By David Last, Royal Military College of Canada
I have been privileged to work at Norwich as the Fulbright Scholar in Peace and War Studies, January to May 2016, during ROTC 100 and the lead up to bicentennial celebrations. The university’s historic motto—I will try—is complemented by its more upbeat tagline—Expect Challenge. Achieve Distinction.
After studying higher education for security leaders in global perspective, I think Norwich offers a unique model from which other institutions can learn a lot. Here are nine things that other military universities can learn from Norwich:
1. The Partridge Legacy: Practical Education
Captain Alden Partridge founded Norwich University after falling out with the establishment at West Point. His commitment to practical citizen-soldier education has guided Norwich ever since. I have been struck by the engagement of students in every aspect of university life: managing room reservations, organizing events, hosting dignitaries, speaking in public, and supporting the community through practical application of what they learn.
2. Stable Leadership and Good Governance
Rear Admiral (Ret.) Richard W. Schneider, USCGR has been president of Norwich since 1992, and will step down after the bicentennial in 2019. He has led the university through major renovations, new construction, a complete financial turnaround, reorganization of its colleges, expansion of degree programs, consolidation of Corps and civilian student residential populations, new recruitment strategies, and planning the “Norwich after next”. He commands the admiration and respect of everyone I have spoken with.
3. Continuous Innovation for Survival
Innovation has been possible against the background of stable leadership at Norwich, but also necessary in the intensely competitive environment of small private New England universities seeking students from a national pool. Innovations include new online graduate studies programs, degree completion programs for Special Forces personnel, study abroad programs, internships integral to degree programs, undergraduate research fellowships, community service programs, outreach to other government departments, an Applied Research Institute, Legacy of Learning presentations wherever alumni cluster, a prestigious lecture series and onsite symposiums, partnerships with foreign universities, multidisciplinary centres, and more.
4. Commitment by Faculty, Students, and Alumni
When faculty, students, and alumni devote their best efforts to advancing the institutional mission, they demonstrate commitment. Alumni have given tens of millions to Norwich, and many attribute their success to the institution. Faculty see their professional future and perhaps their economic survival linked to the success of the institution. Students see the institution serving their immediate and long-term interests. Students tell me they are able to do things here that they can’t do at other schools: learning outside the classroom, leadership positions, internships, following their interests, focusing on practical studies.
5. Undergraduate Scholarship and Research
Without graduate students to support research, an undergraduate teaching college can be at an institutional disadvantage. The Norwich solution is to treat undergraduates like graduate students. Small classes, flexible programs, and faculty freedoms mean that faculty can engage undergraduate students in research. Undergraduate scholarship is celebrated annually, and research fellowships are awarded. Undergraduate students go to national conferences and work with mentors to develop their projects.
6. Civil-Military Integration
In a speech to newly recognized “rooks,” President Schneider noted, “Norwich looks like the Defense Department.” In any classroom, you will find a mix of uniforms and civilian clothing. The professors in Vermont State Militia uniform are mostly civilian—only a few have military or law enforcement experience. Some civilian students are veterans or current members of the Guard or armed services. Some cadets are commission-track ROTC, some are looking for contracts, and some are seeking careers in law enforcement, public service, or the private sector. This integration provides a rich mix.
7. Whole of Government Partnerships
The citizen-soldier ideal makes Norwich a whole-of-society institution by default. It compounds this advantage by explicitly reaching out to law enforcement, homeland security, and other government departments beyond Defense. Faculty members leverage contacts at state and municipal level in New England and beyond. Alumni help build connections with other departments and governments, and even international alumni get involved in building connections and advocating for programs. The Vermont National Guard has partnership arrangements with Senegal and Macedonia, and the interdisciplinary Peace and War Center has parlayed this into a NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Macedonia, which involved students from four different programs, recruited international students, and built new partnerships.
8. International Engagement
International programs at Norwich are impressive. Students study abroad and foreign students enrich the experience of students on campus. Here, there are students from 19 countries, including six military academies. Off campus, there are faculty-led study trips or semester exchanges to more than a dozen countries. Because ROTC cadets have summer training commitments, a new “May-mester” block allows up to three weeks of international exposure, supporting the ROTC Global Officer (GO) and Cultural Understanding and Language Project (CULP).
9. Postgraduate Programs and Research
Norwich’s online graduate programs originated as an additional revenue stream, and have grown quickly and achieved success by focusing on military and government mid-career markets. These include master’s degrees, degree completions, and partnership offerings. Executive leadership seminars seem increasingly in demand, conducted with top subject experts. Norwich is pursuing partnerships with established universities in other parts of the world—such as Lebanon, Bolivia, Macedonia, and Senegal—to offer in-country concentrated graduate courses on the summer institute model—accredited by several institutions, with presentations by subject experts and the advantage of proximity to interesting events.