by James A. Bacon
Barnes & Thornburg (B&T), the law firm hand-picked by the Northam administration as an “independent” investigator, has delivered its final report on racism and sexism at the Virginia Military Institute. The report concluded that racial and gender disparities persist in how cadets are treated at the military academy.
VMI’s “culture” reinforces barriers to addressing those disparities, the report says, and as a state-funded institution, VMI must be held accountable to taxpayers and the General Assembly and prove that it is “implementing its diversity, equity, and inclusions (DE&I) proposals.”
Painting a picture based largely on an anonymous survey of cadets, faculty, staff and alumni, supplemented by in-person interviews, Barnes & Thornburg said that racial slurs and jokes are “not uncommon” on post, and that roughly half of the African-Americans cadets feel there is a “culture of racial intolerance” at VMI. Only a small percentage of Whites agreed, but B&T said White responses only point out that “where African Americans experienced racism … Caucasian cadets do not or choose not to see it.”
The VMI investigation highlighted statistical disparities in attitudes, enrollment, and Honor Code convictions, but the report offers almost no concrete instances of racism. It publishes numerous quotes alleging racism but makes no effort to to investigate those allegations. On the other hand, the report made several major concessions that undercut Governor Ralph Northam’s statement last year in ordering the investigation, based on Washington Post reporting, that racism at VMI was “systemic” and “appalling.” Continue reading
by Donald Smith
“My generation just had thicker skin. These young kids today are getting caught in the moment. They take it more personally,”
Those are the comments of Ron Carter, the first Black battalion commander at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Carter was a star basketball player for the Keydets. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, and eventually VMI retired his jersey. He later served as an administrator with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s the resume of an adult with accomplishments.
Those are not the comments you want to hear, if the commenter (Carter, in this case) is commenting on your behavior, judgements and temperament. They are especially not the comments you want to hear if you’re the graduate of an institution that prides itself on training future leaders. A place like VMI.
I am not a VMI man I’m a Virginia man; I graduated from the University of Virginia. But for much of my professional career, I’ve either been an Army officer or taught them. For much of the past 20 years, I’ve taught Army lieutenants and captains. And, if I were an VMI graduate, or prospective Keydet, I’d be really concerned about the impact of this past year’s hysteria on my school’s reputation. Continue reading
by Jake Spivey
Earlier this month, the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors voted to “expand the symbolism” of the Virginia Mourning Her Dead statue that memorializes the 10 VMI cadets who died in the Battle of New Market to include all former cadets who have died in battle. The board also approved a motion to “devise a program of contexualization for the painting The Charge of the New Market Cadets, a 21-by-18-foot oil-on-canvas painting showing the VMI Cadet Corps advancing across a wheat field at the pivotal moment of the battle.
In 1893 VMI had requested the VMI alumnus and internationally famous sculptor Moses Ezekiel to design a memorial for the New Market cadets. It was never meant as a memorial to alumni who died since the Civil War. The painting by Benjamin W. Clinedinst, a VMI alum and member of the National Academy of Art, conveyed the traits of duty, honor, country, and selfless service by showing the Cadet Corps doing together what no one cadet could do individually.
What does it mean to “contextualize” a work of art celebrating timeless virtues? Does it not strip away the original meaning and intent? What anyone living today the right to reinterpret the intentions of the original artists? Continue reading
Alternatively headlined: There Will Be Heat Death in the Universe Before You Read These Quotes in a Washington Post news article.
Carmen Villani, Virginia Military Institute class of 1976, recently compiled a list of perspectives given by African-American alumni as well as actions taken by staff and professors that illuminate the military academy’s record on race. The narrative is far different from the one articulated by former Governor Ralph Northam, himself a VMI alumnus, who declared in October that VMI was guilty of “systemic racism” and then ordered an investigation to prove his point. He submitted the list to members of the VMI Board of Visitors and Superintendent Cedric Wins last week.
In introducing the comments, Villani recounts the words of David McCullough in a 1994 speech at in Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson, said the noted author, “was an exceedingly gifted and very great man, but like the others of that exceptional handful of politicians we call the Founding Fathers, he could also be inconsistent, contradictory, human.”
We are all “human,” Villani says, and that makes all of us flawed but we strive to be better. That is what should be recognized about VMI. Flawed, yes, BUT it has been a great contribution to society.” The Institute does not deserve the slanders it has endured in recent months.
Messrs. Randolph And Gore, VMI Class Of 1972
“’We had bigger fish to fry in our minds,’ Randolph said. ‘We were dealing with something that everybody has trouble dealing with — not black people, not white people, everybody — and that was being a rat at VMI.’ ‘I just kind of had it,’ he said. ‘VMI’s a great school — it’s just not for everybody.’” Continue reading
by William Moore
Three Card Monte is a classic short con. The Dealer places three cards face down and the Shill, who is in on the con, attempts to pick the money card. They play boisterously, hoping to catch the attention of some poor sap, the Mark. Thinking himself quite good at following the money card, the Mark puts his money down. Using sleight of hand and misdirection, the Dealer makes sure the Mark never finds it.
A similar game is being played in the media’s coverage of the Virginia Military Institute racism investigation. Call it Three Card Media.
Like its street-hustling counterpart, Three Card Media has three actors in the con: the media (the Dealer), politicians (the Shills), and the public (the Mark). Here’s how it works: In reporting news, the media picks the facts and quotes that fit its narrative. Politicians comment upon the “news,” adding their own spin and distorting the picture even more. The politicians’ quotes become news, and the distortions are amplified. Unable to follow the sleight of hand, the public is gulled into believing a story starkly at odds with reality.
To see how the scam works in the political world, readers should read the Barnes & Thornburg interim report dated March 8, 2021, on the investigation. Then read The Washington Post’s (“WaPo”) March 9th summation of the B&T report, “Racial slurs at VMI a common occurrence for Black cadets, investigators told.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Washington Post and Northam administration have done a fine job of wrecking the reputation of the Virginia Military Institute. On the basis of a dozen anecdotes shorn from any context, the Post declared VMI guilty of “relentless racism” and elaborated upon the charge in more than 20 articles since. Declaring himself “appalled” by the Institute’s “systemic racism,” Governor Ralph Northam hired an outside firm to investigate racial discrimination at the military academy. The investigator, law firm Barnes & Thornburg (B&T), has produced preliminary and interim reports which, though refraining from drawing definitive conclusions, reinforced the association in the public mind between VMI and racism.
The VMI leadership has been caught in a delicate situation, unwilling to respond as forcefully and openly as it might for fear of antagonizing the Northam administration and provoking political retribution. But thanks to the letter of resignation from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) tendered by Thomas G. Slater, Jr., yesterday, along with supporting documentation, the public gets the fullest, clearest expression of VMI’s defense.
On March 22, 2021, Cedric T. Wins, then-interim superintendent of VMI, and John William Boland, president of the VMI Board of Visitors, wrote a letter to Marge Connelly, SCHEV board chair and Slater, vice chair. At the time, Slater was trying to set up a meeting in which Wins and Boland could talk to the Council about ensuring the accuracy of the final B&T report.
That letter did two things. First, it provided context missing from the Washington Post articles, the Governor’s public statements, and the B&T preliminary and interim reports showing what VMI had been doing before the investigation began. Second, it detailed the errors and omissions in the B&T report, thus documenting what VMI contends was a need to review and provide feedback before the final report is issued on or around June 1. Continue reading
Thomas G. Slater, Jr. Photo credit: Hunton Andrews Kurth
by James A. Bacon
Thomas G. Slater, Jr., a prominent Virginia Military Institute alumnus, submitted his resignation from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) today, citing political pressure from the office of Governor Ralph Northam to bias the outcome of the VMI racism investigation by an outside law firm, Barnes & Thornburg.
The event that precipitated the resignation was a decision by SCHEV Chair Marge Connelly to not allow the Council to discuss VMI’s request to establish a process for achieving a fair and accurate final report.
Marge Connelly. Photo credit: SCHEV
“I can only conclude that the current Chair and Executive Director have decided to bow to political pressure from your office and the attorney general’s office to insure that the final report by B&T supports the unfounded charges in your letter of October 19, 2020 accusing VMI of systemic racism,” Slater wrote in the letter addressed to Northam.
After a series of Washington Post articles last fall, Northam said in that letter that he was appalled by the racism at the military academy. After he ordered an investigation, SCHEV issued a Request for Proposal. As documented by Bacon’s Rebellion, the Governor’s Office was in command of the selection process and chose Barnes & Thornburg, a Washington, D.C., law firm committed to combatting racism and social injustice. VMI officials took issue with the narrative in the firm’s preliminary and interim reports that portrayed the VMI administration as reluctant to cooperate with the investigation. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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