Corps housing crunch causes some concerns

For the 2017 fall semester at Norwich University, almost 40 upperclass Corps of Cadets were assigned to live in lounges and classrooms instead of traditional barracks or dorms, according to student housing and admissions.

Typically, Corps students live in barracks that are located on the upper parade ground, which is commonly referred to as “the UP.” These barracks are separated from the civilian dorms.

Major Justin LeFebvre, the NUCC commandant adjutant, makes the decisions for where the Corps students will live. He has been working at Norwich University for 15 years, however, this is his first year being in charge of the housing office. He has had his “eyes opened” and is aware of the many “challenges” that housing entails.

According to LeFebvre, there were multiple reasons as to why certain cadets were assigned to live in a classroom or lounge. If a student didn’t “complete housing forms, tell housing they were coming back, or were readmitted at the last moment,” there was no reserved space for them.

“If I don’t know they are coming back I can’t give them a bed on the UP,” LeFebvre said.

Another reason for living in a lounge or classroom was due to the large number of incoming rooks (freshmen to the Corps). Rooks are trained and instructed daily by upperclassman cadets, referred to as cadre. It is necessary for rooks and cadre to live in the same building and, in order to make this happen because of overcrowding, cadre staff had to live in lounges.

“I think that the school took too many students and then forced the cadre to live in a lounge,” said Jacob Horneman, a 20-year-old junior criminal justice major, and cadre member, from Media, Pa. Horneman was “surprised” and “disappointed” when he found out about his housing assignment.

Some corps cadre had to be housed in lounges in South Hall, a civilian dorm.

Some of the cadets that had to live in lounges ended up being housed were in South Dorm, a building where the civilian students live. This was a drastic change for the cadets and civilians alike, as both segments of students have always lived on separate parts of campus.

Most cadets living in civilian dorms were not told the reason for them having to live in the civilian lounges. Some of the cadets living there were seniors who had job positions that involved overseeing the training of rooks and expected to be living among the rooks.

“I don’t know if housing just figured that, because some of us are not in direct command positions, it doesn’t matter if we are directly around the rooks or not,” said Connor Lafontaine, a 21-year old senior studies of war and peace major, from Tolland, Conn.

According to LeFebvre, the reason that Lafontaine and other cadets were assigned to the lounges in the civilian dorms was because of their “reputation as a student and as a cadet.” He explained, “For the people I put in South, I needed to find eight to ten of our cadets that would go up there and represent the Corps well, and they did. These were mostly our staff officers who were in charge of rooks.”

The displacement of the corps students confused the cadets experiencing it. A number, like Horneman and Lafontaine, felt that the school “just accepted too many students.”

Student housing, however, turns out to be a complex process involving many factors. Essentially, LeFebvre decides where the students will live, but his choices largely depend on actions by the Admissions Office. When considering how many students are needed to enroll at Norwich, the Admissions Office does so “based on the price that is set forth by the board of trustees every October,” said Tim Reardon, the Director of Admissions.

Last October, admissions was told to aim to enroll “750 new Norwich students,” drawing from students that had just graduated high school or were college transfer students, according to Reardon. He also said that President Richard Schneider has set guidelines that there be two-thirds students that are in the Corps and one-third students that are civilian.

LeFebvre pointed out that beyond the sheer number of students at Norwich, there are “many variables” he also has to take into account. Currently there are 1,542 students that are in the Corps. Their job positions, battalion assignments (the groups that their job positions are put), rank and class year are all used to determine where they will live, according to LeFebvre.

“Put all those variables together, it’s not easy,” LeFebvre said.

Furthermore, the admission’s process is a complex one, and officials such as Reardon have to plan carefully in what he describes is both an “art and science.”

Reardon explained that the art aspect of admitting and enrolling students is to “work with families and students to warm them up to Norwich.” The science part is that for every student that applies, only 60 to 70 percent are actually accepted.

According to Reardon, for the past few years New York has “netted (Norwich) about 30 percent of the students who have been accepted.” But he further explained that because of a free tuition initiative that New York state now has, about only 18 percent of the students that are accepted from there actually enrolled. Because of such variations in enrollment figures it is important for housing and admissions to work together to anticipate them ahead of time, even if it means over-anticipating.

The untraditional rooming situation drew varying responses this year. While some accepted the idea, others did not. Sean McCrystal, 22, a senior history major from Long Island, N.Y., enjoyed living in a classroom in Plumley Armory (the Norwich gym). “I was a little upset in the beginning but once I got there I loved it,” McCrystal said.

On another hand, Horneman described himself as “livid. I don’t want to live in a lounge, I’m a junior.”

Lafontaine was neither ‘happy or upset’ about his room assignment. “At least I have a room, so I can’t complain about the living accommodations,” Lafontaine said.

It could seem that the simple solution to the rooming situation is to stop accepting so many people. However, according to Reardon, cutting down on class size could have serious consequences, because without a certain enrollment level of students coming to Norwich each year, “there is less money to operate.”

And if admissions thinks they are “bringing in a certain amount of students,” then the university has also made a plan to hire a certain number of staff. If the school is short on the number of students it accepts, then that causes a shortfall in income.

In short, in order for Norwich to maintain the right number of incoming students, roughly 50 students need to live in untraditional venues for the remainder of the semester. Others will get to move out, but that all depends on the circumstances.

For instance, if some rooks drop out of the Corps of Cadets, the other rooks in the building can consolidate, leaving a room open for their cadre to move into. The same applies to the cadets living in South. If a few rooks leave school, then the upperclassmen may move out of the civilian lounge in South and back into Corps barracks..

As for the students in Plumley, they are able to move once other students are shifted to the upperclassman barracks.

McCrystal was able to move out of the Plumley classroom after a week. “For Major LeFebvre, I must say, he was a boss. We kind of take for granted how much work he has on him and the fact that he was able to move us out within a week. He would come down and check on us to make sure we were alright,” McCrystal said.

For other cadets the process may not be as quick due to the current retention of rooks. Lafontaine is the only one left in the lounge in South. His three former roommates were able to move to their respective barracks on the UP.

While the answer is clear as to why the displacement happens, it is still uncertain to what extent it will continue, as the number of students needed each year is different. According to LeFebvre and Reardon, the importance of filling every spot in barracks, as well as civilian dorms, is crucial to the financial health of the school.

“At the root of it, there are X amount of beds that are available, and our goal is to fill every single bed,” Reardon said.

“Because we’re a military school, we will take a more difficult hit on attrition,” LeFebvre said. He explained that, with the corps being “tough” and “challenging”, more rooks are likely to drop out because “they could decide that they don’t want to be here and that they made a mistake.”

While living in lounges that are in the Corps barracks will probably continue to happen, living in classrooms and lounges far from the barracks (in the civilian dorms) might not. “We work extremely hard on making sure that doesn’t happen,” Reardon said.

In previous years, there were instances where unexpectedly high enrollment rates meant there were not enough beds for the civilian students as well. Because of that, some had to live off campus in houses owned by Norwich, as well as the Flint apartments.

Along with times there were not enough dorm beds for students. Reardon pointed out that there were times where Norwich did not have enough students enrolled. While this did not result in Norwich being shut down, it was not an ideal situation to be in as the budget became smaller. Part of the importance of accepting so many students is to avoid such unexpected shortfalls in enrollment.

With students like Horneman being unhappy about their housing situation, many complaints are directed towards housing and admissions.

Reardon, who is going on his tenth year working at Norwich, explained that, although he “would not want to be the person in housing getting all the phone calls,” he still has his share to manage. “There is always somebody who has a question about why they were placed somewhere, which is understandable,” Reardon said.

While it is necessary for Norwich University to grow financially, that is not the sole reason as to why a certain target number of students need to be attend. “It’s not just about the money. It’s about staying afloat,” said LeFebvre, who is a Norwich graduate and wants to see Norwich “go on forever.”

While living in non-traditional places such as lounges and classrooms is not ideal, it seems to be happening more and more each year. There is a positive side, however. The fact more students are wanting to attend Norwich is a good sign for the health of the university and its continuation as the oldest private military college.

“When you think about it, the fact that there’s such a demand for Norwich speaks for the character of the education that students are receiving right now,” Reardon said. The corps students prove there really is a demand by living in classrooms and lounges with half a dozen people. Nothing will stop them because Norwich is a home to many, whether it be in a classroom or a dorm room.

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