A More Politically Diverse Board for VMI

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s board-of-visitors appointments to the University of Virginia and the Virginia Community College System are bound to shake up the status quo, as Bacon’s Rebellion has documented in earlier posts today. His designation of four new members to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors could generate controversy as well.

The outgoing VMI board is the one that presided when former Governor Ralph Northam evicted former Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay III, replaced him with the current Superintendent, Cedric Wins, stood silent (or expressed support) when The Washington Post and a Northam-appointed investigation maligned the military academy as systemically racist, and approved a series of measures to undo the alleged racism.

The big question is this: How hard will new board members fight to preserve what dissident alumni refer to as threats to core VMI institutions such as the Honor Code and the Rat Line? The answer to that question may hinge on whether the Wins administration is actually implementing policies hostile to free expression and bedrock values.

The appointees include:

  • John Adams of Midlothian, Equity Partner, McGuireWoods, LLP.
  • C. Ernest Edgar IV of Tampa, Florida, General Counsel, Atkins North America.
  • Thomas E. Gottwald of Richmond, Chairman and CEO, NewMarket Corportation.
  • Meaghan Mobbs, PhD, of Fairfax, Executive Director, Save Our Allies, Vice President for Client Strategies.

Of these, Gottwald is the best known quantity. He was serving on the board when the racism-at-VMI controversy broke. He and corporate attorney Grover Outland resigned when Peay was forced to leave. Gottwald never spoke publicly in the ensuing controversies, but is thought by my sources to lean toward the side of traditionalist alumni.

Matt Daniel, director of the Spirit of VMI political action committee, describes the four appointments as “a very strong list,” adding, “The Governor got it right. We are very excited to see this group of board members.”

The Spirit of VMI PAC made $151,000 in campaign contributions during the 2020 election campaign — all to Republicans who expressed support for alumni protesting the tarring of VMI as a racist institution. (No Democrat solicited the group’s support.) That sum includes $25,000 for Youngkin, who promised he would give serious consideration to the group’s concerns.

Sources tell Bacon’s Rebellion that none of the board members nominated by the VMI Alumni Associations were appointed.

VMI has posted two articles on its news site today — one highlighting the appointment of VMI’s new athletic director and one profiling a cadet’s summer research — but has yet to respond officially to the board appointments announced yesterday.

“We are looking forward to working with the new [board] members to continue our mission of educating and training leaders of character,” said VMI spokesperson Bill Wyatt in response to Bacon’s Rebellion.

VMI has installed a director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and implemented diversity training that officials insist is voluntary. The Institute has yet to build a DEI bureaucracy as extensive as that seen at many of Virginia’s other public universities, but money requested for the Fiscal 2023 budget would have included some new money for DEI staffing — the precise amount of which is a matter of dispute and hinges on whether a position is classified as “DEI” or not.

Dissident alumni argue that any “training” like DEI that makes cadets more conscious of racial identity is inherently divisive and antithetical to the Rat Line/Barracks system, which, like U.S. Army basic training, strips away former identities and imbues first-year Rats with a core identity as VMI cadets. VMI, they say, is one of the most egalitarian campuses in the United States. While the Northam-instigated investigation did cite individual instances of racism, some of which the Peay administration corrected, and cited some perceptions of racism, it didn’t even try to make the case that racism was more prevalent at VMI than anywhere else.

Also, some have accused the Wins administration of suppressing freedom of expression, in particular by harassing the independent Cadet newspaper, which has at times been critical of VMI leadership. Among many issues involved in that controversy, VMI officials have portrayed the newspaper, which is backed by a foundation run by activist alumnus Bob Morris, as a tool of dissident alumni. Morris insists that students make the editorial decisions and that the administration is hostile because it can’t control the message.

Bacon’s Rebellion has heard many of these controversies but has been unable to devote the time to verify or debunk the various claims. One thing that can be said with confidence is that the dissident alumni, whose voices have been shut out of official VMI and alumni association deliberations, likely will get a more receptive hearing now.

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18 responses to “A More Politically Diverse Board for VMI”

  1. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
    Virginia Gentleman

    LOL — right on cue …

    1. It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it, when there is one publication reporting on important stories that the mainstream media ignore? Ah, for the good old days when right-thinking Virginians had a media monopoly!

      By the way, how did you come up with the user name of Virginia Gentleman? Isn’t that a throwback to racist, patriarchal society? I mean, how can you live with yourself? Given your principles, I would think that you would cancel yourself!

      1. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        Not you, too joining the name calling? Virginia Gentleman was echoing an earlier comment on the article on the UVa piece. Be thankful for consistency and sticktoitiveness. Bad form, JAB.

      2. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

        Good article and good comment, Mr. Bacon. I see the humor. (My other User Name is “Jack Daniel.”)

      3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Ha! My grandmother used Va. Gentleman to keep her dentures clean. Cheap blended whiskey is a powerful solvent. Hard to believe that was the only Commonwealth endorsed legal whiskey in Virginia for many years.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          101 Uses for a Dead Cat.

          VG was served at my first wedding reception open bar. Dad went to the liquor store on base and came back with VG gin and vodka too, I think.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            I work at times in a warehouse right next to the Bowman Distillery. Cool place. Very interesting tour. Just a handful of people are making vast quantities of spirits. Right now, they are trying to resurrect an old time Virgnia Apple Jack brandy recipe. They have a long ways to go. Tastes like SCOPE right now.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I keep a bottle of Lairds’ apple jack. It’s probably 20 years in the bottle. It’s a plesant taste, but not for straight. Can’t remember what drink recipe prompted me to buy it.

      4. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
        Virginia Gentleman

        Actually- it is for my love of bourbon. No racism here but always willing to self reflect and try to be better. Hoping it is contagious.

      5. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
        Virginia Gentleman

        Actually- it is for my love of bourbon. No racism here but always willing to self reflect and try to be better. Hoping it is contagious.

      6. LarrytheG Avatar

        banging on the main stream media is lame as heck and implies there is no right-leaning media to report to the public.

        There is plenty of right-leaning media these days but they apparently have little to no editorial or journalistic interest in issues like this – and even when they do, they can’t seem to keep it objective and fact-based – much like the problems BR has “reporting” sometimes also.

        JAB portrays these issues almost as if they are conspiracies where left-wing govt, higher ed and the media are all in cahoots to despoil and ruin conservative values and institutions.

        And the DEI thing has become the boogeyman of systemic white supremacy it seems.

        Sounds for all the world like a cabal of old white guys bemoaning change.

  2. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Yah, McGuireWoods participated in law suits to challenge 2020 election returns (in PA, I recall) gratifying the VMI PAC and the latest presidential aspirant, Mr. Youngthing. Maybe the aspirations are only for VP. Yah, political diversity to eliminate DEI.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Another post treating the inevitable as something surprising. Three members of the prior VMI Board of Visitors were not eligible for reappointment. The only other member whose term expired this year was one who was appointed by Northam in November 202o, presumably to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Gottwald. With the expiration of the terms of three members of the Board who could not, by law, be reappointed and Youngkin being the first Republican governor in eight years, his appointments were guaranteed to make the board more “politically diverse.”

    By the way, there is no “outgoing board.” Of the sixteen members of the Board prior to July 1, twelve will remain on the Board until at least next year. The terms of four members expire on June 30, 2023 and three of those members will not be eligible for reappointment. What Youngkin does with the Board member next year who is eligible for reappointment will a clear sign about how strong is his desire to make change at VMI.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Awww, you took some of the Breaking out of Breaking News. Perhaps, the three expiring appointments were part of a Green Bay Sweep to remain in office. Kinda like a secret, illegal plan.

  4. You have it correct. We finally have a voice at the highest level

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “A More Politically Diverse Board for VMI”

    See? DEI works.

  6. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    “[Gottwald] and corporate attorney Grover Outland resigned when Peay was forced to leave.” They actually resigned a few days after Gen. Peay resigned before the vote to take down Stonewall. That was the precipitating incident, not Peay’s departure.

    1. Thank you for the correction.

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