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Letters to the Editor 

Published December 16, 2009 at 8:15 a.m.

Norwich President Responds

I read with great interest the story “Corps Confessions” in the December 2 issue of Seven Days in which reporter Andy Bromage surveyed 144 ROTC scholarship students at Norwich University on issues of national security.

The story has generated a mixed response on campus; some people think the article was a result of biased journalism and bad survey methodology, while others think the opposite. It did expose a raw nerve on the different views of the definition and use of torture.

While the survey story does not represent the views of all of our approximately 1250 military or indeed our 850 civilian students, it has proven valuable for the vigorous debate it has inspired within our community on the topics of ethics in journalism and ethics in war.

The survey and resulting story have provided a teaching moment that we have seized and will continue to leverage.

I have served as president of Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college, for the past 17 years. We believe in Captain Alden Partridge’s model for educating citizen-soldiers — those who will lead in their communities and will also have formal military training should they be asked to take up arms. This historic model was the basis for the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and students who come to Norwich take great pride in our history of serving the nation in both our community and our military.

As ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz said at our commencement exercises last spring: We are in a unique position to bridge the divide between military and civilian culture. She urged our military and civilian students to maintain friendships and to continue to grow and learn from one another. In an era of an all-volunteer military, in which a shrinking number of Americans have served in the armed forces, the issues of war in Iraq and Afghanistan seem far from the everyday discourse here in the U.S.

Our intention in participating in the ROTC survey story was to work toward bridging that cultural gap. Taking the survey results presented at face value, I would like to expand on some insights they present.

As president of one of the nation’s first institutions to accept international students, I am proud that an overwhelming majority of survey respondents believe Muslims should be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Norwich has a vibrant Studies in War and Peace program, and in our graduate school, our oldest and most popular program is the master of arts in diplomacy. Our community includes students from over 20 different countries and we continue numerous student exchanges abroad.

I also take heart in seeing the range of responses and opinions, and the impression I have is that the older students have more nuanced perspectives on these important issues that are so relevant to their lives. That says to me that our program of educating citizen-soldiers works.

I am concerned, however, with the possibility that some of our students believe categorically in the use of torture. The decision to use any level of force in defending the country is never black and white, and intrinsic to students’ education here is the exploration of those morally complex issues. Classroom exercises mirror the national debate on questions of what constitutes torture and whether its use is ever justified in saving the lives of Americans and our allies.

The future officers and community leaders we are educating today will face tough challenges that will test their moral integrity. I believe that if Norwich graduates were executives at Enron or officers in charge at Abu Ghraib, our nation would not be faced with the unethical and terrible behavior that has cast such a negative pall on our reputation as Americans. I stand by that assertion even in the face of the most recent news about the negative behavior of a group of Norwich freshmen. As students progress through our program, they learn the lessons of leadership and are prepared to assume their proper role as citizens of this country.

Our student population is made up of primarily traditional-aged 18-22-year-olds living both civilian and military lifestyles; older veterans who have served and are attending Norwich on the GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program; and active-duty servicemen working toward becoming officers. These various groups on campus learn, live and work together every day. An environment rich with those who have served, those preparing to serve and those preparing to enter civilian life makes Norwich the best place for these debates that are so uniquely American to play out.

It is my hope that this story and the subsequent debates it has inspired will continue the conversation about U.S. military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the tough choices our soldiers face in defending the nation. As a community we will continue to discuss ethics in journalism and in war.

Richard Schneider


Schneider is president of Norwich University.

What Warming?

Here is an interesting story about the state of our nation. I’m a college student and, in my accounting class, I took an informal poll: The question was, “How many people don’t believe in global warming?” There are about 20 students in that class, and three raised their hands. Therefore, let me assume, three out of 20 college students do not believe in global warming. After I sat down, the kid in front of me said, “It’s not that I don’t believe it, I don’t give a shit,” then he resumed texting somebody. Shocking! Terrifying! My generation is the future and right now it’s looking bleak.

Every interesting article published by Seven Days raises somebody’s awareness somewhere. And it is delivered right to our school, Vermont Technical College. Keep up the good work!

Nicole Cyr


View from the Wheelchair

[Re: “Advocates Charge Vermont Is Failing Its Elderly and Disabled Citizens,” November 25]: As someone who uses a wheelchair, I am grateful advocacy groups exist to speak on behalf of myself and other vulnerable Vermonters, but I am very worried by these agencies’ assertions regarding [the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living’s] response to abuse claims. In these tough times, staff and budget cuts affect those who can ill afford it. If a society’s greatness is judged by how the disenfranchised are treated, then Vermont is heading down a slippery slope, and taking people like me with it.

Jill Allen

South Burlington

Worker Misclassification is Stealing

I would like to thank both Seven Days and [author] Kevin J. Kelley for … “‘Independent Contractor’ or Employee? The Difference Could Mean $2.6 Million for the State’s Unemployment Fund” [December 2]. In focusing on the loss of monies from the state’s unemployment fund, though, the article misses a larger national scandal.

I was surprised that the phrase “wage theft” did not appear in the piece. Having just read Wage Theft in America by Kim Bobo, I know that the misclassification of workers as independent contractors is a major way employers steal wages from their employees. In this book she documents 11 other ways in which wages are illegally taken; they include the theft of tips, failure to pay the minimum wage and writing checks that bounce, to name a few.

A Government Accountability Office report estimated that well over three million workers get misclassified yearly, and this means that they are often denied overtime pay, and that payroll taxes, which go to Social Security and Medicare, are dodged.

This theft is epidemic in our society; we all support businesses that steal. The estimates are in the tens of billions of dollars yearly, and this is a conservative, business-friendly figure.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act (HR 3303), introduced by Congressman George Miller (D-CA) in July 2009, proposes to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act so that the Department of Labor (DoL) can offer stronger protections for workers. Currently workers are not being protected, and the Wage and Hour Division of the DoL assigns only 750 investigators to oversee 130 million workers in more than seven million workplaces.

This is not an issue of the competitiveness of small businesses; it’s clearly one of taking a position against crime.

John MacLean


Smoking Stinks

I hear a lot about smokers’ rights, but nothing about smokers’ responsibilities [“Next Up for the Burlington City Council: An Outdoor Smoking Ban,” November 18]. You pollute our air, our water, you stink up our clothes and hair, and you contribute to the high cost of health insurance. Every Green Up Day, the bulk of the trash I see was generated by inconsiderate cigarette and cigar smokers. If only I had a penny for each cigarette butt on the ground in Burlington — especially around the hospital!

Nina Jaffe


Get the Lead Out

I have been doing research at gun club shooting ranges for more than 30 years [“Neighbors Target a Williston Gun Club,” November 18]. I have been fighting with the Agency of Natural Resources in Vermont about a gun club similar to the one in the article: the Montpelier Gun Club in Berlin. They have been shooting lead shot into the Winooski River for more than 100 years, and the best the agency can come up with is, they have to put up a shot curtain to stop the lead shot from going into the Winooski River. On some weekends they shoot as much as 3 to 5 tons of lead into their area. My concern about this has been going on for more than nine years, and tests have shown the river is polluted beyond safe limits with lead, arsenic and antimony .

I have already contacted the Boutins about their problem and I have offered my services free of charge. I could never get any newspaper to publish a story about the contamination in the Winooski River, simply because, it seems, [gun clubs] are [above] the law and they have protection from anyone trying to stop their polluting activities.

Bruce A. Ryan

Highgate Center

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