VMI Waters Down Drum-Out Ceremony

by James A. Bacon

Two Virginia Military Institute students were drummed out at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday after admitting to cheating off each other on a math assignment, according to an email disseminated by the president of VMI’s student-run Honor Court. As in the past, the entire 1,700-member student body was awakened to the beating of drums and assembled outdoors to hear the announcement. This time, for the first time, the names were not announced, reports the Washington Post.

VMI’s interim superintendent, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, made the decision January to stop publicly identifying expelled students. Wins told the Post that he had consulted with the Office of the Attorney General about whether the disclosure of expelled cadets’ names violated their federal privacy rights. The decision to change the ritual was made “based on advice from legal counsel.”

In a lengthy article describing the honor court trial and subsequent drumming out of a black athlete, the Post earlier had described the ceremony as a humiliation for the students being expelled. The newspaper also has repeatedly made an issue of racial disparities in the percentage of students disciplined by the one-strike-and-you’re out sanction.

VMI has been holding drumming out ceremonies for more than a century, long before African-Americans were admitted to the Institute. Indeed, the Post provides a student newspaper description of the ritual in 1910 when it was far more humiliating. “The prisoner was brought before the corps, stripped of his uniform, administered a thorough beating upon his posterior, and escorted to the gate, after being warned never to return.”

In recent years, expelled students were allowed to leave VMI quietly before the drumming out ceremony was held. Yet some still believe the humiliation to be excessive. The Post told of one former cadet whose friends emailed him a video of his drum out.

“It was just sad and upsetting to watch it,” he said. “I hadn’t told my friends back home, and I was worried they’d find out. I don’t think it was the corps of cadets’ business to know. I would have preferred VMI to have kept it private, but now everyone in the school knows I got kicked out.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The Post is oblivious to the purpose of the drum out ceremony. The whole point is to humiliate the transgressor, instill the fear of god in the other cadets, and reinforce the sanctity of the honor code. The message: the Institute will not tolerate any lying, cheating or stealing. Ever. And no mercy will be shown to those who do.

As America has become a more compassionate society, it has become a more permissive society, and more indulgent of lying, cheating and stealing. VMI has changed with the times, although it has not abandoned its traditional practices fast enough to satisfy some. Wins’ decision wasn’t the first step in watering down the honor code, and it won’t be the last. We live in a society in which violators of traditional codes of behavior are regarded as victims. Those who enforce traditional standards are seen as oppressors. The pressure to compromise standards of integrity is unrelenting.

Indeed, the assault on honor at VMI is just one skirmish in the watering down of honor codes everywhere, including other Virginia institutions such as the University of Virginia and Washington & Lee. After decades of moral relativism and situational ethics taught in our schools, the erosion of honor codes should come as no surprise. The latest bludgeon is the claim that the expulsion of a disproportionate percentage of minorities is evidence of racism in honor courts. It won’t be long before we start hearing that the very concept of honor is a vestige of a racist era originating with slaveholders and duels at fifty paces.

Meanwhile, our country reaps what it sows. Never in my lifetime has dishonesty been so rampant, never have the cultural arbiters of right and wrong been so partisan, never have public figures been so blatant about accusing their enemies of deceit while so assiduously overlooking dishonesty among their friends.

VMI is one of the last holdouts against this corruption. Therefore, its ethos must be extinguished. America’s cultural elites want to reserve exclusively for themselves the power to distinguish lies from truth.