Tag Archives: Virginia Military Institute

Still Clueless After All These Years

by James A. Bacon

In his latest hit job on the Virginia Military Institute, the Washington Post’s Ian Shapira weaves into his account responses to questions submitted to Governor Ralph Northam in writing. Northam, who served as president of the Honor Court and graduated from the Institute in 1981, comes across as totally clueless.

“I don’t remember seeing racism aimed at Black cadets, but I’m sure it happened,” said Northam, without offering any specifics on how he’s sure. As a cadet, he focused mainly on surviving VMI’s academic and military-training challenges, he said. “I didn’t fully understand how subtle [racism] is. … I had the privilege of not having to see it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.”

If the racism was so subtle that Northam didn’t see it, that might be an indication that racism wasn’t as horrendous as he now believes — based largely on Shapira’s portrayal. Either he was clueless then, or he is clueless now. Continue reading

WaPo Reduces VMI to a Black-and-White Morality Tale

by James A. Bacon

The latest blockbuster finding in The Washington Post’s jihad against the Virginia Military Institute: African-American cadets experienced racism four decades ago.

According to interviews with 12 African Americans who attended VMI at the same time as Governor Ralph Northam around 1980, black cadets endured frequent racist insults. They were uncomfortable with the veneration of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. Some believed blacks were disproportionately harassed in the Ratline, and some said they were discounted for leadership positions because of their race. Two insisted that the Honor Court expelled them for cheating they did not commit.

Some of the anecdotes make for distressing reading. There is value in reminding ourselves what the African-American pioneers of integration at VMI had to endure. My problem is not with the perspectives highlighted by the Post but the perspectives that were ignored because they don’t fit its narrative of persistent and ongoing systemic racism. The country has changed in the past 40 years, but the Post won’t admit it.

Reporter Ian Shapira draws a straight line between the racism of 40 years past and racism at the Institute today. He quotes Darren McDew, who graduated from VMI and became a four-star Air Force General. “I’ve been saddened by what I’ve read about VMI,” he said, “but I am not surprised. No organization is immune from these problems.” Continue reading

Wins Appointed as 15th VMI Superintendent

Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins

by James A. Bacon

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins will serve as the Virginia Military Institute’s 15th superintendent after a unanimous vote by the military academy’s Board of Visitors this morning. A 1985 VMI graduate and career military officer, Wins has served as interim superintendent since shortly after the November resignation of J.H. Binford Peay III under pressure from the Northam administration.

Wins, an African American, has led the academy during one of the most tumultuous periods in its modern history. After anecdotal reports of racial incidents in recent years, the Institute has been characterized as “relentlessly racist” by The Washington Post and criticized for its “appalling” racism by Governor Ralph Northam and Democratic Party leaders. VMI is currently being scrutinized in an “equity audit” ordered by Northam, in which investigators are poring through documents, conducting surveys on attitudes toward race, and  interviewing students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The Superintendent Search Committee nominated Wins from what chairman Gene Scott called a “very strong” candidate pool. “Maj. Gen. Wins distinguished himself as a frontrunner through his experience as a military leader and innovator,” said Scott. “His ability to communicate a vision for the development of leaders of character and the future of the Institute set him apart from others.” Continue reading

What Does the VMI Board Have Planned?

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors surprised the VMI community when it posted a notice Monday that it had scheduled a special meeting tomorrow, April 15, to notify the public of its intent “to vote on the selection of the next Superintendent of the Institute.”

The widespread expectation was that the board wouldn’t address that critical decision until the regularly scheduled board meeting April 30. Amidst a hyper-political environment in which Governor Ralph Northam and other leading Democrats have accused VMI of “appalling racism” and launched an “equity audit” that many fear will be rigged, some alumni are asking why the sudden schedule change? Does the board have something planned? Continue reading

Maybe VMI Needs to Close on Our Terms

A modest proposal

by Shaun Kenney

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a hallowed institution to many. VMI men have a certain command presence that is rooted in realism yet rarely if ever accepts impossible as a status quo.

The things that make VMI such an institution are the intangibles. VMI’s storied Honor Code, her graduates such as General George S. Patton, the 1864 Battle of New Market, and the gallows humor that seems to prevail among most alumni. “They can’t kill you and they can’t send you back to the rat line” is a common refrain

This thicket of intangibles — honor and tradition — are what makes institutions such as VMI unique and truly Virginian. Continue reading

The Rebellion Takes to the Air Waves

Don’t have time to read Bacon’s Rebellion’s full post about the Barnes & Thornburg questionnaire used to divine perceptions of racism at the Virginia Military Institute? Catch the highlights in John Reid’s interview of me on WRVA this morning. Click here to listen. — JAB

The Resistance Gathers: VMI Edition


by James A. Bacon

A group of Virginia Military Institute alumni have created a political action committee, The Spirit of VMI, to raise money to support political candidates who are friendly to the preservation of VMI institutions and traditions.

“Our mission and objectives are to stop the decay of VMI caused by outside legislative influence,” declares the Spirit of VMI website. The unpaid organizers behind the PAC will consult with “seasoned politicians and operatives” on how to spend the funds it raises. “We have a long way to go, but have a pretty strong start.”

In its own words, the group is dedicated to protecting the following:

  • The VMI honor code
  • The education of young women and men
  • The regimental system (VMI’s leadership system)
  • The class system (the foundational system building camaraderie and lifelong friendships among VMI years/classes)
  • The VMI ratline (the crucible for all freshmen)

Continue reading

The Honor Code Is the Heart of the VMI Experience

by Carmen Villani

Honor does not see color of skin. Honor does not see gender. Honor does not see socioeconomic status. What it does see is the “dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — judging a person based upon content of his or her character.

Honor is not a casual word that is tossed around and then largely ignored at the Virginia Military Institute. It is the essence and foundation of the VMI Experience. This system is predicated upon character and starts with the Honor Code — a cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do. That code is not “suspended,” waived by granting “amnesty,” or compromised by circumstance. It is the moral compass for those who currently wear the VMI uniform and those who have. It is fiercely guarded by the Corps of Cadets and alumni alike. Violation of the Honor Code is not an option if a cadet expects to graduate from VMI. Continue reading

Dissecting the Washington Post’s Latest Hit Job on VMI

by James A. Bacon

The Washington Post needs to adopt a new motto: “We cherry pick the news so you don’t have to.”

The Post, the newspaper with the largest circulation in Virginia, committed itself last year to the narrative that Virginia Military Institute is a place where African-Americans are subjected to “relentless racism.” The WaPo’s reporting prompted Governor Ralph Northam to hire the Barnes & Thornburg law firm to conduct an “equity audit” and “investigation” of racism at VMI.

Barnes & Thornburg released its interim report Monday. It was a nuanced document, presenting testimony of eight individuals who had either been called the n-word or heard the offensive term used over the past 25 years, but also quoting alumni and cadets as saying that they have never heard the word used at VMI. Moreover, the investigators raised the possibility that attitudes among cadets, which some have interpreted as bias against African-Americans, might also be understood as resentment against athletes, predominantly African-American, who enjoy privileges and exemptions that other cadets do not.

Post writer Ian Shapira shamelessly extracted from the report statements that reinforced the narrative that he’d created in previous articles that VMI is a racist hell hole, and ignored statements that conflicted with the narrative. Here was the lead to his story: Continue reading

Racism Investigators Report Use of the N-Word at VMI

by James A. Bacon

After interviews with 46 Virginia Military Institute alumni, ten members of the Board of Visitors, 14 current and past faculty members, five cadets and four parents, Barnes & Thornburg, the law firm appointed by the Northam administration to probe racism at the military academy, has identified eight individuals who said they either were called the n-word or overheard the use of the n-word over the past 25 years.

On the other hand, “many” cadets and recent alumni told the investigative team they “never heard racial slurs such as the n-word or saw or experienced racial intolerance,” states the interim report of the equity audit and investigation.

Moreover, the report notes that when VMI administrators were alerted to racial incidents, they investigated them and often meted out punishments. An internal VMI document cited in the report described 17 incidents between 2014 and 2020 that had a racial component, most of which entailed use of racial slurs, including the n-word. Thirteen allegations were substantiated, and in each case, offending cadets were punished. Punishments ranged from five to 50 “penalty tours” (an hour’s worth of supervised marching while carrying a rifle), to confinement to barracks, cultural awareness training, written apologies, and loss of rank. Continue reading

The VMI Contract: Why the Rush?

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

VMI Update: The WaPo Makes Another Sleazy Insinuation

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. Winsreleased 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

Fix Was In for VMI Contract, Lawsuit Alleges

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

VMI, Investigators Sparring Over Rules of Racism Investigation

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