by Phil Leigh

Virginia Military Institute graduates familiar with the drumming out process know that real shame is emotionally one of the most painful experiences we can have. It makes us want to hide like the white-collar criminal covering his face with a newspaper during a perp walk. It is soul destroying and even the stuff of suicide.

As at other military colleges, VMI cadets must pledge that they will not lie, cheat, or steal and will not tolerate those who do. Decades ago, anyone convicted of such offenses by the school’s student-run Honor Court would have been drummed out at a midnight ceremony before the entire corps. As his classmates looked-on, each of the banished would be escorted to a taxi, which he would board to leave the campus forever. Recently I had breakfast with a 1960s-era VMI grad who described the process. He shuddered when telling the story and at the end frowned, paused, and shook his head in silence before changing the subject.

Today, VMI is flogging itself for the imagined sin of racism. But the actual experience of the mea culpas by virtue-signaling whites, including VMI grad and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, is not one of shame. It is really the opposite of shame. It is display. It is preening. It is an act of separating themselves from supposedly unaware whites. By embracing an ostensible shame, the self-flagellating whites are showing how superior they are compared to the rest of us. In their minds, each has transformed himself into a kind of honorary black person. Therefore, they reason, the guilt does not attach to them but only to other whites. . . and it is completely fake.

VMI’s new Superintendent, Cedric T. Wins, is a 1985 graduate of the school where he was a star black basketball player. Even as far back as 1982, VMI was eager to demonstrate that it did not single-out blacks for punishment. Although none of them were members of the Honor Court, Wins and three other black athletes were invited to observe a trial from start to finish for a fifth black athlete. During the trial they merely observed and talked things over among themselves. Afterwards, however, Wins agreed with the Court’s guilty verdict, an opinion he was invited to express during a “decertification” process.

VMI has long attracted scholarship-seeking black athletes more interested in playing their sport than in getting a military education. Since it is a Division One school, VMI offers players a big stage upon which to exhibit their skills including televised games on ESPN and other channels. Consequently, Ian Shapira of The Washington Post discovered that blacks account for 43% of VMI’s code-related expulsions whereas they represent only 6% of the student body. Predictably, he concludes the imbalance is due to racism, although he admitted in an interview with Emily Richmond that many VMI black athletes don’t care “a whit” for a military education. There are more likely other causes Shapira overlooks. A student with a fully funded athletic scholarship, for example, may be more tempted to cheat on exams if his pre-admission academic preparation was deficient. That is not unusual for star basketball and football players, particularly concerning mathematics.

Nonetheless, due to a biased exposé prepared by Shapira for the Post, Superintendent Wins is looking at ways to water-down the Honor Court standards. His goal is to strictly maintain the code against cheating, lying, or stealing, while simultaneously giving some of the convicted a second chance. His challenge is to structure the procedures in a way to primarily give blacks a second chance without incorporating race as a selective standard.

It’s a Fool’s Errand demanded mostly by so-called enlightened whites seeking to make amends for non-existent systemic racism. Chief among them is Governor Northam who was himself once a VMI Honor Court officer. Later in medical school in 1984, however, he was evidently photographed wearing either a KKK costume or blackface outfit. At first, he admitted to being in the photo, but later about-faced during an unseemly news conference. After his belated denial, Northam promised to deliver clarity on the origins of the photo, but he never has. It is the most conspicuous photo on his page in the applicable medical school yearbook.

The Honor Code standards of the 1980s would require Northam to stop pretending and tell the truth. Perhaps one reason he allocated one million dollars of Virginia taxpayer money for a racism witch hunt at VMI is to give himself a second chance with a diluted Honor Code. If he can give himself a second chance, he will be able to rationalize a third, fourth or Nth chance. If he instead remains loyal to the code upon which he judged others when at VMI, he will simply tell the truth.

Phil Leigh is the author of “Causes of the Civil War.” This column has been republished with permission from his blog, Civil War Chat.

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11 responses to “Pseudo Shame at VMI”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’d prefer that College not do sports the way they are. They attract and accept people that often are not really qualified academically NOT to help those kids but to benefit the school’s image.

    That’s pretty hypocritical in my view and it leads to other problems like us/them divisions in the student body and especially so it seems at VMI.

    I thought interesting the SCOTUS decision about colleges paying “amateur” athletes.

    The whole thing is a perversion of the purpose of education IMHO and we seem to be the only country on the planet that chooses to do higher ed like this.

    Why can’t VMI just drop these kinds of sports and dedicate itself to academics and military leaders not unlike some Colleges like MIT just dedicate themselves to academic excellence?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive


  2. owen dunlap Avatar
    owen dunlap

    so while it happened during the state ordered investigation into allegations of racism at VMI – and became a issue of note because of the deep dive into the VMI culture and systems during that investigation – the change to the part of drum out ceremony where the cadet being drummed out was named was all about privacy concerns/ privacy lawsuits and not anything having to do with racism or the appearance of racism . I dont agree with the change they made but pretty sure the reason was to head off future potential privacy lawsuits.

    The WaPo drum out statistics were from a limited time window if memory serves me right. The final report from the Law firm has a section on the honor code.

    Any future changes that are made to the VMI honor code/system by the VMI BOV and Gen Wins will be made with the intent to improve a system that has had other minor changes over the decades but i would be very surprised if major changes are forthcoming regarding the honor code.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Mr. Leigh distilled this down to one simple virtue. The truth. Why is it that Mr. Northam has such a hard time telling the truth. It certainly was drilled into his head at VMI. “I don’t remember which picture I am? I don’t remember the picture at all” Northam has to keep telling lies until January 15th, 2022. His entire time in office he could not live up to the highest principle taught at VMI, telling the truth no matter the cost.

  4. Publius Avatar

    It’s the Gov in blackface and future wifey in Klan robe – my theory. He got back to the Governor’s Mansion and she lit into him that night – “Thanks for throwing me under the bus you stupid SOB…”
    The next morning he wasn’t sure it was him…

  5. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    I think it’s fascinating how many prominent Lost Cause promoters, such as this author, pipe up to defend VMI as the true victim.

    1. Publius Avatar

      History is the victim. Truth is the victim. You can preen about your supposed moral superiority. The descendants of these people won 2 world wars, opened up society, but their ancestors weren’t perfect. Wow. Amazing. Guess what – your ancestors weren’t perfect. You are likely a descendant of slaveowners and of slaves if you can trace it back far enough. A little humility would be a good look…

      1. M. Purdy Avatar
        M. Purdy

        Here’s some truth for you–the Civil War was about the perpetuation of chattel slavery and an act of treason. We shouldn’t be glorifying people who fought for that cause. Humility indeed.

        1. Publius Avatar

          Your spot in heaven is reserved. Your virtue signal makes you spotless.

          1. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            A touch of common sense and moral compass can do wonders. You should look into it.

  6. Moderate Avatar

    I am bothered by the analysis that Black athletes come from schools that don’t prepare them, especially in math. As one who came through a small, rural school system, race didn’t affect the outcome. We all got the same education regardless of race. It seems we need to stop making assumptions about the schools that produce Black athletes.

    In my experience with student athletes, students have to be pretty smart to juggle athletics, academics and life, and most do it well. Some need extra help with some aspect of doing it, but star athletes often do better with challenges like math than many non-athletes. In fact, their sport expertise may help them better deal with a subject like math.

    It isn’t just Black athletes who “don’t care a whit” about a college education and are there with other top goals. Again, race isn’t the defining difference, in my experience. Students have many goals.

    When we make categorical assumptions and declare them universal truths we are often very wrong. Such categorical assumptions, without proof and often based on long held beliefs, are the kinds of things that make people say that systemic racism exists.

    Where’s the data to back up these assumptions?

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