“DEI Is Dead” at VMI

by James A. Bacon

The Youngkin administration has just unloaded a HIMARS rocket attack on Virginia Military Institute’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program.

Speaking Friday in a session of mandatory “inclusive excellence training,” Martin D. Brown, Youngkin’s chief of Diversity, Opportunity & Inclusion, left steaming rubble where VMI’s DEI program had been standing.

“Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow. DEI is dead,” said Brown. “We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead. It was mandated by the General Assembly, but this governor has a different philosophy of civil discourse, civility, treating — living the golden rule, right?”

VMI recorded the speech and made it available to Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira, who proceeded to consult a half-dozen DEI supporters and quote them extensively to suggest that there is widespread concern about the Youngkin administration’s position.

It is difficult portraying Brown as a racist, as Shapira’s sources have done to conservative white alumni critical of VMI’s implementation of DEI. Brown is African-American. But Shapira did squeeze in criticism of his invocation of Jesus in an opening prayer. How, he reported one attendee as asking, could Brown claim to support inclusiveness if he opened with a Christian prayer?

While Governor Glenn Youngkin has worked behind the scenes to appoint members to public-university boards of visitors across Virginia who are willing to fight for diversity, opportunity & inclusion, he has not openly taken sides in university disputes. Brown’s intervention in VMI’s contentious DEI debate represents a first. And it could be a signal that the Governor intends to be more assertive in the future.

Said Brown, as quoted by Shapira:

VMI’s in a unique space … You’ve been at the tip of the spear in serving our country in sending warriors to battle, but in a way, you’re at the tip of the spear in this cultural war as well. Generally, when you are focusing on equity, you’re not pursuing merit or excellence or achievement. Not all the time, but you’re looking at equal outcomes….

What we’ve done is we’ve made diversity the mission. Wrong mission … The challenge is keeping your eyes on the mission rather than the attendant challenges that we experience trying to complete the mission. And when we focus on those challenges, what happens is the mission is undermined … One of the things we want to focus on is whatever the goal of the organization is, that goal is paramount, and diversity and inclusion supports whatever the goal is.

At various points during his talk, Shapira wrote, Brown suggested that race relations in the country have dramatically improved over the last several decades.

Because they’re better, we can’t ascribe perpetual victimization or even motives because they’re different. Acknowledging those truths frees us up to deal with the issues, the real issues, of today.

In an email response to a question, Brown added:

It’s proven that institutions achieve more with a more diverse and inclusive workforce. However, equity has become a tradeoff for excellence. Our aim is to expand opportunities but not guarantee equal results.

Other than Brown, Shapira quoted DEI proponents exclusively. One professor conceded that the culture of DEI had not taken deep root. “Other colleges have had DEI embedded at their schools for a long time, but at VMI, it’s new and not fully supported by alumni and staff,” he said. “It’s a place where you can stomp it out.”