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

by James A. BaconWashington 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.”

Gee, Blacks now comprise only 23.5% of the board — still a higher percentage than the 20% of Blacks in Virginia’s population. I thought Shapira and others of his ilk demanded that boards, faculties, and student bodies “look like Virginia.” Apparently, that criterion applies only when Whites are over-represented, not when they’re under-represented.

Far more interesting than the racial bean counting, though, is a startling fact that Shapira never mentioned in the dozens of articles portraying VMI as a bastion of systemic racism before suddenly shifting gears and supporting the administration of Superintendent Cedric Wins against reactionary alumni.

Shapira quotes Lanier, the departing African-American board member, as saying the following (my bold).

When the former superintendent asked me nearly a decade ago to help recruit more African Americans to attend VMI, the percentage of Black VMI students commissioning was in the low single digits, and now well over 50 percent of Black students are commissioning. I’m very proud of that, but there is still work to do.

Wait? What? Do you mean to tell me that the former superintendent, J.H. Binford Peay III had been trying for a decade to recruit more African-Americans to VMI before Shapira had portrayed VMI as marred by rampant racism and former Governor Ralph Northam canned Peay?

One wonders what else Shapira has neglected to tell his readers in his “systemic” cherry picking of data to trash VMI and the alumni fighting to preserve its most hallowed traditions.

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

  1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Shapira is exercising his MFA in creative writing (fiction) that he was awarded in 2020. Those who pose as editors at the Post don’t know the difference between fact and fiction, or between the news pages and the editorial pages.

    1. M. Purdy Avatar
      M. Purdy

      So all those people who went on the record to describe the racism they faced are lying, including a four star AF general?

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        That, of course, is your segue, not mine. The article describes lack of balance in reporting. It exists in part so that people like you can make ridiculous statements when it is exposed. Must feel good, though, huh.

        1. M. Purdy Avatar
          M. Purdy

          You made the claim about fiction, not me. Go ahead, prove these folks are lying. They have plenty of proof they’re not.

      2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
        Carmen Villani Jr

        Stop with your misdirection Michael. At dispute is not racist incidents taking place but the existence of “institutional racism” as noted in the B&T report or as Shapira referenced it in his article – a “racist and sexist culture.” I wonder why he didn’t use the term “institutional racism?” Could it be due to the Virginia Business article in which the following was stated? “While past acts of racism have occurred at VMI, Wins says that charges of ‘institutional racism’ at VMI are not supported by the facts.”

        I suggest you go back on this blog and read what fellow alumni said of their experience at VMI (Senior African American Alumni). That you defend the Shapira article is very telling.

        1. M. Purdy Avatar
          M. Purdy

          Documented cases, stats to back it, people on the record, and the same incidents and attitudes over decades, if not longer, at the school. That’s evidence. Institutional racism just means that the racism is insidious, embedded and not explicit, to wit: VMI was wrapped in lost cause b.s., expelled black cadets at rates six times their population at the school, and had a culture (not an admin, necessarily, a culture) that tolerated it. Gen. Wins is looking to rectify that, though I realize that he doesn’t agree with many who are pushing for change on the extent to which it’s needed. The SAAA agree with his policies (and explicitly reject your denialism, btw). Great! People on the same side can disagree over details like grown ups. But you don’t agree with Gen. Wins’ approach at all. You just use his statements selectively to support your position, then attack him and the direction he’s taking the school at all other times. SMH.

          1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Here are the “stats” Michael:

            From the B&T Report:

            2011-2021 – 91 drum outs; 47 of those cases were tried while the other 44 were not because the cadet “resigned or admitted guilt.” Thus, the 44 cases have no bearing as to whether or not the Honor System has a bias to “cadets of color.” Therefore, 47 drums outs over a 10 year period due to a trial occurring breaks down to 4.7 cases per year. Let’s round that up to 5. Then on Pg. 82, it states: “Cadets of color represent 23%, but they make up 41% of dismissed cadets since 2011.” If we apply their 41% “cadets of color” being “dismissed cadets” (5), that’s about 2 per year. Going to Pg. 83, Table 11 shows the number of cadets used in their analysis as “Person of color” was 347. Two “cadets of color” is a mere .6% of 347. No disproportionality when you use those stats. Your “6 times their population” comment is without merit because of the size of the dataset, not to mention ZERO EVIDENCE has been presented to show that these individuals were drummed out because of skin color. To the contrary, the report stated the following:

            “The investigation found no evidence of overt bias in Honor Court proceedings.”

            “The investigation did not find anything to support a conclusion that specific policies or procedures of the Honor Court cause African American or other minority cadets to be drummed out at a disproportionate rate.”

            Between 2015 – 2021 – 17 allegations were noted having a “racial component”; 13 of the allegations were substantiated; four lacked a “preponderance of the evidence”; in all 13 cases, the cadets were punished.

            As for the number of individuals in the data samples from which conclusions were reached, statisticians would question the validity of those conclusions due to the size of the datasets.

            From alumni whose skin color differs from mine:

            “I would do it all over again in a minute, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Every brick wall I hit was worth it…” 2011; Retired USAF General Darren McDew, VMI Class Of 1982

            “VMI’s a great school — it’s just not for everybody.” 2019; Mr. Adam Randolph VMI Class Of 1972

            “There was no white and black. We were just RATS going through the same thing.” 2019; Mr. Harry Gore VMI Class of 1972

            “When I graduated, I felt more prepared than ever to do anything . . . I am proud to be a VMI alumna.” 2020; Former State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, VMI Class Of 2003

            “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.” 2022; VMI “Senior African American Alumni”

            From the VMI Quarterly Report 1 Equity Audit

            “107 reports of suspected honor code violations” in the academic year 2020-2021; ONLY 4 ACTUALLY WENT TO TRIAL. Clearly that should lay to rest any notion that charges would be put forth based on “insufficient or circumstantial evidence.”

            ALL OF US AGREE Michael that we can point to incidents of racism but clearly, they DO NOT support the claims of structural, systemic, or institutional racism. I am selective in the statements that I utilize because they are the ones pertinent to the discussion of whether or not a “culture” of racism exists. As to my disagreement with the changes that are being made at VMI, that is irrelevant to the topic of institutional racism existing at VMI and once again illustrates my point of your attempt to misdirect.

            In closing, here are what some other people have had to say about VMI and would dispel your assertion of a culture of racism. It also addresses Jim’s comment regarding “what else Shapira has neglected to tell his readers.”

            “Let me express my thanks to General Peay, Brigadier General Green, Brigadier General Schneiter, Colonel Hentz, and all of VMI’s leadership for stewarding one of our nation’s finest and most historic educational institutions.” 2012; Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

            “It is a privilege to be with you today. Particularly on this Veterans Day and this most important occasion in the history of this proud institution.” 2014; Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

            “This is too much but I’m deeply honored to be here at Virginia Military Institute.” 2015; the late Congressman John Lewis

            “This institution, and there are very few like it, has ingrained in you a strict moral compass and a passion for integrity.” 2016; Senator Tim Kaine

            “I will wear it (‘Keydet pin’ given to her by a VMI alumnus) even more proudly at VMI”; “This (gift presented to her by a cadet on behalf of VMI) will be placed on a shelf just behind my desk, and I am very proud to put it there.” 2017; the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

          2. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            I don’t have time to respond to your tome, but this statement jumped out at me: “47 of those cases were tried while the other 44 were not because the cadet “resigned or admitted guilt.” Thus, the 44 cases have ****no bearing**** as to whether or not the Honor System has a bias to “cadets of color.” [Emphasis added.] Let me disabuse of a notion you seem to have that b/c someone is guilty it demonstrates there must be ‘no bias’ in the system. That’s nuts. Enforcement can be selective, targeting by spooks of HC members can be biased (I regularly heard an HC member use the Nword), some cadets might have more resources or connections to avoid a trial, etc. etc. etc. Numerous studies have been done of the US court system and its selective enforcement for the exact same crimes, but those who are minorities or don’t have the resources to fight it get the short end of the stick. Your worldview is terribly narrow and informed by your decades-old service as HC president. It’s too bad.

          3. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            There is no “bias” Michael in a “Cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.” Evidence was gathered by dedicated Honor Court members, presented to the accused, and the accused admitted guilt. Even the conclusions reached in the B&T report don’t support your commentary. What is too bad Michael is your unwillingness to assess “stats,” facts, apply logic, and the attempt to misdirect yet again. Enjoy the rest of your day.

          4. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            In law there’s a concept of “on its face” (i.e., as written) vs. “as applied” (i.e., as the system enforces them). Laws can be discriminatory on their face, as applied or both. As you point out, there’s nothing discriminatory on the face of the honor code. As applied, however, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s unevenly applied and should be examined (Gen. Wins did a good job of addressing disparate outcomes with his changes to the system). It’s right there in the B&T report pg. 82 (“,,,however, this data suggests that there is an implicit bias against cadets of color at least with respect to drum outs.”). Let me give you an argument by analogy. The U.S. justice system is staffed by professionals, lawyers and judges who have studied in competitive law schools, practiced for decades, and taken an oath to uphold and defend the Const. Even with that level of ability, education, and experience, there are major disparate outcomes in the justice system in terms of enforcement and penalties. Judges, lawyers, and lawmakers on both sides have been seeking to rectify those disparate outcomes for decades. How, if a system like the American justice system, can be prone to bias, can a system staffed with young, inexperienced men with no legal training be free of it? It defies logic and it would be much healthier for VMI to examine itself and course correct, rather than screaming to the heavens that it’s perfect.

          5. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Did you even read the quotes from the report I posted? Very inconsistent with your quote that “suggests” bias. Can’t prove it but we think it may be there. It just goes to show the inconsistencies of the report. And yet all these changes were made.

            You make repeated reference to the US Justice system. If you had the opportunity to read the supplemental document authored by former HC court members that was provided to VMI officials, you would know that the “Honor Court’s Standard Operating Procedures (‘SOP’) is modeled after the Uniform Code of Military Justice (‘UCMJ’).”

            You also fail to recognize the process that a case must go thru from start to finish involving much more than dedicated cadets. To insult Honor Court members with no shred of actual evidence is pretty amazing coming from an alumnus.

            I have repeatedly claimed that VMI is not perfect so don’t misrepresent my position. You also skipped right over the Black alumni who have praised VMI, as well as high-level Democrats, not to mention a Supreme Court Justice.

          6. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            Yes, I read the quote. And I’ve read the report (more than once). It’s not inconsistent to say statistics suggest something while explicit examination of individual cases don’t reveal a root cause. In fact, it’s what most statistical analysis does. I read the letter you sent. But citing the UCMJ doesn’t help your case. The military is just as prone to the biases present in the civilian justice system. The DoD even investigated itself during the trump admin to determine why racial disparities were what they were in enforcement. See here: And I didn’t insult anyone, Carmen. You’re taking this far too personally. This is a discussion of problems and how to address them.

          7. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            You have stated that you have read the report more than once but fail to recognize the inconsistencies of it. Case in point, you take a PART of one sentence but fail to place it in context. That same sentence on page 82 begins with: “The investigation found no evidence of overt bias in Honor Court proceedings.” Go to page 76 where you can read the following: “At the same time, the data VMI produced does not suggest impropriety or unfair treatment among the 91 cases that resulted in a finding of guilty.” Reading further, it states: “The Team was thus unable to determine whether discretion at the initial decision of whether to accuse a cadet of an honor violation raised any concerns about selective enforcement based on race.” Thus, all of this noise you put forth about bias in the system is pure supposition.

            Given that you were not a member of the Honor Court during your cadetship makes your argument even less compelling. You make legitimate points with regard to the justice system but that doesn’t make it so for the VMI Honor System as well.

            It is my hope that the readers will see the argument that you have put forth as I do – misdirection, mischaracterization, supposition, omission, replacing causation (violation of honor code) with correlation (skin color), and illogical.

            As for taking it “too personally,” I see it as defending VMI and the members of the Honor Court that you, in fact, have insulted! Enjoy your weekend.

          8. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

            This is a terrible thing to say about a former President of the Honor Court, and betrays a lack of confidence in your tiresome arguments.

          9. M. Purdy Avatar
            M. Purdy

            “Former PRESIDENT of THE HONOR COURT”? WHOA, that’s amazing! Should I stand and salute? Nope, don’t think I will.

          10. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Thank you!

          11. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

            Mr. Villani, you have performed a fine service by collecting these tributes to VMI, surely one of the “crown jewels” in the Commonwealth’s impressive college roster. My question to you, however, is this: Why do you engage a narcissist like Mr. Purdy? A man that can so easily dismiss your worthy post as a “tome” clearly has no intention to engage you, let alone any respect for you. Mr. Purdy has damaged VMI, and now the younger alumni must deal with the fact that their diplomas are tarnished. Leave Mr. Purdy to ponder his greatness alone.

          12. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Good question. I have believed it to be important to stand up for what you believe in. It is not my intent to change the mind of Michael Purdy, but to provide the readers of Bacon’s Rebellion the opportunity to see a VMI that is not perfect, but a valuable asset to Virginia and our nation. I definitely don’t want to “tilt at windmills.”

  2. Carter Melton Avatar
    Carter Melton

    As a VMI guy from the late Stone Age (1967) I would simply like to note that Shapira must have missed “Money” magazine’s ranking of VMI as number 5 in America among all Universities and Colleges….or he certainly would have done an article.

    If VMI walked on water, his headline would be “VMI Can’t Swim”.

    I grew up in Salem, and the Washington Post was a Sunday staple. The Washington Post of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee was a great newspaper. The Washington Post of Jeff Bezos and Ian Shapria should be sold at the check-out counter right BELOW the National Enquirer.

  3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    Would you want a WaPo employee living in your neighborhood?

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Sure, but I am hoping for a SCOTUS judge so at least I can have some gun control where I live.

  4. Donald Smith Avatar
    Donald Smith

    “One wonders what else Shapira has neglected to tell his readers in his ‘systemic’ cherry picking of data to trash VMI and the alumni fighting to preserve its most hallowed traditions.”

    I get the sense that the readership of the Washington Post, and I’m painting with a bit of a broad brush here, view VMI with contempt. As something to be put out of business, instead of respected. The fact that VMI is seen by many as a landmark institution of Virginia’s heritage and culture is another reason for those people to dislike it.

    This could just be smart business: The WaPo readership wants to look on “Old Virginia” with contempt, and Shapira might be giving his readers what they want.

  5. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    “Wait? What? Do you mean to tell me that the former superintendent, J.H. Binford Peay III had been trying for a decade to recruit more African-Americans to VMI before Shapira had portrayed VMI as marred by rampant racism and former Governor Ralph Northam canned Peay?” These things aren’t mutually exclusive. VMI can still have deep-seated issued with racism, and still be trying to diversify its racial makeup. It certainly has tried to boost female recruiting for decades, but has serious issues with misogyny.

  6. dick dyas Avatar
    dick dyas

    Is Mr. Shapira still on the board of directors of Heavenly Hill bourbon?
    His slave-owning predecessors must be rolling in their graves.

    1. M. Purdy Avatar
      M. Purdy

      The family that owns HH didn’t own slaves. It was started in the 30s.

  7. Wahoo'74 Avatar

    Great article. Shapira and WAPO pursue “yellow journalism” at its best.

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