Renaissance man: President Schneider
laid groundwork for Norwich’s future © July 11, 2008, Norwich University Office of Communications
Near the end of his inaugural address, Richard Schneider made his priorities as the newly appointed president of Norwich University crystal-clear. “A school is nothing but a building with four walls and a roof and the future inside,” he told the crowd. “I’m in the futures business.”
Sixteen years later, the future looks bright for the nation’s oldest private military college, located in Northfield, Vt. Shortly after Schneider arrived in the summer of 1992, he started building a foundation for the renaissance that is now underway. Through Schneider’s leadership, enrollment has increased, the institution’s endowment has grown significantly and construction projects have transformed the campus. He hasn’t finished.
“I would like to grow the Corps of Cadets to 1,250. That would fill every rack (bed) on the Upper Parade Ground,” he said, referring to housing that serves the school’s military students. For traditional students, he plans to build a designated housing area in addition to dormitories already under construction. “I would also like to see a leadership development program in place that would serve all of our students, civilian and corps alike.”
Schneider attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy where he was regimental commander during his senior year. After graduation, he served aboard the USCGC Dallas in the North Atlantic and Vietnam. He attended graduate school and eventually returned to the academy. There, he taught physics and was appointed assistant dean before leaving active duty and pursuing a career in education.
He earned a doctorate in public administration and worked at the College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware. Schneider then moved to Drexel University - one of the largest private universities in the U.S. - to serve in several administrative roles. His experience eventually led to appointment as senior vice president for administration.
In 1990, tragedy struck when his wife of more than 20 years died after a long illness. After a time, with three daughters in high school and one in college, Schneider began to think of his future. “I thought it might be good to have a fresh start somewhere,” he said.
He was approached during the search for a new president at Norwich. As a high-ranking, actively-drilling Coast Guard Reserve officer with a doctoral degree as well as teaching and university administrative experience, he was an ideal candidate. Intrigued by the military heritage and historic nature of the institution, he applied and was chosen from a pool of many candidates. Schneider saw wonderful potential at the school. Encouragement from colleagues to take the job, however, was lacking.
“I had a lot of people telling me not to take the job,” Schneider said. “Norwich was in trouble ... There was no institutional research taking place, so it was difficult to pinpoint specific issues. When I was walking around, my gut told me that something wasn’t right. But, I felt that I could help them.”
He attributes many of the university’s difficulties to the climate at the time, which was influenced by anti-military sentiment that followed the Vietnam War, the tight credit market of the 1970s and the economic recession in the early ’90s.
The first job was making the school financially solvent and protecting the Corps of Cadets, which were not easy or popular tasks.
“I went through a reduction in force. I laid off tenured faculty members, fired staff and cut half of the academic programs,” he said. “There were a lot of nights where I laid awake at night wondering, ‘How ... am I going to do this?’”
By the second year, the university’s budget was balanced. “It was painful,” he said. “It was all about focus, focus, focus and reminding people what our mission is.”
No single, critical decision led to the turnaround, he said. “There was no one silver bullet. It was a combination of smaller tactical issues that you had to overcome. If you don’t have the money, all the dreams of the faculty and the staff can’t happen, and all you get is frustrated. Then you get a new president. That is the cycle in higher education.”
On campus, he and second wife Jaime are fixtures at home games and love the rural beauty of Vermont. “We like to ski, and fish. We snowshoe. She loves to cook and I love to eat her cooking,” he said. “But the life of any college president is pretty much consumed by their university. I spend about 35 to 40 percent of my time on the road raising money. My job is keeping my eyes over the horizon and making sure that the pathway is clear for Norwich, so that we can continue to find the resources for the faculty and staff to spend on the things that they think are important.”
As Schneider looks back on his tenure, he wants to make one other thing perfectly clear. “I don’t want people to think I’m ready to retire,” he said. “I’m having too good a time. As long as my health is good, I’m happy to stay as long as the board and faculty would like me to stay. I love the mission and I think it’s important.”