading to Naples, Fla., for our trustees meeting, he checked his and I had mine. We got to New York and ‘Guess what boys, your flight is not going.’

“ Okay, so I take mine. ‘What flight can I get on?’, ‘We can put you on a flight to Tampa’. What about our bags? Well they couldn’t fit them into the system. So we get to Tampa and he’s just looking at me like… ‘Boom.’ And he went and got a wheelie bag,” to carry on, said Whaley, the vice president of development and alumni relations.

Norwich has seen many commandants over the years. Mike Kelley is an Associate Professor in Civil Engineering and former commandant and he speaks highly of President Schneider.

“My first opportunity to meet him was when my wife and I were living in the Albany area, I was at graduate school at RPI and he was visiting different alumni groups. So we had a chance to meet him, never knew him before a hole in the wall. We walked away feeling the school was in good hands. That initial encounter he was able to impart something that caused us to feel, ‘We’re glad he’s our President’,” said Kelley.

“General Sullivan wrote a book called ‘Hope is not a Method’. In that book it has a subtitle that says ‘Steady, Sully, Steady’. President Schneider is one that can keep moving, he’s running a marathon, not a sprint, as he’s running this marathon, he’s taking us, increment by increment, better facilities, stronger student body, an array of dynamic new professors who came in who have enlivened the place academically. So all of these things say to me, he’s a steady hand. So I’d change it to ‘Steady, Schneider, Steady’,” said Kelley.

Martha Mathis, who is Norwich’s dean of students, has seen that steadiness as well back when Norwich agreed to take over Vermont College in Montpelier, absorbing a very different non-military institution back in 1972.

“My best memory will be his willingness to engage all types of topics, all types of students. He wanted the transition from Vermont College to Northfield to be respectful, and hence he set up transition committees that were co-chaired, one in uniform, one civilian student, so he was quite masterful with something that was going to change the university forever.”

As the Chief Administrative Officer of Norwich, David Magida has had a long career overseeing the school’s physical plant, general operations and lots of new construction. In his job he works closely with Schneider, and remembers one moment clearly that revealed how Schneider governs.

“I’m not going to go into the detail but I feel like there is one time I felt I really let him down, it was early on, and I let him down on an issue, I wasn’t sure how he was going to respond to it. And his response to me, ‘You feel bad enough about it already? I don’t need to jump on you and bully you, just don’t do it again’” said Magida. “He’s okay, he understands people are going to make mistakes, he wants us to learn from our mistakes, and a lot of people would say that, he lives it,” said Magida.

As president for 24 years, Schneider has worked with the faculty in many ways and has spurred new cooperation and growth in his administration. “I think I worked most closely with the president in connection with the faculty senate, I served as chair in 1999 and 2005. And during that time I met with him on what’s called “The executive committee, we worked on issues, some important, some not so important, and I found that the president, the Schneider administration, was very supportive and cooperative with the faculty senate,” said Gary Lord, Dana Professor of History. “He exhibited a rare degree of transparency and veracity, openness, truthfulness, and integrity. And in addition to that he demonstrated what I would call an unwavering respect for the process of shared governance with the faculty, which is not something that is always found in institutions of higher education, so that’s something to be said about my experience with the president,” said Lord.

During his tenure, President Schneider has also brought back a new sense of vigor and life to being a “legacy” student. Legacy students are those students that have had a family member attend Norwich University. Some of the alumni back in the ‘90s had a bad image of the school, Schneider admits, and their children were not applying to Norwich.

“When I got here I bet we didn’t have five legacy kids” said Schneider, but that has changed.

“We had 106 get pinned as legacies, and you know why, because we have become ‘the better school’. We’re a hot school now. My favorite Norwich kid is a B, B+ kid, playing sports, working 20 hours a week and a leader at his church, synagogue or mosque, that’s my kid. I don’t just want eggheads here, I’m not trying to be MIT, but I got to tell you our guys make great leaders. They’ve got to be competent in what we teach them and they’ve got to be committed and they’ve got to be great team leaders,” said Schneider, who seems not to be fazed at spending 24 years in the same post trying to make Norwich better, adding, “And I’m not done yet!”

Comments

  1. MG Kit Wongskhaluang, NU'84 Royal Thai Army says:

    Yea! But he’s a Coast Guard….But… I think we can forgive him for that! LOL+++A great friend and good man!

  2. Ken Erickson says:

    Thank you for your accomplishments Rich; and for setting the course: sailing Norwich full speed ahead into its third Century, as a leading American University.

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