Transparency and Accountability at VMI… and Every Public University

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Cedric T. Wins was awarded a $100,000 bonus after his FY-2022 performance review, and the Spirit of VMI PAC (SOVP) wants to know what criteria the Board of Visitors used in granting him the award.

The bonus, which was four times his previous $25,000 award, lifted Wins’ total 2022 compensation to $725,000. The bonus was paid with private contributions.

“SOVP questions what performance metrics the BOV used to make such a generous award and sharp increase,” stated the organization in a press release last week. “FY-2022 was an academic year that generated major concern among alumni and friends about VMI’s direction, and included large increases in attrition from the Corps. Also notable was a sharp drop in applications, which triggered the elimination of the application deadline and the SAT requirement, and led to a 25% drop in New Cadet Matriculation. This failure occurred the first year after General Wins asked for the resignation of the most successful Director of Admissions in VMI’s history.”

While the Spirit of VMI’s differences with Wins reflect issues unique to VMI, the press release raises a matter of broader concern: what criteria do the boards of Virginia’s public universities use to award bonuses, and shouldn’t those criteria be part of the public record?

Wins has led VMI during one of the most tumultuous times in its 183-year history. He came on board to replace J.H. Binford Peay III, a popular and long-serving superintendent, after a series of negative articles in The Washington Post accused the Institute of unrelenting racism and then-Governor Ralph Northam compelled his resignation. Under Wins, VMI downplayed its Confederate heritage, removing the statue of Stonewall Jackson from the Post and canceling the reenactment of the Battle of New Market in which VMI cadets played a significant role. Also, Wins has hired Diversity, Equity & Inclusion staff and launched DEI training and events. Traditionalist alumni have criticized the DEI initiatives as racially divisive and antithetical to the egalitarian ethos of VMI’s Rat Line and regimental system.

After two years of controversy, VMI re-opened this academic year with only 375 cadets in its 1st-year class, down 24% from 494 the previous year. VMI officials say the drop largely reflects the decline in the number of students attending colleges and universities nationally. Dissident alumni blame the wave of negative publicity portraying the Institute as racist and sexist.

In its press release the Spirit of VMI raised a second transparency issue regarding the source of funds to pay the bonus. “Identifying a source of funds as ‘private’ is unacceptable disclosure. How many donors contributed to the $395,000 from private sources that the Superintendent was paid last year? What were the sizes of the largest donations? Did an Institute agency solicit and appropriate these funds, and if so, which?”

The press release closes by asking if the General Assembly is comfortable with this compensation format, “which potentially risks the dictation of the school’s direction by an oligarchy of large donors? SOVP will soon ask legislators to respond.”

Bacon’s bottom line: One can agree or disagree with the Spirit of VMI’s criticisms of VMI policy under Wins, but the group is fully justified in asking for more transparency. As a member of The Jefferson Council, a University of Virginia alumni group, I have confronted similar issues regarding the criteria for awarding bonuses to UVa President Jim Ryan.

Ryan’s employment contract with UVa is a public document, and any citizen can obtain it through the Freedom of Information Act, as I presume is the case with VMI. However, a critical adjunct to that contract is not available: the performance metrics and other criteria the Board uses to determine the size of Ryan’s bonus. When I asked for that document, UVa turned me down flat.

The performance-criteria document is arguably more important than the employment contract for the public to see because it tells us something the employment contract does not: (a) the goals and objectives that are most important to the Board, and (b) the goals and objectives the university president is financially incentivized to prioritize. Traditionally, the primary goal of university presidents was said to be fund raising. In more recent years, a president might be rewarded for raising his institution’s U.S. News & World-Report “Best Colleges and Universities” ranking, or at the very least to manage the metrics that U.S. News employs in devising its ranking. Alternatively, a board might instruct its president to reshape the demographic profile of its college admissions.

While VMI under Wins suffered a debilitating decline in overall admissions, the decline was concentrated overwhelmingly among Whites. The number of Blacks and Asians saw significant percentage increases. It is entirely legitimate to ask if those outcomes reflected policy choices by Wins, and if his success in recruiting minorities was rewarded by the Board.

If the public doesn’t know the tangible metrics used to guide university policy, it’s impossible to gauge how well boards and presidents are doing their jobs.

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40 responses to “Transparency and Accountability at VMI… and Every Public University”

  1. George  Walton Avatar
    George Walton

    Is “plays well with WaPo” one of the criteria?

  2. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    And while we’re on this one…how come Jim Ryan got a three year extension on his employment agreement at the March 2022 BOV meeting?
    Given that it ran until July 31, 2025, and had a renewal clause calling for negotiation beginning no later than March 31, 2024 and to be concluded by July 31, 2024, what was the rush? And why 3 years?
    Let’s see….if Glenn Youngkin will be out in January of 2026, and Jim Ryan’s contract will run until July 31, 2028 (as extended), it couldn’t POSSIBLY be to allow NEW GOV to appoint BOV members July1 of 2026, 2027 and 2028, could it?
    Seriously. What else could this be? Whitt Clement should be removed. This was a political poke in the eye to the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Pure politics. Maybe Whitt and Jim Ryan should concentrate on doing a good job, instead of playing timing games. Disgusting. Violates Virginia duties of a BOV – by law – first duty is to the Commonwealth. Not Jim Ryan. Not Democrats. Virginia.
    Oh, and is Jim Ryan really worth over $1 million a year?
    Academia is presently a huge money-laundering scam, screwing over the people it is supposed to be educating.

    1. M. Purdy Avatar

      Because Jim is great at what he does. Unlike the malcontents on this site.

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        So you work at UVA?
        How do you define great?
        Better yet how do you define “good?”
        I don’t define it by the endowment, and I don’t define it by indoctrination, or virtue-signaling.
        I don’t define it by destroying the uniqueness of having 3 presidents involved in its creation.
        But you do you…

        1. M. Purdy Avatar

          Do you define it by record applications and competitiveness among applicants? Top marks as academic institution? Highest percentage of first-time college students? You define it as a political punchline because you can’t cite any metrics to make your case. Ryan is a massive success. Sorry.

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Record applications?
            Common App does that. Top marks as measured by whom, and how do they define that, and compared to what? I find the current generation pretty culturally ignorant, and they are supposed to be “smart.”
            And what exactly does a high percentage of you mean first generation college students mean? Is that a sign of quality, or compassion (with other people’s money)? UVA also touts a low failure to finish rate (measured over 4 or 5 or 6 years). Maybe that shows a lessening of standards… Maybe UVA’s touted provision of extra tutor resources is being devoted to sneak people through who were admitted under less stringent admission standards. Maybe, just possibly, UVA’s non-stop propaganda is used to paint a rosy picture of just the things the people controlling the propaganda want the suckers to see. Maybe.
            How about UVA’s UVIMCO doing the virtue signal of sustainable investing? Is that a fulfillment of fiduciary duty, or a political virtue signal? To ask the question is to answer it.
            What if UVA is discriminating on the basis of race in admissions? What if dropping the SAT requirement was to make racial discrimination easier? Is that in the province of a public institution of higher learning? Should UVA follow the law?
            Was UVA’s COVID policy a success? How come UVA’s and VDH’s policy on Covid was just to do whatever the CDC said? Was that because UVA wanted to stay on the federal gravy train of $$$ or did UVA do real science looking at data dispassionately? Did UVA listen to any critics of Covid policy?

          2. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            Maybe…; what if….; should…; how about….
            So many conspiracies, so little time to name them. So much paranoia as a substitute for reason or facts. Why is the sky blue? Dems did it.

          3. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Maybe I asked those questions because I can show the details…
            But it is a waste of time with you…and Larry and Troll and Nancy

            There is none so blind as he who will not see…

            (Meaning Dem partisan hacks who will refuse to admit that their stupid policies have anything to do with society falling apart)

          4. M. Purdy Avatar

            Wow, dude. Just wow.

          5. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            Welcome to Walter lala-land… gaslighters gotta gaslight after all…

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            they walk among us…. geeze

          7. DJRippert Avatar

            UVa has been falling in the rankings for years. While that fall certainly predated Jim Ryan I don’t see where he has changed anything.

          8. M. Purdy Avatar

            It’s the number 3 public institution in the country, and number 25 overall. The grad schools have also been kicking ass. I don’t see how it could have been “falling in the rankings for years.”

          9. DJRippert Avatar

            Go back and look at the ratings from 1995. UVa was the top public institution and rated about #17 overall.

          10. M. Purdy Avatar

            OK, doesn’t seem like a precipitous drop. And it might have more to do with changing methodologies than anything the school did. It’s still competitive as hell.

    2. StarboardLift Avatar

      Yes, their oath is to the Commonwealth, not to the institution, let alone its administrators. The echo chamber at UVA is tightly sealed, isn’t it?

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        You are correct, sir!

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    It’s not taxpayer money, guys.

    This goes on at every school, Fund for W&M, CNUEF, Monarch Club, yada, yada, yada. Bonuses can be/may be/are paid to the president for a variety of reasons, usually a percentage of fund raising.

    Again, not taxpayer money. You can be indignant, but uh, tough. Don’t donate. Now, about the money you give to Trump…

  4. M. Purdy Avatar

    Gen. Wins should have been awarded more like $500K. He navigated the school through its worse crisis ever (which isn’t quite done) and he has to deal with the most backward, antagonistic, bigoted alumni base in the country with a govt. in Richmond prone to listen that alumni base. He deserves ever freaking penny.

    1. keydet16 Avatar

      You’re being extreme again, Liberty, Hillsdale, and the Citadel have alumni bases that are far far worse than ours. That being said, I agree, with the amount of BS he’s had to put up with, he deserves it.

      1. M. Purdy Avatar

        Hmmmmm, what vaunted company. I’ll put VMI Old Corps Spirit’s website with any of those schools head to head. And we can compare how insanely racist they are. We, my fellow Keydet, have a cultural problem that hasn’t been addressed in decades. Let’s admit it, address it, and move forward.

        1. keydet16 Avatar

          oh I agree. That’s not company that I want to be in either and as we have discussed in past threads agree that there is a culture change needed. But the perception of comments like the one you made is to make it seem like the majority of the alumni are like ‘Old Corps Spirit’ (I got thrown out of that fb group for reporting some of their posts) and that’s not true.

          1. M. Purdy Avatar

            I don’t think that’s the case. I think we have an issue where Old Corps Spirt and the opinions it espouses are normalized and accepted, not that Old Corps Spirt is the majority.

        2. keydet16 Avatar

          oh I agree. That’s not company that I want to be in either and as we have discussed in past threads agree that there is a culture change needed. But the perception of comments like the one you made is to make it seem like the majority of the alumni are like ‘Old Corps Spirit’ (I got thrown out of that fb group for reporting some of their posts) and that’s not true.

    2. owen dunlap Avatar
      owen dunlap

      are you talking about the VMI alumni or the VMI alumni that you interact with on (un) social media? or do you think they are the same thing?

  5. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Most institutions of higher education are either public or not for profit. Bonus payments for leadership or other rationales are not essential. They are not commercial or capitalist enterprises. Such rewards are contrary to their missions and ought not exist.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Yeah, put that on a sign.

      1. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        How’s this in our yards:

        SMITH and BACON to lead UVA as President and Chair of BOV. Institution to be renamed Thomas Jefferson University and to focus upon conservative indoctrination and fundraising for Rs.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Kinda feel sorry for ’em. Being an anachronism is a tough lifestyle in the end years.

  6. keydet16 Avatar

    Since this was given by private funds, legally, do they have any standing to make this demand?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      None. But then legal, ethical, moral are words not known to those with God on their side.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Wait… what’s the org-chart look like again?

    “Elliott will make an estimated $4.1 million in his first season in 2022 and that payment will increase by around $150,000 every two seasons. In his final season as Virginia head coach, Bronco Mendenhall’s base salary was $4.25 million.”

    “In any event, President Ryan, at a minimum, gets annual compensation equal to $1,045,000, plus housing, benefits, and professional and social clubs.”

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    If BR implements an Elon’s “Blue Badge of Veracity” system for commenters, can I get a Purple Patch of Parody. Ooh, ooh, a Cyan Certificate of Cynicism, or a Scarlet Sash of Snark.

    So, Elon bans parody from Twit-er after being targeted..

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      in some ways, not that different than if Trump were put in charge of Twitter…. 😉

  9. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The General Assembly, in the Appropriation Act, has authorized colleges and universities to supplement the salaries of their presidents with money from its private foundations. The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that those private foundations, no matter how intertwined they are with the schools, are not subject to the FOIA.

    This probably should be remedied and the General Assembly could do it. I agree with Jim that the criteria upon which bonuses for university Presidents should be made public. The College of William and Mary gave its president a bonus a couple of years ago that I thought was undeserved, by the way.

    By the way, this cuts both ways: the Supreme Court decision dealt with George Mason University and foundations supported by the Koch brothers.

  10. DJRippert Avatar

    Speaking of transparency and accountability …. who can forget Jason Miyares’ Election Integrity Unit? The group was dismissed as a waste of time by liberal commenters who claim no need for special election integrity in Virginia.

    Apparently, the Biden Administration sees it Miyares’ way.

    Virginia is one of 24 states where the US Justice Department will monitor voting tomorrow.

    ” The department will monitor voting sites in 64 jurisdictions across the 24 states that include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      And the original Bacon’s Rebellion post, “Imaginary protection against imaginary threats”.

      Oh dear, liberals … will you now criticize the SlowJoe Biden Justice Department?

      1. M. Purdy Avatar

        There’s only one party that doesn’t believe in free and fair elections.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Well, Joe Kennedy certainly cheated in Chicago in 1960 so I guess you are right – the Democrats are known election cheats.

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