Dissident Alumni Open a New Front in the Higher-Ed Culture Wars

by James A. Bacon

A Saturday meeting of the VMI Alumni Association, convened to elect a new board of directors, broke up in acrimony and confusion. In a series of votes, dissident alumni voted to remove the existing board and replace it with a hybrid slate comprised of some old board members and some new. But association President Sam Stocks declared the votes in violation of the association’s bylaws, and the meeting concluded with no new board being chosen.

The fracas reflects deep divisions within the Virginia Military Institute alumni community since The Washington Post, former Governor Ralph Northam, and the Northam-instigated Barnes & Thornburg report declared VMI guilty of “systemic racism.” The Northam-anointed superintendent, Cedric Wins, is implementing recommendations of the report by building up Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programs that some traditionalist alumni fear are antithetical to the hallowed Rat Line and Honor Code. Dissident alumni perceive that the VMI Alumni Association has sided with Wins in the ongoing controversies and has not been transparent in its activities.

The aborted Saturday election has significance beyond VMI. Dissident alumni groups — including The Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia and the General’s Redoubt at Washington & Lee University here in Virginia — are organizing around the country. There is a widespread sentiment that established alumni associations have been captured by university administrations, function mainly as fund-raising arms for their institutions, and, as self-perpetuating cliques, are unresponsive to the concerns of conservative alumni.

The effort by dissident VMI alumni to gain control of the VMI alumni association represents a new front in the campus culture wars. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that conservative alumni have ever tried to take control of an association. And, in my estimation, it won’t be the last.

Conservative alumni cite numerous reasons for their unhappiness with the VMI Alumni Association, which with the VMI Foundation and Keydet Club comprise the VMI Alumni Agencies. Bob Morris, an alumni activist who backs an independent student newspaper, The Cadet, and has filed a lawsuit against VMI over its DEI procurement, told Bacon’s Rebellion that the association has not been fully open about its financial support for VMI. Contributions by VMI alumni, much of it in the form of scholarships, comprise a significant portion of the Institute’s budget. “Everybody started complaining about the lack of transparency on the fiscal stuff,” he said.

In what Morris calls a spontaneous process, alumni began discussing the upcoming alumni association meeting that would select a new board. The association wasn’t publicizing the date, and for a long time no one knew when it would be. But the association finally posted a notice in The Lexington Gazette, as required by its bylaws, and Thom Brashears, chief operating officer of the alumni association, briefly mentioned the meeting in a weekly update.

There was no itemization of topics to be discussed at the annual meeting, and no publication of the board members proposed to be elected, says Morris. “Folks got together and said this was unacceptable. They came up with a new slate.” The alternate board included some existing board members known to favor transparency as well as some outsiders. “This wasn’t personal. It wasn’t against anyone,” says Morris. “It was against [the board’s] actions.”

Will Moore, a Spotsylvania attorney, was recruited to speak for the dissident alumni. Morris is vague about who organized the alternate slate of directors and enlisted Moore. When contacted by Bacon’s Rebellion, Moore declined to comment about his role in the Saturday events.

By Morris’ count, 82 to 84 dissidents showed up at the meeting in Lexington.

Alumni came from all over Virginia and from as far away as Denver, Tucson, Dallas and Florida, says Matt Daniel, chairman of the Spirit of VMI, a PAC formed by VMI alumni to support traditional VMI values. “It came together organically. It was amazing,” he says. People were mainly concerned about the lack of transparency, he adds. No one could find out who was on the association-selected board slate, and no one could find a copy of the association bylaws online.

He thinks that the alumni association expected a routine meeting, and officials were not prepared for the large showing, Daniel says. Aside from the dissidents, there were only a couple of dozen other alumni in attendance.

Moore, the attorney representing the dissident alumni, presented a proposal to remove the existing board and replace it with a hybrid slate, recalls Morris. Stocks, the alumni association president, said they’d been ambushed. He complained he didn’t know who was on the alternate slate.

Despite the disagreements, a vote unfolded. The first round was a voice vote on the association-selected slate. It was overwhelmingly voted down. Then a hand count was called for, and the slate was voted down again. Once that was settled, a voice vote ensued to elect the new slate. The voice vote was overwhelmingly positive, says Morris. No nays were expressed.

In Morris’ telling, Stocks conferred with the association’s lawyer and then proclaimed that the previous motion was out of order and would not be recorded in the minutes. In Stocks’ reading of the bylaws, replacing a member of the board can occur only in a special session, which only he could convene. A big argument ensued. No, said the dissidents, the bylaws said that the association president  may call a special meeting and may take out a sitting member, but the bylaws allowed for removing board members at other times and places.

After more conferrals with attorneys, Stocks said he would schedule a special session to give all 25,000 alumni an opportunity to participate, and he called the meeting over.

I asked Stocks for his version of what transpired during the meeting. He issued the following statement through the alumni association:

The VMI Alumni Association led by its Board of Directors, made up of alumni volunteers, met over the weekend to conduct the business of the VMI Alumni in electing the next class of board members. While it is not our practice to discuss business conducted during our meetings beyond our alumni ranks, all meetings are conducted in accordance with our bylaws and under guidance of legal counsel.

The Board of Directors serves all alumni, and it is unfortunate that the concerns of this group were not brought forward to the Board in advance of the meeting. Had this courtesy been extended, a more productive meeting may have occurred for all involved.

Sam Stocks
President, VMI Alumni Association

Dissident alumni were irate: They interpreted Stock’s move as changing the rules in the middle of the game. The dissident alumni were prepared for the annual meeting, the association wasn’t, and when the outcome was not to the association’s liking, they ginned up an excuse to violate its own bylaws.

Carmen Villani had driven up from Texas to attend the hearing. He questions whether Stocks followed Roberts Rules of Order and disputes his interpretation of the bylaws. The behavior was consistent with the association’s “censorship and controlling of the narrative” over issues roiling VMI, he says. As an example, he says that the association refused to allow him to share a PowerPoint presentation with other class agents on how VMI needs to change direction. “They’ve created this situation.”

Sal Vitale participated in the meeting by Zoom. He was irked that Stocks muted his Zoom so he could not speak. Citing the 80+ alumni who made the trip to Lexington, he said, “My guess is the AA (alumni association) hope these same folks will not make the trip again and now the AA will have time to gather people to support their slate.”

It’s not clear what the next move is for the dissident alumni. One possibility is challenging the cancellation of the election in court. If there is no judicial resolution to the dispute, both sides likely will mobilize backers for a follow-up election — a contest that favors the alumni association, which has contact information for the entire alumni base, while the dissidents do not.

Whatever happens, older, conservative alumni are likely to feel more alienated than ever from the association. As Villani says in an email, “People are starting to weigh whether it is worth fighting the regime and instead PAUSE contribution until the climate changes.”

Full disclosure: James A. Bacon serves on the board of The Jefferson Council.

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29 responses to “Dissident Alumni Open a New Front in the Higher-Ed Culture Wars”

  1. “it is unfortunate that the concerns of this group were not brought forward to the Board in advance of the meeting”

    I may have missed it above, but is this fact disputed by the dissident group? If that statement is true, then ‘shock and awe’ rather than discourse seemed the intention; kind of like students trying to talk over a speaker they are triggered by.

    The dissident group should fight for what they think is right, but remember what your parents said about pointing fingers.

    1. Jake Spivey Avatar
      Jake Spivey

      Since 2016, the Alumni Association, Keydet Club and Foundation have operated as a combined Alumni Agencies headed by a single executive. Since then the Alumni Association has migrated closer and closer to supporting the Insititute administration and moved further away from supporting the alumni. The 2016 move was to an effort to improve support for VMI, creating a single POC for financial assitance. Prior to that point the leaders of the three organizations were independent. The Superintendent could request assistance but, each org. could decline the request as it saw fit. This is no longer the case. The Agencies have become a de facto “yes man” for the Institute’s administration.
      Under the shadow of the former governor’s condemnation of the Institute the Agencies, in white knuckle fashion, have clung to the Institute’s coatee (dress uniform), ex., “VMI’s request is comprehensive and covers a series of Institute priorities outlined in the Unifying Action Plan and initiatives from the state-initiated equity audit.” [2/11/22 email from the VMI Alumni Agencies].
      As the Institute’s administration pursues initiatives derived from or recommended by that report, a gap grows between the VMI administration and the Agencies and alumni. The Alumni Association therefore is failing its constituency, alumni, by deliberately ignoring the fact there are a significant number who disagree with the former governor and his administration’s orchestrated, and false report.
      Additionally, for the leaderhip of the Alumni Association and its governing board to be unaware, blissfully or intentionally, about disagreement among alumni over the report and certain initiatives at VMI (DEI), is the epitome of leadership failure.
      This point alone demonstrates the necessity for a wholesale leadership change.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Not enough dietary potassium. Eat more bananas.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Do the dissidents represent a substantial number of the alumni?

  4. john ozolins Avatar
    john ozolins

    For too long it seems like conservative views have been ignored. Time change but values don’t. The actions over the past few years have shown that rather than standing up for the values of VMI, its traditions and heritage too many in responsible positions have joined in castigating the VMI of the past without looking at is values. Rather they join the narrative that unless they get their way the system is flawed and all actions that occurred in the past were flawed as well and don’t take into account the times of today are different. Change has come to VMI since I graduated. But when I matriculated I didn’t expect that the “I” would change because my feelings were hurt or someone said something I disagreed with. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I elected to go to VMI and I could have left at any time. But I chose to stay because it offered an opportunity not found in other schools. Hopefully the opportunities I had at VMI continue, but unless the a new groupe who is willing to stand up and uphold VMI’s traditions and values rather than letting them errode/ be undermined a little at a time I fear that the “I” I knew will be gone.

    1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr

      Your concern is justified John. Our slogan has been “Don’t do ordinary,” yet VMI officials are implementing policies that others are doing. Sounds like do ordinary to me!

      1. Anthony Lash Avatar
        Anthony Lash

        I’m so glad you are still in the fight, Carmen. “Toreador en garde!”

  5. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
    Carmen Villani Jr

    Thanks Jim for covering the Saturday’s Alumni Association meeting. You hit the nail on the head – “deep divisions.” While the President of the VMI Alumni Association points to the “bylaws,” he fails to mention the “Restated Articles of Incorporation,” which is also a governing document. Section 5.2 states the following: “Each Active Member and Honorary Member present at ANY MEETING OF THE CORPORATION (emphasis added) is entitled to one vote and shall have the right to vote to ELECT AND REMOVE DIRECTORS (emphasis added) who are elected by the Members, but he or she shall not have the right to vote on any other matter nor to vote by proxy.”

    So the next question becomes, what does state law have to say in regard to Articles of Incorporation versus Bylaws? According to Code of Virginia law (13.1-823;B), “the bylaws of a corporation may contain any provision that is NOT INCONSISTENT (emphasis added) with law or the articles of incorporation.” It appears that is not the case in this situation.

    The final point regards division. Regardless of whether or not VMI officials acknowledge the presence of CRT, the fact remains that there is division within the alumni ranks, and based upon my discussions with cadets the night before the meeting and comments from parents of cadets, the same can be said within the Corps of Cadets. In my view, the responsibility for that rests with VMI officials and directors/officers within the Alumni Association.

    In closing, my message is to Governor Youngkin and others within his administration. You ran on removing “inherently divisive concepts” found in public education; the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia elected you for that reason; the oldest state-supported military college, although not perfect, has served this nation for 182 years with distinction is now seeing the results of “divisive concepts”; despite repeated outreach to your administration, there has been NO response. Time is of the essence and the time for you to act is NOW!!!

    Point of clarification – I am not a class agent but merely an alumnus who seeks to enhance the VMI Experience, not endanger it.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the error. I have corrected the text.

      1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
        Carmen Villani Jr

        Thanks Jim

    2. How do we define “inherently divisive concepts”? This question is not meant to pick on anything the author of the post said. I’m curious, how from any perspective, that this objective is remotely achievable.

      1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
        Carmen Villani Jr

        VMI is built upon a diverse group with a common bond. When you attempt to change that paradigm, there will be disagreement. When you disregard or disrespect that perspective, you create division. That was achieved as evidenced in that room on Saturday.

        1. I agree. I’m asking relatively how many people have to be disregarded/disrespected to warrant removal of that topic?

          1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Let me suggest the following. Virginians voted Youngkin in as their governor. He is opposed to “inherently divisive concepts.” A petition was created calling on the Attorney General to do an investigation into VMI for the purpose of making that determination. If that should take place and it is determined that such divisive concepts exist, fair to say they should be removed? Here is a link to that petition if interested.


          2. Thanks. How many signed the petition out of how many alumni? And I’m not disagreeing with the purpose or point of the petition, I’m trying to draw out what people, in general, think is the threshold for where something can get labeled as divisive and is therefore ‘removed’. Is it 5%, 15%, or 51%? It’s a bigger question than VMI. I raise it because I fear the ‘remove inherently divisive concepts’ movement creates more division than it solves. It also can easily lead to unintended outcomes, depending on how many people are determined to be enough to have something labeled ‘divisive’; almost seems Orwellian, and truthfully ironic, that a potentially small, but vocal minority can be in charge.

          3. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            I attended the Alumni Association BOD meeting. There is division within the alumni ranks. I spoke to several cadets the night before. I have read the Cadet newspaper and read what VMI is putting out. Again, I believe there is division within the Corps as well. VMI officials can call it whatever they want, it is creating division.

            Again, the people of Virginia spoke in the last election. Divisive concepts have to go. The petition merely asks for the AG to take a look at VMI and make his own determination. According to Politico, AG Miyares won with 50.8% of the vote. He represents the majority of Virginians who voted. That should suffice.

  6. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Articles rank above Bylaws. State Law ranks above both.
    I am surprised VMI’s AA was not further locked down to make this impossible.
    UVA’s AA, now run by a Ryan appointee, has a Board of nearly 40. The AA is entirely run by the Board of Managers. The BOV appoints one Manager and the President (Ryan) appoints one Manager. So, in reality, the AA is run by those three. Technically, the Nominating Committee of the AA makes a slate of Board members, and then the Board approves that slate. I am currently trying to get the AA president (Ryan’s pick…who worked for an Obama campaign) to tell me who the BOV has recommended to the Governor for BOV spots (currently, the AA may recommend three people for each BOV spot, which the Governor does not have to accept) and who is on the Nominating Committee… I have asked numerous times. Still no answer.

    1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr

      Good post Walter. I can relate to not getting an answer back.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    VMI needs a united alumni presence. Best wishes.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      and you can get there with compromise… but not with strident and inflexible demands from some.

      1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
        Carmen Villani Jr

        Could you please explain LarrytheG how complying with governing documents is “strident and inflexible demands?”

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          This is about complying with governing documents? Is there general Alumni agreement on what that means or is that disputed?

          Are there differing views of this ?

          1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Please stay on point. You make the inference that “strident and inflexible demands” were made. So again, my question is how does complying with governing documents equate to your inference? Jim already established that there was disagreement in interpretation.

          2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Please stay on point. You make the inference that “strident and inflexible demands” were made. So again, my question is how does complying with governing documents equate to your inference? Jim already established that there was disagreement in interpretation.

  8. M. Purdy Avatar

    So in the name of “transparency,” a small group of right wing alums undertook an unannounced putsch of the alumni assoc. by exploiting an obscure parliamentary procedure. Irony is truly dead.

  9. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Oh, its about the VMI Alumni group….on first read I thought it was an account of a GOP convention battle just about anywhere in Virginia. 🙂

  10. The VMI Alumni Association released this morning this version of the events of Saturday, April 9.

    The Annual Meeting of the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors

    The annual meeting of the members of the VMI Alumni Association was held Saturday, April 9, to elect a total of 10 directors at large and regional directors for terms that range from one year to three years, coinciding with the annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the VMI Alumni Association to elect its officers.

    Serious issues were raised in the course of the members’ meeting, which ended without completing the intended elections. Here are the highlights of the meeting. We will provide additional information as we move through our election process.

    An outline of events follows:

    On Saturday, April 9, the members of the VMI Alumni Association held their annual meeting where all alumni in good standing who were present had the opportunity to vote for regional directors and directors at large to fill open positions on the board.

    A group of approximately 67 alumni, non-board members and members of the VMI Alumni Agencies boards attended the meeting.

    At the same time, the incoming Keydet Club Board of Governors and the VMI Foundation Board of Trustees were successfully voted in without incident (this vote is by the sitting members of the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors).

    The officers of the VMI Alumni Association were voted in without incident (this vote is by the sitting members of the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors).

    As part of the members’ meeting, an alumnus made a motion to replace the entire VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors and to elect a new slate of directors. This motion was ruled out of order by the VMI Alumni Association president based on the bylaws and advice from legal counsel.

    Subsequently, a vote—supported by the president of the VMI Alumni Association and legal counsel—was taken for the slate of regional directors as presented through the Board of Directors Nominating Committee. The slate as presented was not approved on a hand count of those in attendance.

    Despite efforts by the president to work out the election of the directors at large and given the failed regional directors vote, the president advised that he would call a special meeting according to the bylaws, and he adjourned the meeting.

    The anticipated plan forward is a special meeting to readdress the open Board of Directors positions.

    Information will be forthcoming regarding a nomination process and special meeting to elect the open seats.

  11. Concerned VMI Alumni Avatar
    Concerned VMI Alumni

    What the VMI Association released in its notice doesn’t provide is a robust and complete accounting of what really happened at the meeting. I was there in attendance, and the motion may have been made by only one alumnus, making it appear that was no support for what was being proposed other than by the individual making the legal motion, but it was supported by a majority of those in attendance, by about a two to one margin to those against. These individuals were not radicals in any form and fashion, and represented a cross slice of the alumni body, ranging in from 22 to 88 years in age, and consisted of members of both black and white races, if that matters to anyone. From what I saw, the Alumni Association only disallowed the results of the vote after they had counted the results and found that they had lost. It appears that they had advance notice of the possibility of something happening during the annual meeting, resulting in side armed and body armor wearing police inside the meeting facility, and outside as well at times; the Superintendent showing up in full uniform during the meeting with his VMI Administration staff, who were not alumni (which should not have happened in my opinion); and additional, not normally in attendance, members of their “camp,” and they still came up short when it mattered anyway during the legally conducted voting activities. They are just hiding behind a poorly made legal opinion offered by their lawyer, who directly opposed our lawyer’s reading of the bylaws and organization’s amendments. The only reason they remain in control is because they refused to relinquish control of the floor and meeting direction.

  12. Tommy V Avatar

    Nothing but a bunch of disruptive cowards hiding behind another agenda. They seem to have forgotten whatever it was they supposedly learned about honor and integrity at VMI. Shut the place down if this is the best example of what the Institute produces. Norwich and the Citadel doing it better. Too bad Hunter didn’t finish the job in 1864.

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