Home News and Features Features Higher Education Series Spotlights Norwich University: Interview with President Richard Schneider

Higher Education Series Spotlights Norwich University: Interview with President Richard Schneider

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Norwich president Schneider. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Norwich president Schneider. Photo by Carla Occaso.

by The Bridge staff

The Bridge: What’s the point of a military college these days?

Schneider: I don’t think a military college has ever been more relevant. We really need smart officers and citizens leading this country. Norwich has been at this business for 195 years, and it has educated and produced unbelievable leaders for America. In fact, I would say the country needs more Norwich University graduates.

The Bridge: As a military educator, how do you see the world as it is today?

Schneider: It’s chaotic, disorderly and somewhat mad. I think we’re confronted with some real challenges globally. It’s very different from when I grew up. I was commissioned in 1968, and it was very clear: the enemy was the Soviet Union, and both the major powers, America and the Soviet Union, held many of these smaller rogue states in check. We don’t have that anymore. We’ve got non-nation-states creating havoc in the world. Concurrently we’re faced with financial issues, public health issues and environmental issues, like water, which is going to be one of the major critical supplies. Think about how countries are handling people coming across their borders, whether immigrants, refugees or migrant workers. Those are big problems to address as nations and as societies.

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I think we need our military leaders to be very astute at cultural differences and ethnic differences. … It’s much more complicated—with technology today, the speed and the flexibility of social media and reporting, a second lieutenant can get our nation into big trouble if he screws it up in a town. So these young soldiers have a much harder time than our soldiers in World War II or Korea. And maybe even in Vietnam. The Viet Cong were wearing uniforms, not all of them but many of them. Today, these poor young commissioned officers, these leaders, are having a very tough time. We want them to be very disciplined, very smart, ethically strong and physically strong. And that’s what Norwich does as far as educating leaders. There are 1,500 cadets here, and about two-thirds of them will go into the U.S. military. And I also have about 800 civilians. This is one team, one fight. For example, today one third of the Department of Defense is civilians. Military leaders need to know how to work with and work for civilians. You cannot go to war without your contractor any more. So we really believe Norwich is your military academy of the future. …

It’s important to understand the differences. … Our civilians need to know the sacrifices that our military people make every day to defend us. Norwich is like a microcosm of the Department of Defense—or America. It’s one fight. We have to know how to deal with diversity and different points of view.

The Bridge: So what are the sacrifices that civilians have to understand?

Schneider: Some of them don’t appreciate how horrible war is. We’d rather be home with our families. … We need the citizens to support us, to know that we’re submitting our military to great pain and suffering. And that also applies to our families. When you rip a mom or a dad away for a year or two, that’s really hard for a family, but the family is willing to do it for a greater good. When we’re in a fight, we fight to protect our buddies. We’re trying to fulfill a mission, but by limiting the harm done to our soldiers.

I can’t simulate a war here at Norwich. My job is to help the students understand the ethical issues, and to make them physically and morally strong—to lead America’s treasures, her young people, into battle. That’s what we do.

The Bridge: What are the values that a young man or woman can take away from the Norwich experience?

Schneider: The greatest value that I believe we teach is our honor code. We do not lie, cheat or steal—nor do we tolerate anybody that does. And, by the way, that last one is the most difficult—the toleration. That’s why there are problems in self-regulated professions. When the profession is held responsible for making sure all of us behave properly and the profession doesn’t report someone who’s violating our values, the system breaks down. That’s why we have problems in self-regulating professions. If you see somebody cheating on a test, the standard is to go to that person and say, “I saw you cheating on that test. You’ve got 24 hours to turn yourself in or I’m turning you in.”

That’s the standard. You think about that, as an adult. We have problems with doctors, priests, journalists— if they don’t turn themselves in, we have huge problems. The reputation of the profession is tarnished. We have to hold the profession accountable.

I have thrown students out of school, permanently—dismissed them. When I dismiss them, that means you can never come back. I have dismissed students for lying, cheating and stealing. I’ve dismissed students for other things, too. We cannot have officers lying about anything because it gets people killed. It’s better to say “I don’t know” than to make something up or try to protect a buddy.

The honor code is very similar at all the federal service academies, and at the six senior military colleges. Our mission is to train and educate ethical leaders.