Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Susan Stevenson: First Female Head of a Military College?

When COL James Benson resigned as president and departed MMI (he now heads Riverside Military Academy in Georgia), Susan G. Stevenson, our Vice President and Dean of Academics, was appointed Interim President of MMI effective 1 June. She will lead the Institute until a new president is selected and assumes the office.

Susan G. Stevenson, Interim President, MMI (Credit: MMI Alumni Office)

A native of Churchill, Tennessee, Susan completed both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at East Tennessee State University. A doctoral candidate at The George Washington University in Washington, D. C., she is completing her dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration. Her topic focuses on motives and reasons why students attend a military junior college.

Before coming to MMI, Susan served at Northeast State Technical Community College in Tennessee, Mary Washington University in Virginia, and at Marymount University in Washington, D.C. Usually, her positions included that of registrar and director of admissions.

Susan is married to CDR Sam Stevenson, Ph.D., who heads the Chemistry Department here at MMI.

Susan Stevenson as Vice President and Dean of Academics at MMI (Credit: MMI Alumni Office).

The question arises: Is Susan Stevenson the first woman to head a military college in the U.S.? The world? After doing an Internet search on my own, I posed that question to the leadership of AMCSUS, the Association of Military Colleges and Schools of the United States, the umbrella organization for military colleges, junior colleges, and preparatory schools in the country. The five national service academies are not members of AMCSUS.

Rudy Ehrenberg, Executive Director of AMCSUS, responded to my query stating that they were checking into the matter and would get back to me. I have not heard from them, to date.

By personal experience, I remembered that Susan J. Johnson, serves as the assistant superintendent at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, Virginia. Founded in 1879, FMS is a private preparatory boarding school for boys, Grades 8-12. I contacted her and asked if she knew of any other women heading military educational institutions in the U.S. or the world? She referred me to Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, Virginia, for additional assistance. I contacted MG Henry Hobgood, RMA’s head. He referred me to The Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia.

VWIL at Mary Baldwin (a fine civilian women’s college) claims to have the only all-female cadet corps in the world.
It was begun originally as an alternative program for women during the Virginia Military Institute’s long fight to stay all-male while remaining a state institution. In the end, of course, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that VMI must go co-ed (like The Citadel did earlier), but VWIL not only remained at Mary Baldwin, the program has thrived over the years. VMI is still instrumental in assisting the VWIL program.

Dr. Brenda L. Bryant, Vice President and Dean of Students at Mary Baldwin College, served as the first director of the VWIL program and has served as head of AMCSUS. Clearly, Dr. Bryant is at the forefront of military education for women in the United States. General Mike Bissell, formerly of VMI (he’s VMI ’61), who has been involved with VWIL from the beginning, currently heads that program. We had a very nice telephone conversation. He and our COL John Gibler are old friends!

Now, in my view, VWIL is a strong military program for women within a larger civilian women’s college, just as the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech and Texas A & M, for example, are fine military programs within larger universities boasting many thousands of civilian students. Virginia Tech, Texas A & M, Clemson University, Auburn University, and even the University of Alabama, were once all-male military institutions at some point in their histories.

Which brings us back to Susan Stevenson as Interim President of Marion Military Institute, a full-fledged military junior college – in fact, the oldest military junior college in the nation.

Employing the old adage, “Unless there is evidence to the contrary, always assume that you have the upper hand,” I will assume that – unless evidence to the contrary appears – Susan Stevenson is indeed the first female to head a military college, perhaps, not only in the United States, but, maybe, in the world! At least, that’s my story (for now) and I’m sticking with it!