Tag Archives: Virginia Military Institute

Shapira Hits All-Time Low in VMI Coverage

Superintendent Cedric T. Wins at a VMI ceremony. Photo credit: The Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

New rule at The Washington Post: it’s OK to insinuate that conservatives are racist for disagreeing with an authority figure who happens to be Black. No evidence of bias required.

The democracy-dies-in-darkness newspaper set a new low yesterday in an article published Monday describing how conservative alumni of the Virginia Military Institute decry the implementation of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion by the Board of Visitors and Superintendent Cedric T. Wins. Reporter Ian Shapira never comes out directly and calls the dissident alumni racist, but he makes the implication unmistakable. His rhetorical devices are a case study in slimy journalism that stops just short of libel.

Let’s start with the headline, which may or may not be Shapira’s composition but accurately reflects the tone of the article:

“VMI’s first Black superintendent under attack by conservative White alumni”

See the trope? The superintendent is Black, the alumni are conservative and White. The headline doesn’t say explicitly that the alumni are attacking the superintendent because he is Black. But the phrase invites readers to assume that there must be a link between the superintendent’s race and the race of the alumni — why else would race be injected into the headline, which by its nature is sparing and economical with words? Continue reading

Why a VMI Alumnus Yanked a $1 Million Bequest

Bye bye!

An open letter to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors, Virginia Military Institute Alumni Association, VMI Corps of Cadets, VMI Alumni/ae, Parents Council, and The Cadet Newspaper.

November 11, 2022

I am a member of the VMI class 1975. In the nearly 50 years since my graduation, I have taken great pride in being one of the over 20,000 who can claim that honor. Therefore, I take no pleasure in writing this letter to make known my growing concerns about the future of VMI, and my conviction that the path VMI is embarked upon will destroy the Institute. And I don’t mean the buildings and other physical features of VMI, but the traditions and other intangibles woven into the VMI experience from which I have benefitted and which is the source of my pride. I am confident that many other alumni share this view. My convictions have become so strong since Maj. Gen. [Cedric T.] Wins and his administration took charge that recently I reluctantly took the step of amending my last will and testament to excise a bequest of $1,000,000 for the benefit of VMI through the Alumni Agencies.

In the brief span of just two years since the abrupt dismissal of General [J.H. Binford] Peay as Superintendent, the Institute has traveled far down the path of political correctness. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology, have sunk their toxic roots into the fabric of VMI life. The recent recognition of Gen. Peay with the New Market medal is not a step forward but simply long overdue. Even that effort was besmirched by a crass appeal for donations by the Alumni Association immediately following the Board of Visitor’s (BOV) announcement of the award, an act that only demonstrated how VMI and the Alumni Association are trying to simply capitalize and profit from what they cravenly avoided doing long ago. Continue reading

Transparency and Accountability at VMI… and Every Public University

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Cedric T. Wins was awarded a $100,000 bonus after his FY-2022 performance review, and the Spirit of VMI PAC (SOVP) wants to know what criteria the Board of Visitors used in granting him the award.

The bonus, which was four times his previous $25,000 award, lifted Wins’ total 2022 compensation to $725,000. The bonus was paid with private contributions.

“SOVP questions what performance metrics the BOV used to make such a generous award and sharp increase,” stated the organization in a press release last week. “FY-2022 was an academic year that generated major concern among alumni and friends about VMI’s direction, and included large increases in attrition from the Corps. Also notable was a sharp drop in applications, which triggered the elimination of the application deadline and the SAT requirement, and led to a 25% drop in New Cadet Matriculation. This failure occurred the first year after General Wins asked for the resignation of the most successful Director of Admissions in VMI’s history.”

While the Spirit of VMI’s differences with Wins reflect issues unique to VMI, the press release raises a matter of broader concern: what criteria do the boards of Virginia’s public universities use to award bonuses, and shouldn’t those criteria be part of the public record? Continue reading

Racism at VMI? Not That This Hispanic Alum Ever Saw

Virginia Military Institute alumni share much of their correspondence with me. I can’t come close to publishing it all on this blog. But sometimes a letter illuminates aspects of the ongoing discussion about VMI’s future that have not yet made it into the public domain. The letter below comes from José J. Suárez, an Hispanic alumnus, class of 1982, who was interviewed by the Barnes & Thornburg investigative team that slammed VMI for sexism and racism but feels his views were not reflected in that report. (I have made minor edits for punctuation and style.) — JAB

Dear Members of the VMI Board of Visitors, and the VMI Alumni Association.

I am a proud graduate of the VMI class of 1982. I came to VMI from Puerto Rico, with limited command of the English language. I was one of three (3) Hispanic cadets at VMI during my cadetship.

The cadre, my Brother Rats, the faculty, and the administration helped me to make it through VMI, and to have a great career in the Engineering and the Construction Industry, and consulting, where I advanced to be the  Chief Executive of a $3 billion-plus division/company.

I have experienced racism in the U.S. Navy, and in my civilian career, but not at VMI. For this reason, I was flabbergasted by the attack that VMI received via The Washington Post, and the fact that neither the Board of Visitors, the VMI Alumni Associations, and the VMI administration, fought back publicly against these attacks. Continue reading

Wins Defends LGBTQIA+ Performance Artist at VMI

VMI Superintendent Cedric T. Wins

The rhetorical battle at the Virginia Military Institute rages like the Bloody Angle in the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. In this ongoing war of words, VMI Superintendent Cedric Wins is like the corps commander who wanders dangerously close to the battlefront. Rather than rely upon subalterns and proxies to speak for him, he has waded into the rhetorical fray.

Wins recently distributed a letter responding to the criticism of VMI’s decision to host LGBTQIA+ performance artist Kimberly Dark. He argued that VMI has invited speakers, including conservative Judge Michael Luttig, representing a range of views. Taking issue with “unhappy alumni” who protested Dark’s presence, he framed the voluntary event as an opportunity for cadets to “listen to a speaker, evaluate the soundness of her analysis, hit her with tough questions, and see how well-founded her beliefs are.”

Bacon’s Rebellion has been sympathetic to the “unhappy alumni” Wins referred to, but we think he makes some reasonable points. Accordingly, in the interest of open dialogue, we republish his full letter below. –JAB Continue reading

Cultural Death Wish

by James A. Bacon

In my previous post I gave a just-the-facts-ma’am account of the controversy over the appearance of gay- and fat-rights performance artist Kimberly Dark at the Virginia Military Institute. In this column, I’ll give my personal reaction.

There are three elements to the controversy (1) the incident is solid evidence that VMI is introducing a left-wing brand of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; (2) Dark’s message about military weight requirements, insofar as we can tell what it is, is just plain lunacy; and (3) while Dark’s right to appear at VMI must be respected, the administration has opened itself to justifiable criticism for inviting her to an official function.

DEI at VMI. There are many brands of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Benign versions train people to be sensitive to unconscious bias and strive to create an organizational culture in which all types of people feel a sense of belonging. The Robin DiAngelo “White Fragility” strain inculcates White guilt and shame for White privilege and requires Whites to engage in ritualistic self criticism. The Ibrahim Kendi “Anti-racism” strain views any racial disparity in outcomes as proof of racism, which can be countered only with reverse racism. As the DEI controversy at VMI has raged over many months, it has been unclear which, if any, of these strains would come to predominate.

From what I can glean, Dark falls into the DiAngelo camp. I can find no record of what she actually said last night, but one can infer her views from her website. Insofar as her word-salads are intelligible, she refers to herself as a “social justice” advocate and seems concerned primarily with gay rights and fat rights, although she also alludes to her “White privilege.” While such rhetoric may be routine fare at many universities, it’s new for VMI.  Continue reading

Does VMI Oppress Fat People?

by James A. Bacon

Last night the Virginia Military Institute hosted Kimberly Dark, a gay- and fat-rights activist, at its Gender Inclusion Dinner. The VMI website has published no information about the event. But in her website, Dark said she intended to address “the ways in which women and LGBTQ+ cadets, along with those who struggle to meet the height/weight requirements of the military are still targeted for unfair treatment.”

Dark also said she intended to “touch on the views and values upheld by military and paramilitary organizations as well, and how pervasive those are in our society.”

Dark’s appearance prompted a rebuke from the Spirit of VMI PAC, a dissident alumni organization, for openly embracing “an attack on military standards to the Corps by a performance artist who tilts at the windmills of imaginary oppression on Post.”

The California native describes herself as queer, white-privileged and a gender-conforming “girl with a pretty face” who has been fat since childhood. Her most recent book, “the Daddies,” is a “dark love letter to masculinity” told as a “lesbian leather-Daddy love story” and an “indictment of patriarchy.” A previous work, “Fat, Pretty and Soon to Be Old,” combines storytelling and social analysis to probe how “appearance privilege” functions in everyday life. Continue reading

“Too Thin”

The Jackson Arch — before sandblasting

by Donald Smith

The Virginia Military Institute’s hands were tied, it seems. It tried for months to justify leaving an inscription of Stonewall Jackson’s name on an arch at the Old Barracks on VMI’s Main Post. But the school’s leadership couldn’t find a way, so it chose… to take a sandblaster to the  National Historic Landmark.

That’s the conclusion I draw from VMI’s explanation of its decision to expunge Stonewall Jackson’s name from the formerly named Jackson Arch. (See “Retained and Contextualized At VMI” for the full explanation.)

According to the chair of VMI’s Commemorations and Memorials Naming and Review Committee (CMNRC), the original intent of installing a statue of Thomas Jonathan Jackson on the Main Post and inscribing his name on the Post chapel and upon the arch was to honor “Stonewall” Jackson, the brilliant Confederate general. However, only “most compelling” reasons would allow his name to  remain on Jackson Arch today. “The Committee spent months analyzing reasons that might allow the continued display of the Jackson tributes,” said the committee chair, but could not find sufficient justification.

I think Lucky Ned Pepper, the villain in the movie True Grit said it best: “Too thin!” Continue reading

FIRE to VMI: Hands Off the Independent Student Newspaper

by James A. Bacon

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has asked the Virginia Military Institute to refrain from pressuring an independent student newspaper, The Cadet, to change its editorial stances.

“Cadet staff have faced interference from VMI leadership, including pressure to make the paper’s content more flattering to the Institute, suppression of its distribution, and demands that the student staff stop working with alumni on publication efforts,” wrote Anne Marie Tamburro and Mike Hiestand with FIRE, a national organization that focuses on campus free speech issues, in FIRE Letter to VMI.

“VMI’s cumulative acts seeking to bend the paper to administrative pressure and interfering with its staff’s activities squarely contradict the Institute’s obligations under the First Amendment, which demands that VMI respect the editorial independence of The Cadet,” FIRE said.

VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt said that FIRE did not fact-check the allegations with VMI contained in the letter before sending it. “They’re taking Bob Morris’ word as gospel,” he said, referring to VMI alumnus Bob Morris, who advises the newspaper and heads the foundation that supports it financially. VMI is working on a response, he added.

Correction: The original version of this story said that FIRE did not fact-check the allegations in the story. It has been corrected to say that FIRE did not fact-check with VMI. Continue reading

Why the Enrollment Decline at VMI? Look to White Males for an Explanation.

This photo, taken in 1997, shows a female VMI Rat, Megan Smith, undergoing a grilling by upper class cadets during Hell Week. The Washington Post republished the photo last week to mark the 25th anniversary of women entering VMI, effectively reinforcing the image of VMI as a sexist institution. Remarkably, when staff writer Ian Shapira tracked her down in southern France, where she now works as an attorney, Smith (now Megan Portavoce) said the photo was taken out of context. “I looked liked … I was scared. But I didn’t feel scared,” she said. “I think the photo is often taken out of context. It’s used as proof of harassment towards women. But it was equal opportunity harassment that day.” Male freshmen were verbally abused, too, she said. “Everyone gets yelled at. They just find something to needle you with, to get under your skin. It’s part of the system of testing everyone.”

by James A. Bacon

When the Virginia Military Institute re-opened for its fall semester Monday with its usual parade-ground pageantry, it counted only 375 cadets in the 1st-year class. That’s down 24% from 494 the previous year.

“We believe there are a number of contributing factors,” says VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt. “Schools throughout the commonwealth and the nation are dealing with similar declines.” Nationally, there are 1.3 million fewer first-time college students this year than last, so VMI is competing for a smaller number of applicants. Moreover, the COVID pandemic depressed attendance at VMI’s open house program, he says. Personal tours are critical for showcasing the military academy’s unique value proposition.

But others offer different explanations. A large alumni contingent has been unhappy with developments at VMI since The Washington Post and former Governor Ralph Northam painted the academy as a relentlessly racist and sexist institution. They point to the wave of negative publicity generated by a Northam-ordered investigation into racism and sexism that was amplified by the media. These alumni also charge that the infiltration of leftist ideology at VMI is turning off families who still respect its core traditions of honor, character and patriotism.

“If the public believes VMI is racist and sexist, not to mention now woke,” says Carmen Villani, a vocal critic, “who wants to send their sons or daughters there?” (See his column accompanying this one.)

In seeming fulfillment of the alumni critique, the Post last week published a retrospective upon the occasion of the 25th anniversary of women first admitted to VMI. It led with a photo of a slight 1st-year woman, Megan Smith, being shouted at by hulking, grimacing, blood vessel-popping males. The headline to last week’s story: “VMI’s male cadets were berating her. The 1997 Hell Week photo went viral.”

An honest accounting of VMI’s plummeting 1st-year enrollment would acknowledge that both VMI and its critics have valid points. Continue reading

Why So Few Cadets on VMI Matriculation Day?

by Carmen Villani

On August 20, 2022, Virginia Military Institute’s Superintendent Major General Cedric Wins announced that a total of 372 matriculants (or “Rats” by tradition) had signed in, officially beginning their four-year journey through the trials, tribulations, traditions, and triumphs of the Institute. But this year’s incoming class was considerably smaller than the school’s goal of 500+. Furthermore, it was much smaller than last year’s number of New Cadets.

An interested observer might wonder why. Reasons given vary, but a review of the data suggests that VMI’s dwindling number reflects something other than COVID or a drop in enrollment nationwide. Before detailing those reasons, it is worth noting that VMI’s low enrollment of new students is not taking place in a vacuum. Both the federal service academies as well as the U.S. Army, particularly among the armed forces, are experiencing similar recruiting difficulties. Continue reading

Division Ends Today at the Virginia Military Institute

by The Cadet Editorial Staff

To the families of matriculants:

This is a difficult day for you. As you leave your daughters and sons to face the struggles and challenges that they are about to meet, take heart in the fact that you, too, are about to become a part of the VMI family. Today your sons and daughters leave you and you will have little contact with them in the coming weeks. For those of you out of state, as I am, it will be difficult to come and visit. But you can lean on the other parents for support. You cannot imagine now all the ways this community will aid you in your time of need, nor can you estimate how you might be able to give a helping hand. You will soon be glued to a computer scouring photos for tell-tale signs of your child. This is the greatest community of alumni and parents in the country, and we welcome you to it.

To the Matriculants of the Rat-Mass of 2023+3:

You will now embark on your journey to earn the right to call yourselves VMI Cadets. There is one single and all-important theme that must resonate with every one of you given the divisiveness we see in America today and the investigations, media scrutiny and other trials we have endured at VMI – and in some cases still endure.

You are all now here on Post. You have come from all over the country and from around the world. You have come from various economic backgrounds and from different levels of education. Before today, you have had every reason to be divided.

That ends today. Continue reading

A Sneak Peak at VMI’s Diversity Training

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Military Institute cadets will return to class in a week or so. At some point during the semester, they will undergo a round of “Inclusive Excellence” training.

In June VMI’s chief diversity officer, Jamica Love, briefed the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion subcommittee of the Board of Visitors on what that training will look like. The verbal part of her presentation is not available to the public. But VMI has released an overview document that provides hints of what’s in store.

The central question in the minds of many alumni is just how “woke” the training will be. Will it be laden with leftist jargon and concepts? Will cadets be allowed to express themselves freely, or will the training amount to indoctrination? Will the training balkanize the student body around gender and race rather than mold cadets through the leveling process of the Rat Line and Barracks system into citizen soldiers?

Based on the “resources” cited in the document, “Inclusive Excellence Training VMI,” one thing is safe to say: the training content has been heavily influenced by left-wing currents of thought on issues of gender and race. Continue reading

The Only Thing “Systemic” About VMI Is the WaPo’s Cherry Picking of Data

by James A. Bacon

Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira was up to his old tricks in an article published over the weekend about Governor Glenn Youngkin’s appointments to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors. Predictably, he portrayed the divisions at VMI as between rival camps of those who “support change” and “those resisting it” — a vacuous description of the controversies dogging the military academy. It is more accurate today to characterize the rival camps as those who believe VMI needs a good dose of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion to redress past racial wrongs versus those who regard DEI’s raising of racial consciousness as antithetical to VMI’s socially egalitarian culture.

Be that as it may, Shapira frets that Youngkin’s appointment of four Republicans to the 17-person board “would roll back some of the efforts designed to make VMI more inclusive and diverse.” Only 6% of the Institute’s 1,650 cadets are Black, he notes, and only 14% are women.

Let’s set aside the obvious facts that women are far less interested in pursuing military careers than men, that they comprise only 16.5% of Americans in uniform, and that few college-bound women are interested in undergoing the rigors of the Rat Line.

Let us focus instead upon Shapira’s discussion of race at VMI. Youngkin’s board selections, he wrote, made VMI “slightly less racially diverse” by replacing one Black member, Sean Lanier, whose term had expired. “The new makeup of the VMI board includes nine White men, four Black men, two White women, one Hispanic man and one Native American woman.” Continue reading

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: Continue reading