The Man Behind the Presidency

“This 200th birthday, for me personally, has come at a magnificent time where I can really be right in the middle of everything Partridge.”
– President Richard W. Schneider.

Interview by Jacque E. Day.


“I am just a steward for an unbelievable institution. I have the privilege of taking care of it, and I feel so honored to be the president.” (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“I am just a steward for an unbelievable institution. I have the privilege of taking care of it, and I feel so honored to be the president.” (Photo by Mark Collier.)

THIS YEAR, President Richard Schneider surpassed founder Captain Alden Partridge as Norwich University’s longest-serving president. For 25 years, he has been the face of this institution. Many know that he served on active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, including a tour in Vietnam, and that he retired from the Coast Guard Reserves as a rear admiral. But did you know that he entered the Coast Guard Academy as an alternate, and through hard work and perseverance rose to the rank of regimental commander and graduated near the top of his class? Or that he was himself a college educator, loves to teach, and has a PhD in higher-ed finance and public policy?

There is still a great deal more to learn about the man behind the presidency.

According to the American Council on Education, only five percent of college or university presidents serve more than 20 years. In fact, in the entire history of our country, fewer than 130 college presidents have served 25 or more continuous years at the same institution; all together, they could fit into Milano Ballroom, with room to spare.

Today, President Schneider shows no signs of slowing down. In the spirit of Captain Partridge, he is looking to the future, readying the university for his 2020 retirement, laying the groundwork to ensure that Norwich reaches its 300th anniversary, and beyond. We are delighted to present his reflections on his first quarter century.

Record: You are now Norwich University’s longest-serving president. Did you ever expect to stay this long, and if not, what has kept you here?
In 1994, three presidents spoke at the 175th anniversary of the founding of Norwich, each on their respective wars. President Emeritus Loring Hart (right) spoke of his experiences in WWII, and President Emeritus W. Russell Todd ’50 (left) on his experiences in Korea. President Schneider reflected on his tour in Vietnam. (Courtesy of President Richard W. Schneider.)

In 1994, three presidents spoke at the 175th anniversary of the founding of Norwich, each on their respective wars. President Emeritus Loring Hart (right) spoke of his experiences in WWII, and President Emeritus W. Russell Todd ’50 (left) on his experiences in Korea. President Schneider reflected on his tour in Vietnam. (Courtesy of President Richard W. Schneider.)

That is a great question. I did not expect to stay this long. In my interview I was asked how long I would stay, and I answered, “Well, normally I stay eight to ten years at any one place.” I had nine years in the Coast Guard, active duty. I had ten years with the University of Delaware. I had eight years at Drexel. What I normally do is I get things fixed and organized, and then I get a little bored.

But I have got to tell you, I have never, ever been bored in this job. Never, once.

I remember General Sullivan saying, “bigger is not better.” I will tell you that I was approached off and on during my presidency, mostly early on—years seven, and eight, and ten in particular. Headhunters would call me and say, “We would like to move you to this bigger school.” I told them, “Don’t even call me anymore. I am not going anywhere as long as they want me to stay.” Because I loved it here. I love it here still.

Record: No one could ever dispute that you have left an enduring legacy at Norwich. What milestones or accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am incredibly proud of our graduates who have served and who are serving in the United States military. Reports I hear from the field—whether they be junior or senior officers, enlisted, NCOs, and special forces—are that our alumni have performed above and beyond, stateside and on deployment. They have carried on the Norwich legacy of being great warriors and great protectors. I am very proud of that. I hear this from the senior leadership in the military. They tell me, Your graduates are leading with integrity and honor.

Congratulating Norwich Peer to Peer team member Naomi Rinaldo ’19 for the group’s national first-place award in the Department of Homeland Security 2017 Challenging Extremism competition. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Congratulating Norwich Peer to Peer team member Naomi Rinaldo ’19 for the group’s national first-place award in the Department of Homeland Security 2017 Challenging Extremism competition. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

The things our faculty are doing now are absolutely spectacular—the scholarship from our faculty and our students, the name recognition they bring to Norwich, the breadth and depth of the programs, the national ranking of cybersecurity and information assurance. We are doing, academically and reputation-wise, so much more—as we should be.

I am a building president. We have raised a lot of money to build, and the credit goes to the alumni and friends. The buildings are crucial because they are the vehicle by which we deliver education. The buildings must allow the programs to grow stronger.

The crash of ’08 hurt every school in the country. So many schools lost a third of their endowments. Thankfully we were able to manage through it because we had great liquidity. Every time we made money, we saved it in the endowment and in cash, so when ’08 happened, I didn’t have to do anything. We didn’t sell anything to stay liquid, which remains a strength of our university. That is why our credit rankings are so high. Now we are back to where we were and better, actually, in the endowment.

Today, the undergraduate student body is as big as I want it to be. Any bigger and the students won’t know the faculty and we won’t know each other. Our academic model is still oriented in the tradition of Partridge: experiential learning, which means you need a ratio of 14 students to 1 faculty member if you want them to be taught well. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still growing. We are growing…differently. We are bringing in new talent and new ideas and figuring out new ways to deliver education—building up the online programs, for one thing. All this creating is energizing.

You know what else am I proud of? The creation of our institutes and centers of excellence. These interdisciplinary centers have multi-disciplinary teams working to solve the world’s biggest problems. They are run by our faculty and staff, who are working with other outstanding universities on big problems right here, and that is vaulting our reputation forward.

We have always been a great teaching institution, no doubt about it. We have always done an unbelievable job for students and for teaching their disciplines, but now we are on the world stage, solving the toughest problems out there. I can’t stress enough how important it is to work across disciplines and apply diverse perspectives to global problems. Exciting things happen when disciplines collide.

And, these centers and institutes allow us to build research expertise and give our younger faculty members academic administration experience, which is growing our next generation of academic leaders at Norwich.

Record: What are your thoughts on Norwich’s emergence as a global leader in Information Assurance?

We were taking a hard look at cyber and implementing it before anyone else was even thinking about it. Cyber is going to be with us deep into this century. But what is the next thing after cyber? My question to everyone reading this—and I am asking everybody that I can talk to—is tell me what you think I should be doing now so that 15 years from now, or let’s say in 2035, they look back and say, “You know, they were really smart to be starting this new thing.” I am looking for the next cyber. That is why I am reading about the future and trying to position our institution to be dealing with and heading off future problems. We know water is going to be like gold and that climate change is going to affect everything. That is why the institutes and centers of excellence here at Norwich are so important. The work they are doing bears on the world, today and tomorrow.

Record: That is a great segue into this question by Hilary McElroy Coons ’01, who asked, “Looking ahead to 2069 when Norwich will celebrate its 250th anniversary, what would you like Norwich to say about your presidency? What about your legacy do you hope they remember?”

Many remember Harmon, certainly, and we all remember Partridge. It would be great to see Norwich continue to cultivate our place in America and in the world. That would be my wish, my heart’s desire, that we are even better known, doing more important things, that we are even more relevant on our 250th birthday, that we would have to chain the gates because we are being overrun by parents who want their young adults to study here. I can picture Norwich campuses in other parts of the world where we help others learn how a civilian-controlled military can work with citizen-soldiers. It has already started. We have the CityLab Berlin and our partnership with the Chengdu American Center for Study Abroad in China. I would like to see us expand to the Pacific Rim, Central and South America. What it really comes down to is, what we are known for is driven by what our alumni do with their lives—the important ways in which they improve their world. We build our reputation on what they do and how they do it. They deserve all the credit for that, not me.

So if I am remembered for anything, I hope it is for being faithful to Partridge’s idea—and for being a good steward of the institution.

Record: What will you miss most when you retire?
Commencement 2014. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Commencement 2014. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

The students, the excitement, the 150 emails a day, being in the middle of the action all the time, seeing others pick up and do unbelievable things.

I will miss hearing on a daily basis about great things that our alumni do. I will miss seeing the interaction between students and faculty, students and me, students and alumni, alumni among their own ranks. I am always impressed with how deeply the alumni care for one another. And it’s not just evident at Homecoming.

The connection—I have loved it all. Some days were tougher than others, but the mission is what keeps me energized. The place is what I love. The history is what I love. The people are what I love the most. All of the people in the Norwich family—the alumni, faculty and staff, the fellows and trustees—but especially the students. I have watched them grow up here and go out and improve the world. And in a real way, a big way. They are the reason I have loved my work here.

I still have a lot to do before I retire in 2020. I am still building, and not just physical structures. I am building reputation and academic programs, and student experiences, and I constantly see things improving, which gives me more energy.
It is not done yet, and I am not bored, so I am not leaving.

In fact, I am thinking that three years are going to come too quickly because I have a lot more I would like to do.

Record: What do you see as the greatest challenge ahead for your successor?

Affordability. We need everybody’s help to keep the students enrolled.

The Forging the Future campaign is critical to finishing the building projects we have going on now through 2019. I would urge the next president and the Board to focus on raising money for scholarships in the coming years. We need to triple the endowment. It is about $208 million right now and we need a $600 million endowment as quick as we can get there. We need resources to keep students here. We need to endow those students. We need to endow this regiment and endow the civilian student population, so that we can compete and get the very best students, and not lose them. If a student leaves for other reasons, I respect that choice. But it breaks my heart when they have to leave because they cannot afford to stay.

Record: If you could give your successor only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read everything that Partridge wrote. I did that in my first year, to try to understand the culture, and the exercise gave me the foundation on which I operate as president to this day. Always respect the culture of the place to which you are going. You have to understand where they came from if you want to lead them into the future.

Record: If you could go back 25 years and whisper into your own ear, what would you tell yourself?

Buckle up. This is going to be a great ride.

Record: Is there anything you would like the Norwich family to know about you?

That I love them.

Dog River Run 2010. (Photo by Jay Ericson.)

Dog River Run 2010. (Photo by Jay Ericson.)

Norwich University card Statement of Guiding ValuesSIDEBARS

Back to the Future

After the 2001 sale of Vermont College, President Schneider re-instituted the original Norwich mission statement, first published in the 1843 catalog under Partridge’s presidency. Afterward, he introduced the Hard Card, a sturdy, pocket-sized document with the Norwich guiding values printed on the front (pictured).

The reverse side contains Norwich University’s vision statement, institutional priorities, and mission statement, which reads: “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.”

In addition to the mission statement, President Schneider also brought back the original Partridge full-dress Corps of Cadets uniform design.

Presidential Facts

Enrollment Increases by More than 70 Percent

Corps of Cadets: 993
Civilian Residential (VC): 276
Civilian Commuter (Northfield): 402
Adult Students (VC): 804
Total: 2,475

Corps of Cadets: 1,579
Civilian Residential: 600
Civilian Commuter: 225
Online Programs: 1,811
Total: 4,215

Institutes and Centers of Excellence

The centers and institutes created under President Schneider’s tenure bring together multi-disciplinary teams to look at the world’s toughest problems.

Center for Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics
Center for Civic Engagement
Center for Global Resilience and Security
Leadership and Change Institute
Norwich University Applied Research Institutes
Peace and War Center

Comments are closed.