As part of its “equity audit” at the Virginia Military Institute, the Barnes & Thornburg law firm is conducting a survey of VMI cadets, alumni, professors and staff to gauge perceptions of racism at the military academy. The stated goal is to “better understand the environment and culture of VMI as an institution.”
But many VMI alumni are wondering if the real purpose is to generate data to support a predetermined conclusion: that VMI is a hotbed of racism. As part of its contract with the Northam administration, Barnes & Thornburg will issue recommendations to address the investigation’s findings. Not only are traditions surrounding the academy’s controversial Confederate heritage at stake, but so, too, are such core VMI institutions as the adversarial rat line and the single-sanction honor code.
A copy of the questionnaire was dropped on my doorstep late one night last week, and I have been examining it closely since then. Having had some experience years ago as publisher of Virginia Business magazine in composing readership surveys, I know how important it is to word questions carefully. After reviewing the VMI racism survey, I can see why alumni are alarmed. Given the way the questionnaire was constructed, the investigators could well find data to support whatever conclusions it wants.
Barnes & Thornburg is scheduled to issue a final report in June. To maintain credibility, the report needs to release the entire survey result, including cross-tabs. Outsiders need to be allowed to access the data to verify the investigators’ conclusions. Continue reading