A New Era in Criminal Justice Education at Norwich

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The introduction of an online criminal justice degree program in 2013 is the latest example of Norwich University’s ability to adjust to rapidly changing circumstances in criminal justice education and in law enforcement.

The new online program is modeled off Norwich’s longstanding criminal justice curriculum, which has existed for more than 45 years. The development of a criminal justice program first began in 1969 at Norwich, a time when there were few college-level criminal justice programs in the country, and those that did exist had names like “criminology,” explains Stanley Shernock, Charles A. Dana Professor of Criminal Justice.

In 1968, Congress authorized the Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) for the purpose of assisting those working in law enforcement or planning to work in law enforcement to obtain a higher education. Under the program, grants and loans are made to individuals enrolled in law enforcement or criminal justice courses at almost 1,000 junior colleges, colleges, and universities.

LEEP helped to spur a “tremendous proliferation” of CJ programs across the country, says Shernock. Initially, there were police science programs that brought law enforcement officers back in to the classroom. Then police science gradually evolved into criminal justice programs, preparing people for different fields within criminal justice, he says.

The criminal justice program at Norwich was established in 1974 as two-year associate’s degree program. Initially, the program emphasized a more legalistic approach to criminal justice education, with required courses such as substantive criminal law, pre-trial procedure, and criminal procedure from trial onward. In 1977 a new four-year program was introduced.

Shernock, whose academic background is in criminology, came to Norwich in 1985, along with his colleague Max Schlueter. The two of them gradually shifted the criminal justice program’s focus to place more emphasis on social sciences. These changes made the Norwich criminal justice program more compatible with mainstream criminal justice programs. The two-year degree program was terminated in 1987, a new and separate Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology was established, and additional faculty hired. With the newly launched online criminal justice degree program in 2013, faculty member Allison Crowson carries on Shernock and Schlueter's vision, providing oversight as manager of the online program while continuing her roles as instructor and advisor in the on-campus criminal justice program.

Today, Norwich is widely regarded as a leader in criminal justice education, which Shernock credits to “meeting national standards for criminal justice education.”

“We have done this by receiving and maintaining PCIPP (Police Career Incentive Program) certification from the Mass. Dept. of Higher Education since the establishment of this certification in 2003,” says Shernock. “We were one of the first 14 programs of the 46 that applied to receive certification. This PCIPP certification process was adopted almost in toto by our national criminal justice professional association, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.”

Because Norwich is designated as a "Center of Excellence" as one of the few educational institutions that offer information assurance, Norwich is well positioned to offer two minors as part of the new online criminal justice degree program – public safety and law enforcement, and intelligence and security management. Courses will cover topics in growing fields such as national security policy, cyber crime and security, and more.

These subjects are seen by Shernock as “cutting edge” areas within criminal justice education. “We also recognize that another major developing area is terrorism and homeland security, and have hired a faculty member who has that as his area of research and teaching specialization,” Shernock says. These topics add to Norwich’s ever-evolving CJ curriculum, which also includes courses in restorative justice, victimology, civil liability, and criminal justice ethics. 

Shernock also points out that the expertise of Norwich’s criminal justice faculty is in demand by outside organizations such as Vermont’s criminal justice statistical analysis center (which has been run by Norwich faculty for more than 25 years).

“Our center, the Vermont Center for Justice Research, receives federal and state grants to do research on topical criminal justice issues and often testifies before the House and Senate judiciary committees,” Shernock adds. “Since we are the major criminal justice program in the state, many of our faculty has been called upon by television and newspapers for interviews on different criminal justice topics.” 

Lastly, the achievements of Norwich criminal justice alumni (many of whom hold top positions in state and federal law enforcement), and their willingness to give back to the school “has contributed to the quality of our program,” says Shernock. Alumni sponsor an annual CSI conference on campus, and a trip to Washington, D.C., for students to meet with the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and agents from other federal criminal justice agencies. Criminal justice alumni have also organized (and underwritten) special events such as joint SWAT simulations with the FBI at Fort Devins, Mass., and field trips to a correctional facility in Massachusetts.

“The criminal justice program’s mission statement fits Norwich's commitment to public service and leadership,” says Shernock. “The university's tradition articulates well with criminal justice, and employers assume that our graduates have internalized the principles of discipline and structure that are important ingredients to success in a number of fields in criminal justice.”