VMI Investigation Provides Thin Gruel for Racism Allegations

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.”

Among the findings buried in the body of the report and ignored in the summary:

  • No violence. The investigation did not reveal any immediate threats of racial violence.
  • No civil rights violations. The investigation did not identify conclusive evidence of civil rights violations.
  • No unfair treatment in Honor code. While a disproportionate number of non-White cadets were expelled for Honor Code violations in recent years, B&T concedes deep in the report that “the data VMI produced does not suggest impropriety or unfair treatment among the 91 cases that resulted in a finding of guilty. To the contrary, the cases appeared to be well-documented and justified.”
  • Administration’s stance on racism. “VMI’s records and VMI’s administrator interviews convey an institution committed to ensuring that its cadets, faculty, and staff are free from discrimination and harassment and to responding appropriately when they are not.”
  • Access to alumni network. Minorities and women were not denied access to VMI’s powerful alumni network. “Several minority and women alumni interviewees experienced support from the VMI alumni network in obtaining successful positions in the military, graduate school, or other jobs after graduation.”

While highlighting statistical disparities at VMI, Barnes & Thornburg made only a superficial effort to compare them to disparities at other Virginia colleges and universities. In other words, it failed to demonstrate that the issues relating to race and sex were any more prevalent at VMI than any other public or private university.

Responding in a prepared statement to the Final Report, Superintendent Cedric T. Wins did not comment upon specific findings of the report. Rather, he reiterated his commitment to the five outcomes of honor, diversity & inclusion, the VMI brand, competing and winning, and One VMI. “The Institute will move forward and will be better because of this chapter in our history,” he said.

The Final Report consists of two parts: the executive summary and the body. The body is comprehensive, provides numerous perspectives on the issues raised, and explores nuances and complexities. The executive summary, by contrast, imposes a pre-determined narrative on the report and cherry picks information from the body to back its assertions. States the summary:

VMI has … traditionally been run by white men, for white men. VMI’s overall unwillingness to change — or even question its practices and traditions in a meaningful way — has sustained systems that disadvantage minority and female cadets and faculty, and has left VMI trailing behind its peer institutions. If VMI refuses to think critically about its past and present, and to confront how racial and ethnic minorities and women experience VMI, it will remain a school for white men.

The report bases its conclusions largely on an opinion survey supplemented by individual interviews.

According to the survey of current cadets, half of African American cadets strongly or somewhat agree that there is a culture of racial intolerance at VMI, while only 10% of Caucasian cadets agree with that sentiment. Similarly, 42% of African American cadets responded that African Americans are discriminated against “a lot” at VMI,” compared to only 4% of Caucasians who feel that way. Half of African American cadets strongly or somewhat agree that it is harder for people of color to succeed at VMI, compared to 5% of Caucasian cadets who feel that way.

The authors of the summary, in effect, give enormous weight to the roughly half of African Americans who believe there is racism at VMI, give zero weight to the other half who evidently have not experienced racism, and give zero weight to the views of the overwhelming majority of white cadets (90% to 95%) who say they see no evidence of racism. The summary says nothing about the views of Hispanics, Asians or others. If VMI were “run by white men for white men,” presumably other ethnicities would perceive some prejudice as well. But there is no sign of it. The experience of other ethnicities does not figure in this report.

The report is too voluminous and raises too many issues to do justice in this overview. It contains lengthy discussions of sexual harassment and discrimination, the Honor Code, the widespread resentment against student athletes (many of them African American), and statistical comparisons with other Virginia universities.

I will address those in future posts. In the meantime, I think a couple of things can be fairly said about the report. The investigators did a reasonably fair job of reporting what they found in the main body. But Governor Northam got what he paid $1 million for in the disgracefully one-sided executive summary.

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18 responses to “VMI Investigation Provides Thin Gruel for Racism Allegations”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” The authors of the summary, in effect, give enormous weight to the roughly half of African Americans who believe there is racism at VMI, give zero weight to the other half who evidently have not experienced racism, and give zero weight to the views of the overwhelming majority of white cadets (90% to 95%) who say they see no evidence of racism”

    So if half the blacks say they have seen or experienced racial discrimination , it’s just an “opinion” and if half of the white folks don’t also agree – then it’s really not “agreed to” as factual?

    In order to actually conclude that there is, in fact, racial discrimination, the white folks have to agree or there is not?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Is such an opinion not just another self-proving statement? But, we must consider the testimony. To wit: 50% of the Black cadets agreed that there is an environment of racial intolerance at VMI while 10% of Caucasian cadets agreed.

      Now, given this is a civil matter, not a criminal one, the burden to meet is the preponderance of the evidence, i.e., greater than 50% in agreement.

      Do the math, Larry. Do the math. Is 0.5B + 0.1W > 0.5 in agreement?

      Normalizing based on W = 1, and the notion of equality, hence B=1 also, then we would find in the affirmative.

      However, given this is a Virginia institution, and traditional plantation weighting, B=3W/5, we have

      0.5 x 0.6 + 0.1 x 1= 0.4 and hence VMI is thus racially tolerant.

      To meet the burden would have required 21% of the Caucasian cadets to be in agreement. So say all of us.


      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Lord! Well, according to SOME white folk, it’s never been a “problem”. They ask “what is the problem”?

        Or , “Yes, there is a problem AND it is YOUR fault”!

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Apparently 40% is thin oatmeal.

          “I’m sorry if you’re offended. The problem is clear. You’re overly sensitive.”

      2. WayneS Avatar

        No, because W>B (much greater).

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “… 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.’”



    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Well, did the 50% of the black cadets/alumni (interviewed or surveyed, not all of them) who reported they did not see or experience racism also choose not to see it? I’ve skimmed the report. I suspect a similar result would be found at plenty of other colleges, especially those with lower African American enrollment such as VMI. The question is, now what? With a black superintendent now, the Confederate icons largely gone, the best they can come up with is to create affinity groups in the alumni structure? Big whoop.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Clearly, the situation of change since Charlottesville has resulted in a more dynamic environment. Sensitivity to racism is raised as is, perhaps, the hope and belief things are going to get better. I should think that there will always be a good institution for Virginia’s 2nd born sons.

        There is no such thing as systemic racism. Just policies that allow individual racists to quietly flourish and endure.

        To borrow from Jim, racism wilts in sunshine.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Given your propensity for nonstop sarcasm it’s hard to know for sure whether you’re serious in your commentary. However, if this is serious then it it one of your more profound statements …

          “There is no such thing as systemic racism. Just policies that allow individual racists to quietly flourish and endure.”

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            It wasn’t sarcasm. Nowadays, we try very hard (‘cept’n in Texas, et al) to devise laws to apply equally to all, however our institutions are governed by rules or policies to apply those laws. Often, these rules are the source of that cover. At this time, the light is on “the thin blue line” and policies such as qualified immunity combined with a police union, having its own policies, permits a decay in the core that GitRot® couldn’t harden.

            BTW, FU, even my sarcasm and ridicule is profound.😉

  3. tmtfairfax Avatar

    I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am, however, interested in the issue of credibility and “assumed” credibility. Yesterday, SCOTUS in another 9-0 decision reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision that concluded that an asylum seeker’s testimony was credible as a matter of law absent a specific determination to the contrary. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that instead of presuming an asylum seekers’ account to be fact, the Board of Immigration Appeals should review factfinders’ work and apply “applying a presumption of credibility” only “if there is no explicit adverse credibility determination.”

    Good thing for the media that they aren’t subject to this rule.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Harder to understand how the Ninth Circuit Court could have come to the conclusion that an asylum seeker’s testimony should be taken as being credible as a matter of law.

      More and more we see lower courts politicized. Fortunately, the US Supreme Court, despite the hysterics attendant to the nomination of every justice, seems to actually uphold the Constitution. Perhaps it’s because the framers of the US Constitution (many of whom were Virginians) had the good sense to ensure that US Supreme Court justices would never have to be re-nominated or re-elected. That would be an excellent example for the Commonwealth of Virginia to follow. Allowing the General Assembly to re-elect Supreme Court justices is yet another example of the Byrd Machine operatives who wrote the current Virginia Constitution trying to perpetuate the ignoble practice of plantation elitism. It was no accident that the Virginia Supreme Court could not effectively rule on gerrymandering because it could not define “compact and contiguous”.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Interesting quote from Shaun Kenney’s latest newsletter ….

        “Virginia Democrats are in a bloody civil war between progressives and the Byrd Machine — and they know it.”

        For once, I’m siding with the progressives.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The media is unfortunately subject to the rush of time, a luxury granted to the courts. Its product starts with an odor and rots completely in hours.

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        Did you see the Post Toasties revised the article on the possible source of COVID-19 being the Wuhan lab?

        Decision-makers are supposed to look at the evidence on all sides, including “witnesses.” If people are split in their “testimony,” most especially those with unique experiences (such as people from a racial or ethnic minority), it is a lot harder to draw a supportable conclusion.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          The thing about VMI is that it is proffered to be an institution that trains leaders.

          When people that are enrolled and being trained say they have been discriminated against, and we make it a he-said/he-said issue, that does not exactly reflect well on an institution that claims to train folks on how to lead others.

          And indeed, we see similar issues in the Armed Services themselves.

          And yet we defend it by saying it’s “probably” no worse than in other colleges as if it’s just like other colleges.

        2. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Nope. Haven’t seen it yet. I suppose it will cite 3 sickened lab workers in Nov19 and the fact that the lab was actively working on the corona viruses that caused SARS1, MERS, and one other epidemic.

          But I did watch the interview with the biologist, Daszak, whose work was being done at the Wuhan labs on Corona viruses. In fact, they were manipulating the spike protiens to create (God knows why) a vaccine-proof virus untreatable with monoclonal antibodies. Fortunely, and clearly, SARS2 is not such a virus. We have empirical evidence, e.g., Donald Trump.

          On the other hand, this same biologist, in the same interview, claims dozens of documented cases of cross species, mostly bats, corona virus infections in SE Asia.

          As far as the lab workers are concerned, we have plenty of evidence that only a small percentage require hospitalization. Are we really to believe that the first 3 infectees required hospitalization? This means it’s likely there were dozens of people infected in November and that wet market is still a possibility.

          So, we’re still back at “Is it natural, or is it Clairol?” Only her hairdresser knows for sure.

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