Tag Archives: Virginia Military Institute

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

The VMI Alumni Association as Self-Perpetuating Oligarchy

By Larry Repress and Sal Vitale
Virginia Military Institute Class of 1961

NOTE: This OPEN Letter was originally Sent to Mr. Thom Brashears, VMI Alumni Association COO with a request it be provided to all VMI Alumni in advance of the Special Meeting of the Association scheduled for 11 June 2022. On June 6, 2022 Mr. Sam Stocks, President of the Association Board, refused to distribute this to alumni stating, in part: “There is nothing to be gained at this point by any further back and forth over the contents and many of the assertions made in your letter…. Your complaints have been numerous and have been widely spread. From my perspective, they, like other similar efforts, have been a grave disservice to the alumni body at large, the cadets and to the Institute… You have a right to make them by whatever alternative means are available to you.”

“Nous Accusons”
An Open Letter to the Membership of the VMI Alumni Association

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, oligarchy is defined as: “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” We invite the reader to keep this definition in mind when reading further.

History buffs among VMI alumni/ae may recall the infamous chapter in French history when its army brass and civil government, the so called Third Republic, collaborated to falsely accuse, frame and convict a Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, of treason. This conviction led to his imprisonment at the infamous Caribbean penal colony on Devil’s Island. The conviction was later shown to have been the product of rampant anti-Semitism in the French army, a sentiment widely shared in the broader French society. The vindication of Dreyfus was catalyzed by an open letter penned by the French author and journalist Emile Zola accusing the army of framing Dreyfus. Its effect was to eventually turn public sentiment against the government resulting in an investigation that led to Dreyfus’ exoneration by the Government that had convicted him. Zola’s letter, published in a prominent Parisian newspaper, opens with the declaration “J’accuse…. (I accuse)”

In the tradition of Zola, we accuse (“nous accusons)” the Board of Directors of the VMI Alumni Association of cynically depriving the membership of its right to meaningfully participate in the affairs of the Association. It succeeded in this effort by effectively disenfranchising the membership and working to rig elections to the Board of only those of its own selection. How was this effect achieved by such a small number of persons? It was astonishingly easy. Here’s how. Continue reading

Peay’s Service at VMI Honored

by James A. Bacon

A  year and a half after he was forced into resigning amidst allegations of “relentless racism” at the institution he ran for 17 years, J.H. Binford Peay III, has been honored by the VMI Board of Visitors.

The board bestowed upon him the title of superintendent emeritus and ordered that a planned leadership building be named Peay Hall in his honor, and its dining room be named for his wife Pamela Peay. Further, General and Mrs. Peay will be honored at VMI’s Founders Day celebration Nov. 11. Superintendent Cedric T. Wins announced the recognitions at a class-of-1962 alumni reunion dinner April 26.

Stated the press release: “The Institute celebrated many successes during Peay’s 17 years as superintendent, including improved academic and co-curricular programs, major renovations of many buildings, and the construction of Third Barracks, Marshall Hall, and the Corps Physical Training Facility. During his tenure, the former superintendent was dedicated to an environment of excellence where cadets were provided countless opportunities to develop traits of successful leadership—honor, respect, civility, self-discipline, and professionalism.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

African-American Alums Support VMI, General Wins

From left, Phil Wilkerson, Adam Randolph, Harry Gore, Jr. and Richard Valentine were among the first five Black cadets accepted to Virginia Military Institute in September 1968. Photo courtesy of Harry Gore, Jr., published in the Richmond Free Press.

Letter from VMI Senior African American Alumni to the VMI Board of Visitors.

The numerous articles about the Virginia Military Institute, both from alumni and non-alumni, have been troubling to us as Senior African American Alumni (SAAA) [several members of the classes of ’72 to ‘76] of VMI. We have known the Institute to be a premier leadership institution and we have also experienced racial incidents. When wholly considered, VMI is an outstanding institution of higher-learning to which many of us owe a debt of gratitude.

This letter is in support of The Virginia Military Institute and Superintendent MG Cedric Wins, VMI Class of ‘85. As Senior African American Alumni, each of us has immensely benefited from the VMI experience. In 1968, VMI welcomed five African American young men to become part of the Corps of Cadets and to be the first black students. By all accounts, it was successful because VMI prepared for it to be successful. At the end of the previous academic year, the upcoming First-Class was challenged to lead the way for the integration of these “new” students into the Corps of Cadets. They were told, if these five black cadets failed, the First-Class would have failed to do its job.

It has been disappointing to hear that various alumni have downplayed that racial incidents happened. Even more, it has been disheartening to read how certain alumni have questioned the integrity of MG Wins and members of his administration, something unheard of until he was appointed Superintendent. As stated by a member of the SAAA, “for every one distasteful and belittling act that took place when I was there, I could count ten uplifting and enriching things. On the whole, VMI was life-enhancing for me and many others.” Continue reading

Keep CRT Out of VMI

by Carmen Villani, VMI Class of 1976

Governor Glenn Youngkin was elected in large part to remove “inherently divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory (CRT). While his Executive Order #1 speaks to “K-12 public education,” his recent speech to the Jefferson Society at the University of Virginia suggested extending the ban to higher education. In South Dakota, Governor Noem just signed into legislation a bill banning mandatory CRT training.

As with other colleges in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is dealing with the issue of CRT. While VMI officials have denied the existence of CRT on Post (VMI Campus), documents, briefings by former Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood, and the hiring of outside consulting firms with clear ties to CRT suggest otherwise. For those reasons, VMI alumni have initiated a petition calling for Attorney General Jason Miyares to direct the appropriate agency to conduct an investigation into whether the tenets of CRT under the guise of DEI are in fact being woven into the fabric of the VMI Experience. The petition also requests a hold on any DEI contracts until the investigation is completed.

After less than two weeks, the petition has well over 900 supporters. I urge all Virginians opposed to the institutionalizing of divisive concepts in Virginia colleges and universities to join the alumni, cadet parents and grandparents , friends of VMI and military veterans in signing it. To sign the petition click here. Continue reading