by James A. Bacon
Last November 5, the Commonwealth of Virginia issued an RFP for a contract to investigate racism at the Virginia Military Institute. The document set an ambitious deadline. Responses were due November 17 — giving vendors less than two weeks to prepare submissions. Moreover, the document wanted the successful bidder to provide preliminary findings and recommendations by Dec. 31 and final recommendations by June 2021.
That made no sense to Carter Melton, VMI class of ’67, two-term VMI board member, and retired president of Rockingham Memorial Hospital. During his 30 years with the hospital, he had developed dozens of RFPs. He had never seen such ambitious deadlines for such a complex project. When he read the document, he was astonished — so astonished that he took out a full-page ad in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch to get his views in front of Governor Ralph Northam.
First, he wrote, the scope of this project was vast and boundless. The RFP called for extensive document review, focus groups, anonymous questionnaires, a cross mapping of relevant VMI policies with those of every other college and university in the Commonwealth, and numerous legal opinions. “This is a huge piece of work; it asks for everything but the kitchen sink.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In the early stages of the Barnes & Thornburg investigation into racism at the Virginia Military Institute, there was some contention over how the inquiry should be handled. Initially, VMI administrators asked for its lawyers to observe investigators’ interviews of faculty, staff and students. Barnes & Thornburg pushed back, saying the lawyers’ presence would be intimidating. The disagreement erupted into public view when the investigative team published its interim findings earlier this month.
VMI has since backed off, and in its latest article on the racism controversy the Washington Post quotes anonymous faculty sources as saying that they have spoken to Barnes & Thornburg and felt no pressure from school officials.
So, the question arises: Why did VMI officials back off? Did they do so voluntarily, or did they feel coerced? Here’s what the Washington Post had to say:
After one state lawmaker suggested that VMI could lose some of its $19.3 million of state funding if it did not cooperate, the college’s interim superintendent, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, released a statement encouraging students and teachers to come forward. He shared a designated email and phone number for the firm’s investigators. Pledging the college’s commitment to confidentiality, he promised that all members of the VMI community “will be treated equitably and without fear of retaliation at every stage of this vital process.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In awarding a contract to investigate racism at the Virginia Military Institute, the Northam administration stacked the deck in favor of preferred vendor, Barnes & Thornburg, and stymied efforts by a competing bidder, the Center for Applied Innovation (CAI), to contest the award, alleges a suit filed by CAI in Richmond Circuit Court today.
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), which managed the $1 million Request for Proposal, engaged in a “run the clock down” strategy of delay and hinderance to prevent CAI’s principal, Robert C. Morris Jr., from examining more than 1,000 pages of procurement documents within the 10-day period allowed under state law to file a protest, the lawsuit contends.
Further, the lawsuit charges, SCHEV was acting at the behest of the Attorney General’s office and senior Northam administration officials to avoid “media attention” to the procurement process. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Barnes & Thornburg LLP, the special investigator selected to probe racism at Virginia Military Institute, released its first progress report today, as required by contract. The law firm has not had enough time to draw any conclusions, but the report does describe the testy relationship between the firm and VMI administrators as the investigation unfolds.
VMI has hired its own law firm as counsel, and disagreements have arisen over how to conduct the investigation. The two parties have sparred over VMI’s request that legal counsel attend an administrative briefing and sit in on interviews of faculty, staff, and cadets. Also, Barnes & Thornburg has sought assurances that individuals speaking to investigators will not be retaliated against.
“The Team firmly believes that the presence of VMI representatives will undermine the independence and effectiveness of the investigation, and may well deter the cadets and faculty being interviewed from being as forthcoming as they might otherwise be,” states the report.
It’s not surprising that VMI administrators are feeling defensive considering the origins of the inquiry. The investigation arose from a series of Washington Post articles accusing the military academy of “relentless racism.” Decrying what he called the “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism,” Northam announced in October that he would hire an independent outside investigator to probe the charges. To some VMI officials and alumni, it appeared as if the fix was in. Continue reading