THE ALUMNI MAGAZINE OF NORWICH UNIVERSITY
Photo: Environmental portrait of Pres. Richard W. Schneider outside Jackman Hall

Endings can be bittersweet, especially when it comes to the things you love. As his transformational 28-year tenure draws to a close, President Richard W. Schneider finds saying goodbye is harder than he expected. He is not alone

BY SEAN MARKEY
PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT FURMAN AND KAREN KASMAUSKI

One day not long ago, President Richard W. Schneider landed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and hailed a cab. It was midmorning, and earlier that day Schneider had woken up at 3 a.m., left his house by 4 a.m., and driven to Burlington airport to catch a 6 a.m. flight to the Windy City. He made the two-hour plane trip to attend the Liberty Gala, a military appreciation ball and fundraiser for the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. His appearance would be a show of support not only for the cause but also for the gala’s organizer and museum’s founder, Col. (IL) Jennifer Pritzker, IL ARNG, (Ret.)—a longtime friend, Norwich benefactor, and trustee emerita of the university. As Schneider climbed into his cab, a small flat screen television pointed at the back seat took aim. It soon played a commercial for Flatiron College. Based in New York City, Flatiron is an eight-year-old, for-profit coding boot camp that teaches online software engineering, computer programming, data science, cybersecurity analytics, and UX/UI design courses. The company, which has upward of 150 employees, was acquired in 2017 by WeWork, the troubled shared office space startup, and has since expanded to ten major U.S. cities. Tired as he was, Schneider was in no particular mood for Flatiron’s commercial. As electronic music pumped through the cab, lush video footage cut from keyboards to computer screens to students that looked like models (or vice versa) while a perky narrator promised that Flatiron could teach students to code in a matter of months. It also guaranteed they would land a well-paying job afterward or— and here’s the part that Schneider found especially galling—their tuition would be free.

“Free!” Schneider repeated several weeks later, his voice cracking a bit in exasperation. Schneider was now standing in the Mack Hall auditorium back on the Norwich campus. Dressed in his green Vermont State Militia uniform, a slim skin-toned microphone projecting from his ear, he paced in front of the stage’s ruby-red velvet curtains. Faculty and staff sat in the audience, having just watched, on replay, the same Flatiron College commercial that had ruined their president’s cab ride in Chicago. Schneider had called for the mid-November assembly to update them on the latest Board of Trustees meeting and other initiatives. Smooth and unscripted, the president spent the better part of an hour walking through the business challenges facing colleges and universities today and the initiatives that he and the board of trustees were undertaking to position Norwich smartly, hopefully, for the near-and medium-term future.

In his final months in office, he seemed intent on leading to the very end. “Guys, this is serious,” Schneider told the audience. “Everything is changing. We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years … and now it’s really getting serious.” Schneider ran through the maelstrom of factors buffeting higher education today, from rising tuition costs and the student debt crisis to families asking questions of affordability or the most existential of all: Is a college degree even necessary? “I’m at the tail end of this career,” he said. “But this is very important for you to get and to work on, because this will now follow you, I think, the rest of your professional lives … deep into this century. This will not turn around. That means you’re going to have to work harder—I know none of you want to hear that—and smarter. Now I think we’re going to be able to compete very well, and the data shows that we are. But [you] can’t rest on your laurels.”

As Schneider made clear that afternoon, higher education is a challenging, rapidly changing, and increasingly tricky business to be in today. This is especially true in New England, where the number of college-age students continues to decline sharply. While some parts of the country seem awash in college-bound students, particularly southern and western states like Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California, the outlook in Vermont and New England is far more bleak. In the years ahead, the drop in 18- to 24-year-olds will be less of a downward slope than a cliff, especially in 2025, when the impact of the 2008 Great Recession and the emergency brake it put on birthrates hits hardest.

Despite the funnel clouds of disruption advancing on the horizon, Schneider shared his faith and belief that afternoon that Norwich could and would prevail. Many strategic initiatives were underway. NU would soon open an administrative office in Denver, Colo., for example, to help place undergraduates in internships and recruit new students to its online degree programs. Left unsaid was what would be, perhaps, a far more difficult challenge, at least on a personal level: The president would no longer be the one to steer his beloved university through such perilous times.

Pres. Richard Schneider at work in his Jackman Hall office.
Photograph by Matt Furman

Schneider has been a transformational leader. In the nearly three decades that he has served as president, five Vermont colleges have gone out of business, three of them in the past year alone. But Norwich has only grown stronger during his tenure, increasing annual enrollment by some 1,500 full-time students and launching an online college that now graduates as many if not more students each year than the traditional brick-and-mortar campus does. Under his leadership, Norwich has grown from a $30 million to a $110 million a year business, while the endowment has increased from $40 million to $221 million. He has invested in faculty research, endowed student scholarships, launched applied research centers and academic centers of excellence, and overseen the construction of a new library, campus center, museum, fieldhouse, two new civilian dorms, renovated athletic facilities, biomass central heating plant, and Mack Hall—a four-story, 58,000-square-foot academic showpiece that stands among the crowning achievements of the university’s recently completed five-year, $121 million Bicentennial Forging the Future campaign.

The most important relationship at any university, Schneider says, is the one between its president and its board chair. So it’s telling when Board Chair Alan DeForest ’75 describes Schneider as the most consequential president in NU history since university founder Capt. Alden Partridge. That Schneider has remained in his post for 28 years—an anomaly in higher education—is all the more remarkable and a testament to his ability to adapt as a leader and grow new skills, DeForest said. The Norwich Schneider arrived at nearly three decades ago is vastly different from the university he leads today. “Now he’s running a very complex organization, which demands very different skills,” DeForest said. “He has made that transition himself.” As Schneider has thrived, so has Norwich. At other institutions, leaders arrive “with certain skill sets and you apply them to the right situation and they do very, very well,” DeForest observed. “But as things change, most of the time you find yourself changing leaders. It’s not surprising that college presidents, on average, last less than five years, and yet [Schneider] has lasted 28 years. It’s amazing. And not only has he … lasted … he has excelled.”

“He is beloved on this campus,” said Dave Whaley ’76, vice president of development and alumni relations and a fixture in Jackman Hall for nearly 40 years. “Not that everybody always agrees with him. But they all respect him.”

Whaley says Schneider understands the value of process. “Sometimes you have to listen to a lot more people and take a little bit longer, because you will get a better outcome.” Whaley adds that Schneider understands innately that leadership isn’t solely about bringing people around to your way of thinking, but also a willingness to be flexible. “It’s better to have everybody with you and get to a place, then to get to maybe a slightly better place but be there alone.”

Former board chair Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59 (USA, Ret.) also ranks Schneider as an exceptional leader. “High-performing teams talk to each other,” he said. “And Rich is very good at it. That causes strategic plans to be realistic in their goals and expectations.” As readers of these pages know, Gen. Sullivan is the former Army Chief of Staff—its highest-ranking officer—who oversaw the transformation of the U.S. Army in the late 1980s and early ’90s in the wake of massive budget cuts following the end of the Cold War. Sullivan would later join the NU Board, and he and Schneider have been friends and colleagues for many years now.

One day in early January, I sat with Gen. Sullivan in Jackman Hall. He and a friend had driven up from Cape Cod for the weekend and were staying with President Schneider and his wife, Jaime, at Woodbury Hall. I asked Gen. Sullivan to reflect on Schneider’s character as a person. In reply, the first thing he said was, “He loves people.” The general then described how the president and his wife like to walk their dogs around campus so that they can talk to students. “There’s an art to talking to people, and he’s got it. [People] know if you like them. If you don’t, it’s going to show. You can’t hide it. You have to like them and respect them and be interested in what they’re doing. I think those are some of the things that separate him from [other leaders].”

Schneider is renowned for his work ethic and people skills, skills on display long before he even arrived at Norwich. Frank Vanecek, the senior vice president of student affairs and information technology, and a longtime computer science professor at Norwich, recalls the first time he met Schneider in a hotel conference room in Boston. Vanecek was on the search committee tasked to find the replacement for retiring president Maj. Gen. W. Russell Todd ’50, USA (Ret.). As Vanecek recalled, there were “at least 20 people” on the committee. Schneider was one of seven or eight candidates brought to Boston for a formal interview. Wedged into a hotel conference room, committee members sat around U-shaped table. Schneider walked into the room and was invited to step to a podium to begin the interview. “He says, ‘Oh, just give a minute, I want to introduce myself,’” Vanecek recalled. Schneider then proceeded to walk around the table and greet each committee member. “He knew their name and he knew … what their job was, and he knew something about what was going on in their area,” Vanecek said. “Talk about a people person!” No other candidate did that. “Right then, I said, this guy is going to be the president.” Vanecek’s intuition was right.

Pres. Richard Schneider shakes hands with a smiling Mike Popowski.
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

For the CEO of a $110 million enterprise with a $221 million endowment, Schneider and his wife are conspicuously down to earth. Schneider spends about 40 percent of his time traveling. But when he’s not stuck at an airport, the president gets around in a university-issued, circa 2013 Honda Accord. Its only embellishments appear to be its gray paint, leather seats, and “NU” vanity plate. Jaime drives a seven-year-old Jeep. When I point out that they don’t drive Bentleys around town, Schneider laughs and explains that he will always be a Coast Guard officer at heart. “We’re pretty simple guys.” Among the service branches, the Coast Guard is the financial runt of the litter. Spare budgets and making do with Navy hand-me-downs, from ships to equipment, is de rigueur.

The Schneiders have been married 20 years. During that time, Jaime—who trained and worked as a chef—spent 12 years working part time at the Northfield Pharmacy, helping fill prescriptions. People were the draw. “I worked for a great group down there.” She also continues to serve on the board of the Northfield Senior Center and volunteers once a week to deliver Meals on Wheels. For many of the elderly residents she visits, Jaime is the only person they see. If someone needs a ride to the dentist, doctor, or grocery store, Jaime will drive them. The president likes to joke that between the two of them, they know everybody in town. “Jamie knows all the people on meds. I know all the 18-year-olds.”

Now 74, the president still keeps a relentless pace at the office. When I asked him how many hours he worked each week, he answered: “All the time.” His workload remains such that in the 28 years he has been president, he hasn’t found time to read a single book unrelated to work. “He’s a 24/7 guy—always has been,” Jaime said of her husband. When he isn’t working, his idea of fun is to spend time with his wife and family. The pair are avid fans of Norwich athletic teams and catch as many games as they can. Jaime also plays broomball in a women’s league she has belonged to for 25 years. For fun, the president tags along to run the clock.

In the evenings, they like to walk around campus, bringing their dogs with them as a way to meet and talk to students. The Schneiders have always kept golden retrievers. Their latest are Boo and Gem, two seven-year-old sisters. Their third dog, a black cocker spaniel named Patrick, is an anomaly, one they adopted from a litter of pups born to spaniel breeders Col. Walt ’54 and Suzanne Smith. All three Schneider dogs are spirited and rambunctious. When you visit the Schneider residence in Woodbury Hall, the goldens bark—a lot—and at times their play-fighting can nearly turn to an all-out brawl. Patrick, meanwhile, will use his teeth to untie your shoelaces as you try to sit politely in the living room.

Both the Schneiders and their dogs are popular with students. One afternoon, when I dropped in on Jaime at Woodbury Hall, she mentioned that senior Brenda Lomax ’20 was going to stop by on Saturday so that she could borrow Boo and Gem for the day. As it turns out, the Schneiders loan their dogs to students quite often.

Moving can be arduous, especially after 28 years, and packing up their lives at Woodbury Hall has proven to be a chore for the Schneiders, physically and emotionally. The president is wary about what happens next. “I don’t want to flunk retirement,” he said. It seems unlikely that Schneider will remain still for long, but he has promised Jaime to at least take the summer off and enjoy time together at their house on Lake Dunmore near Middlebury, Vt.

Built in 1844, the house sits on 10 acres, set back from the lakeshore by a low ridge. The Schneiders bought it seven years ago and have been restoring it ever since. “I love it,” Schneider said. “It’s elegant in its simplicity.” The house has four bedrooms, one for each of his daughters, and a large wraparound porch that can double as a dorm for his 15 grandchildren. Like many Vermont houses of the era, there are no closets. Schneider wonders where he’ll put all his suits. The couple had a small boathouse built, and that is where they stay when daughters and grandchildren visit.

Both Jaime and the president describe their new home as a “money pit.” For a president known for his fiscal acumen, the irony does not pass unnoticed. Indeed, it grows when Jaime confides that he bought it sight unseen over the phone. (Their nearby neighbors are the Shouldices, whose daughter was Jaime’s college roommate and remains a lifelong friend. When her father, Billy, phoned the president to say the property was up for sale, Schneider called a realtor to made an offer.) A quick story: One evening, as the Schneiders sat in their new living room, staring at a wall of shelves installed by the previous owner, Jaime turned to the president and told him she hated the shelves. “Really? I don’t like them either,” she recalled him replying. “We literally ripped them out that night. Like the two of us went and got hammers and ripped them out,” she said.

“It was late”—around 10 or 11 p.m.—“and it took us a long time.” In its small way, the story reveals an underlying ethos of the president. If you see a problem, don’t wait. Get up and fix it.

Schneider considers himself a Yankee, but he grew up in New Jersey. Along the way, he absorbed his mother’s people skills and his father’s passion for fixing companies. The president’s maternal grandfather was a merchant seaman, who ran away from home in Scotland at age 14 to sail to America. He later served in the Navy during the First and Second World Wars and was rescued, at one point, by the Coast Guard after a ship he was on foundered. Inspired by those stories, Schneider applied to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy during high school. One day, a telegram arrived at home with life-altering news: He would be the last cadet admitted to the Class of 1964 at the Academy. As such, he said, “I knew going in that I was the dumbest guy in my class.” Schneider never imagined that four years later, he would graduate among the top academic students or as the top cadet leader. But he knew how to study and he knew how to work hard. Schneider soon caught up with classmates who had yet to learn either.

Schneider spent over eight years as an active-duty Coast Guard officer, including a tour in Vietnam, and 22 years in the reserves, including six years while Norwich president. In 1994, he became an admiral. Before retiring, he oversaw all Coast Guard operations between the Rocky Mountains and the coast of Israel. Gen. Sullivan says people in the know have told him privately that Schneider could have gone all the way and become commandant of the entire service had his life circumstances been different. (Schneider’s first wife, Beth, his high school sweetheart whom he married days after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, died after a long battle with Crohn’s disease, leaving him to raise their four daughters as a single father. The tragedy and the burdens it placed on him make his later career achievements all the more remarkable.)

Schneider says being a Coast Guard officer taught him everything he needed to know about leadership. It also helped him discover his love of teaching, first as a navigation instructor at Coast Guard Officer Candidate School in Yorktown, Va., and later as a physics professor and assistant dean at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. Schneider earned his master’s from Wesleyan and his PhD at the University of Delaware, writing his dissertation on how public policy and financial issues impact research at American universities. After completing his doctorate, he spent six years at Drexel University in Philadelphia, working as vice president for research and, later, senior V.P. for administration, among other posts. More than anything, Schneider loved to solve problems and fix things. “And fix them again, if I [had] too.” His ability to come into an organization and right a listing ship was aided by his ability to drill down and grasp the fine details of institutional finance. “If you know where the money is or where it isn’t is, then you know the school,” he said.

He would need those skills when, in 1992, he landed at Norwich as its 23rd president. It was a particularly rocky moment in the university’s history. Enrollment was flagging and finances were shaky. Rumors circulated that the university was borrowing to cover payroll. They weren’t far off. Schneider arrived on June 1st and in “the first two weeks the treasurer walked in [and said] you cannot make Au¬gust payroll,” Schneider recalled. The new president immediately called the bank to ask for a $3 million extension to NU’s line of credit. Then he rolled up his sleeves and dug into university operations. During his first year, he fired the directors of admissions and financial aid. He asked his treasurer—a sharp, former USAF colonel named Andy Melville—to take over the Corps and straighten it out.

During his triage, Schneider identified another major challenge: Norwich was literally divided in two—physically, culturally, financially—by the campus of Vermont College, which the university acquired in the early ’70s. Located 11 miles away in Montpelier, the small hilltop campus was full of grand old Victorian mansions and homes. Civilian students lived there and split their time between campuses, riding a bus called the “Gray Goose” to Northfield for classes not offered in Montpelier. The divide was a cultural and financial disaster, requiring duplicate bursars, registrars, even introductory English courses. Schneider recalled his frustration the day invoices for two comedians landed on his desk. The bills were for performances on the same Saturday night, one in Montpelier, the other in Northfield. “Here I am drowning in red ink!”

Within six months, Schneider proposed a radical change: Undergraduate civilian students would move to the Northfield campus and the adult students would move from Crawford Hall to occupy Vermont College. Integrating civilian and Corps students would allow him to fill empty dorms at Norwich, cut duplicate services, and consolidate academic programs. “That saved the university,” he said.

In hindsight, the move seems obvious. But at the time, it was anything but. Naysayers predicted the demise of Norwich. But people I spoke to say Schneider’s decision was both gutsy and clear-sighted, and one of the toughest and smartest calls of his 28-year presidency. Schneider made other sweeping changes. He cut the number of academic programs and majors from 54 to 30 and reduced the number of tenure-track faculty. The measures undoubtedly felt extreme to some. But Schneider was functioning like a surgeon, making cuts to save a gravely ill patient. Within two years, he had balanced the budget. Finances stabilized and retention rates grew.

Throughout his sweeping changes, Schneider recognized the value of shared governance. He appointed Prof. Frank Vanecek to oversee more than a dozen committees comprised of faculty, staff, Corps and civilian students, who were tasked with thinking through how the two campuses would merge. “He’s always been very good at sharing a vision and getting people to come along,” Vanecek said. The committees met for a year, discussing everything from the student honor code to faculty uniforms to whether or not Norwich teams would still be nicknamed the Cadets.

The Vermont College campus became the home of a low-residency, adult distance-learning program. It took Schneider eight years to make the program turn a profit. When it did, he immediately sold it, campus and all, to Ohio’s Union Institute. “That decision was even bigger and more important and more impactful,” than his earlier push to bring undergraduate civilian students to the Norwich campus, he said. “[It] allowed us to refocus on what we do really well.” He was also finally free to launch an online degree program. A relative novelty at the time, it was something outgoing distance-learning faculty had fiercely opposed.

History and tradition can be powerful guiding forces, especially for institutions. From the start, Schneider sought to understand the foundations of Norwich. He asked archives staff for every available letter written by founder Alden Partridge and read them all. He also nudged the Board to readopt the university’s early mission statement from 1843:


To give our youth an education that shall be American in character—to enable them to act as well as to think—to execute as well as to conceive—“to tolerate all opinions when reason is left free to combat them”— to make moral, patriotic, efficient, and useful citizens, and to qualify them for all those high responsibilities resting upon a citizen of this free republic.

 

Close up of uniformed staff member climbing granite Centennial Stairs engraved with names of historic university figures.
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

By looking to the past, Schneider helped Norwich rediscover a clear and enduring vision and mission for the future. His interest in the history of the institution remains as strong as ever. Recently, he and Jaime have taken to visiting the graves of former Norwich presidents. I asked him what he did when they were there, if he spoke to his predecessors. He was coy in his answer. “Maybe,” he said. “You can, you know, if you want to.”

The people who know and work with President Schneider say he is, at his core, a man of uncommon integrity and deep compassion. His longtime executive assistant, Laura Amell ’89, said not once in all the years she has worked for him has he ever raised his voice. Before her husband died last year at the early age of 59, the president encouraged her to take the time she needed during his illness. At his urging, work never came first; her family did. Dave Whaley, the development and alumni relations vice president, says that of all the people he has known in his life, many of them quite extraordinary, President Schneider is “on a pedestal with one other person, and that would be my dad.”

Reflecting on President Schneider’s legacy, Gen. Sullivan said, “He is the embodiment of Alden Partridge—a modern Alden Partridge and Norwich is better for his having been here.” I asked the general to elaborate. He explained how Partridge, a former West Point instructor, envisioned a radical new model for education, one that championed experiential learning and the idea of the citizen-solider. “What he represents to me is a guy who had an idea, and he was able to make it happen.” Schneider, in Gen. Sullivan’s view, is cut from the same cloth, and the evidence is visible in the university Norwich is today.

Birds-eye view of renovated Norwich academic campus.
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

Of all the professional relationships Schneider maintains, perhaps the most paramount is his long association and friendship with the Hyatt hotel family fortune heiress, entrepreneur, and retired Illinois Army National Guard Col. Jennifer Pritzker. Pritzker is both a trusted friend and an emeritus member of the NU Board of Trustees. Her philanthropic organization, the TAWANI Foundation (the name is an amalgam of letters from the first names of her three children), has supported numerous Norwich programs over the years. They range from the William E. Colby Award and Norwich University Military Writers’ Symposium to NU Visions Abroad, which provides funds and scholarships for student service-learning trips from the Philippines to Tanzania. Pritzker’s financial gifts have made possible the construction of the Sullivan Museum and History Center. Her foundation provided the $6 million loan that enabled the university to replace its oil-fired central heating system with a new biomass plant. (The loan has since been repaid, thanks to the savings in fuel costs.) Pritzker also provided the initial $25 million matching gift for NU’s recently concluded, record-breaking $121 million Bicentennial Forging the Future campaign. In short, she is the largest donor in university history. In recognition of her support, Pritzker was among the 78 Norwich alumni and friends chosen to be recognized on the Bicentennial Stairs, which were officially unveiled during Homecoming last year. By design, the granite riser engraved with her name appears second from the top, just below President Schneider’s.

On a bitterly cold Friday in January, I visited Pritzker in her Chicago office located in the Monroe Building on the corner of Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue overlooking Millennium Park and the Smithsonian-like museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. The neo-Gothic, 16-story architectural gem was built in 1923 and once housed the studio of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Pritzker purchased the building in 2006 and embarked on a meticulous restoration, installing the Pritzker Military Museum and Library on the second, third, and fourth floors. The fifth floor houses the TAWANI Foundation offices, where I spoke with Pritzker over the course of several hours. I was curious to learn what she thought of President Schneider as a leader and as a person and what role his leadership played in her largesse to Norwich over the years.

“Rich Schneider was one of these people who … understands the discipline required to run a military or civilian organization. He understands that you have to have priorities and you have to stick to them and there are performance standards that have to be maintained. But he [also] has the capability—and he’s demonstrated it time and again—to step out of the box, and he realizes that to be effective stepping out of the box, you don’t have to go a hundred miles or a dozen counties away. All you have to do is take typically one step, the kind that deviates from the norm. But that can pay off, because it’s a positive thing.”

One thing Pritzker told me came as a surprise. When she left active duty in 1985, she didn’t have any civilian executive experience, but that the ten years she spent serving on the Norwich Board of Trustees doubled as a de facto MBA. “I learned a lot about the financial, logistical piece of a civilian organization, because Norwich as a corporation, it’s big enough to have all the elements of … a mid-cap, but it’s small enough to where you can see all the moving parts.” Pritzker valued her relationship with the university. “I think Norwich did as much for me as I did for Norwich.”

It’s worth mentioning that Pritzker, who was born James Pritzker, is transgender and open about her experience. Last year, she wrote an op-ed column in the Washington Post about the conflict between her gender identity and long-time support for Republican politics. Pritzker transitioned while serving on the NU Board. That President Schneider remained a steadfast supporter, colleague, and friend during that time speaks to his compassion, integrity, and character. “I hung with her because she is a friend,” he said. “She needed support.”

Pres. Schneider at home in Woodbury Hall.
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

Two summers ago, Schneider sailed aboard the Eagle, the 295-foot tall ship built in 1935 and commissioned shortly after World War II as a training vessel for the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Every year since then, Academy cadets spend weeks on the ship learning to read wind, currents, and weather and to sail the way ancient mariners always have. Schneider joined the ship in Portland, Maine, as it was en route to Manhattan. For the next five days, the Eagle sliced through the blue Atlantic, a steady 45-knot wind filling her billowing white sails. The barque heeled her way around Long Island, then into the mouth of the Hudson River, arriving late in the evening at Liberty Island, and dropping anchor. They motored with a tug early the next morning upriver to the east side of Manhattan, stopping traffic on the West Side before docking at a pier near 46th Street.

It was a bucket-list trip for Schneider and also a return, some 50 years later, to the experiences of his younger self. Schneider had trained aboard the Eagle as a cadet and in later years it was his turn, as a junior officer, to train new Academy cadets. “If I could have done that for a lifetime, I would have. I would have been incredibly happy,” he said. “It’s perfectly quiet, except for the wind. There are no engines on the line.” The adventure and beauty of the sea abounds.

Schneider explained to me that everything that happens on a tall ship requires teamwork, with every hand required on deck to raise or lower sail, change course, or drop anchor. Crews must rely on one another and work together, not only to sail their ship, but also to maintain and repair it, prepare meals, even wash the laundry. “All the things to keep a community going.” Which is precisely what the Eagle was teaching the latest crop of cadets, Schneider said. To be on a tall ship, after all, is to belong to a community at sea. If problems arise, there is no one but yourselves to fix them. Solving problems is what a ship’s crew does, Schneider said. Along the way you build relationships, trust, and experience.

Schneider spoke about the trip only briefly. But it was hard, when he did, not to draw parallels to Norwich. For 28 years, he has captained the university on its own journey, indefatigable in his effort to foster the teamwork and community needed to speed Norwich on its course forward.

One day, at the end of the fall term in December, I spoke with President Schneider in his office in Jackman Hall. Final exams were nearly over and most students had already gone home for the holidays and long winter break. Campus felt quiet and empty. Schneider’s retirement was less than six months away. I asked him how that felt. “Like I’m running out of time,” he said. “I have so much more I want to do. The runway’s getting real short.” His sense of unfinished business, of good ideas yet to be realized was clear. But so was the imminence of parting. “I’m having a rough time,” he said, adding that Jaime was too. Norwich had been his life for 28 years, their life together for 20 years. “I’m going to miss it terribly,” he said. “I’m going to miss school. I’m going to miss, particularly, the students.”

As we spoke, he mentioned that over the course of his life, people sometimes asked him, “Who, what are you really?”

“I’m really a Coast Guard officer,” he said he would reply.

“That’s what I trained to do. That’s what I was educated to do. That’s what I did do, and I loved doing it. So the saying in the Coast Guard is, when the new commanding officer shows up on the cutter, the old commanding officer has got to get out of home port. Not even off the cutter, but you have got to get out of the port, because it’s not fair to the new CO.”

On June 1, 2020, Jaime and President Schneider, a Coast Guard officer to the end, will leave port.

Photo of Pres. Schneider and his wife Jaime
Photograph by Mark Collier
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