VMI Loses DEI Court Case: a Win-Win Situation

by Jake Spivey

In Virginia’s ever-shifting landscape of diversity, equity, or opportunity, and inclusion, a powerful decision has been made. Following the sensational, yet unproven, allegations of exceptionally bad behavior and poor leadership at Virginia Military Institute in late autumn 2019, the administration and Board of Visitors attempted to quickly effect conclusive actions that would correct their unproven ills. A prime effort by the administration would be delivery of DEI training to staff, faculty, and the Corps of cadets. Unfortunately, in its haste to instigate the training, VMI circumvented the state’s procurement laws. By sidestepping the proper legal path for solicitations and contracts, VMI became vulnerable to protest by competing but unsuccessful contractors.

After a series of hearings before Judge Christopher B. Russell, the judge rendered a verdict finding VMI in “Violation of Virginia Public Procurement Act and/or the Rules Governing Procurement of Goods, Services, Insurance and Construction by a Public Institution of Higher Education of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” The judge’s decision represents a loss for VMI and its legal counsel,  an alumnus. VMI’s attorneys tried but repeatedly failed to have the case dismissed on technicalities rather than argue the merits of VMI’s actions when pursuing the DEI training contract.

The verdict is a straight-out win for the protesting contractor, Center for Applied Innovations (CAI). The court agreed sanctions against VMI are warranted and awarded CAI over $15K in attorney’s fees. It is a win for the Commonwealth as CAI’s protest found documents during discovery in preparation for trial that revealed VMI’s misdeeds. VMI was forced to abandon the DEI contract, another win. This saved the state and taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The verdict is a win for contractors around the Commonwealth competing for state contracts, by reminding state-supported universities and state agencies to abide by the law. Finally, it is a win for the staff, faculty, and the Corps of cadets whose daily schedules will not be burdened with DEI “training.”

Update. Michelle T. Ellwood, Assistant Director, News & Editorial Services for VMI, submitted the following statement: “I wanted to bring to your attention that the dates mentioned in the story … are inaccurate and that the judge in the case did not rule that VMI violated the VPPA or any procurement laws, but rather the sanction came from actions surrounding a separate small-dollar purchase. We would request a correction or to note this story as an editorial piece.”

Jake Spivey is a VMI alumnus.