Why a VMI Alumnus Yanked a $1 Million Bequest

Bye bye!

An open letter to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors, Virginia Military Institute Alumni Association, VMI Corps of Cadets, VMI Alumni/ae, Parents Council, and The Cadet Newspaper.

November 11, 2022

I am a member of the VMI class 1975. In the nearly 50 years since my graduation, I have taken great pride in being one of the over 20,000 who can claim that honor. Therefore, I take no pleasure in writing this letter to make known my growing concerns about the future of VMI, and my conviction that the path VMI is embarked upon will destroy the Institute. And I don’t mean the buildings and other physical features of VMI, but the traditions and other intangibles woven into the VMI experience from which I have benefitted and which is the source of my pride. I am confident that many other alumni share this view. My convictions have become so strong since Maj. Gen. [Cedric T.] Wins and his administration took charge that recently I reluctantly took the step of amending my last will and testament to excise a bequest of $1,000,000 for the benefit of VMI through the Alumni Agencies.

In the brief span of just two years since the abrupt dismissal of General [J.H. Binford] Peay as Superintendent, the Institute has traveled far down the path of political correctness. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology, have sunk their toxic roots into the fabric of VMI life. The recent recognition of Gen. Peay with the New Market medal is not a step forward but simply long overdue. Even that effort was besmirched by a crass appeal for donations by the Alumni Association immediately following the Board of Visitor’s (BOV) announcement of the award, an act that only demonstrated how VMI and the Alumni Association are trying to simply capitalize and profit from what they cravenly avoided doing long ago.

Adding to this insult is the BOV’s recent approval of a $100,000 bonus for the Superintendent despite a 25% drop in enrollment and the administration’s direct defiance of the Governor and General Assembly’s directives not to use budgeted funds to resource VMI’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program. Recently I was appalled to see a social media posting, apparently from the Superintendent’s personal account, describing an alumnus and his own Brother Rat as “looking desperate and racist.”

For these things I blame the Superintendent, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins and some members of his Administration, as well as public statements by the Board of Visitors and the VMI Alumni Association for supporting them, vilifying alumni who have contrary views, dismissing them as being misinformed or simply disgruntled whose criticisms are ignorantly made without any foundation. Other improvident actions include taking authority from the Corps in running barracks; and splitting the VMI Family. The complex challenges VMI faces require serious, skilled leaders who love VMI and we do not have them. Fortunately, none of these ill-conceived changes are carved in stone. They can and must be reversed. For that I look to Governor [Glenn] Youngkin, hopefully sparked by coordinated action of my fellow alumni.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see real pushback over issues of free speech, possible misuse of curriculum funding, and perhaps, defiance of the governor’s directive not to teach divisive concepts and ideology all by a growing number of concerned alumni and cadets rather than isolated acts by some “small group” as the current administration endeavors to have everyone believe.

Protect Honor, The Spirit of VMI, and many concerned alumni are encouraging resistance to these divisive policies and ideologies. I have noticed that The Cadet newspaper is giving the Corps back its independent voice and we must all come together to truly return control of the Corps system, class system, Ratline and, especially the Honor Code and Honor system to the Corps under the traditional leadership of the First Class. The Corps, as it has in the past, must govern itself and be among the agents of whatever change may be necessary to restore and even improve the VMI experience.

We are not a “a group of unhappy alumni who want to stoke the worst fears and sow seeds of discord about the training and education of students,” as Maj. Gen Wins stated in his October 18, 2022 letter to Alumni. We grow in numbers daily. We are dedicated to preserving that which is good in VMI while evolving what is needed to make VMI better for every cadet regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, belief or background. But this must be done through transparency and openness to all ideas, all essential elements the administration, BOV leadership and Alumni Association leadership represses.

It is time for action. For my part, and for a start, I revealed above that I have rescinded the $1,000,000 bequest to the Institute from my Will and am working to re-commit it to The Cadet Foundation or another charity separate from not under the thumb of the VMI administration and the Alumni Association, so that I know it will be used by alumni and cadets working together in the true spirit of VMI and not to support policies that divide alumni and cadets and that do not discredit VMI in the public arena. I urge more alumni to review their donations and act similarly.

Many thanks to The Cadet and all its staff and supporters for standing up for freedom of speech, fundamental values at the Institute, and working to address the serious questions and issues facing VMI. The administration must accept, unconditionally, that the First Amendment is non-negotiable. The Administration must immediately stop all actions to control and restrict The Cadet newspaper, The Cadet Foundation, and the newspaper’s staff. It must stop distorting the facts surrounding the re-start of The Cadet by cadets with alumni support as the independent voice of the Corps and immediately restore the historic privileges of The Cadet as they’ve requested.

Next, return control of barracks, the Ratline, Honor Code and Honor system to the Corps without caveat or conditions. These are great young men and women who deserve our help and advice, but ultimate they must run the Corps.

Finally, the administration, BOV and Alumni Association must stop vilifying alumni while deliberately censoring and dismissing or otherwise repressing contrary views and the personal attacks against those who do not share “management’s views”.

Your actions against free speech, reducing the authority of the Corps to run itself and your divisive approaches cost VMI my $1,000,000 and if others follow my example, hopefully it will be much more.

Douglas R. Conte M.D. ‘75

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37 responses to “Why a VMI Alumnus Yanked a $1 Million Bequest”

  1. Greg Long Avatar

    Well written. No matter what side of any issues you are on there is no excuse for suppressing the first Amendment, viillifying your own alumni, and calling people racists. Especially if you are the head of a state college or university n Virginia. One of the main criticisms of the former Superintendent seems to be he was too controlling. If that is accurate then it seems things are at least the same if not worse. Richmond seems silent on this. Disappointing and disturbing. At least some alumni are taking a stand.

    1. If only any of his assertions were true…

      1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
        Carmen Villani Jr

        Are you now the official denier for VMI officials Michael? We have division within our ranks, yet you infer there is no divisive ideology there. VMI and the VMI Alumni Association came out with the announcement that General Peay was being awarded the New Market Medal on September 27. Then on October 14th, the Alumni Association sent out another e-mail asking for money in connection with General’s Peay award. Did not MG Wins receive a $100,000 bonus? Did not the enrollment drop precipitously by 25% as some media outlets reported? Did not MG Wins post or have directed it be done on social media that one of his Brother Rats was a “racist,” only to subsequently have it removed? You used the word “any” Michael. I could go on, but I hope the readers realize that your commentary is based upon your ideology instead of fact. You continue to bring discredit upon yourself and the Institute.

        1. I deny your assertions. You’re the worst of the lot–a shameful, bitter old man.

          1. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            True to form Michael. You have nothing to offer except your divisive ideology and arrogance.

          2. Says the guy who regularly goes on right wing radio to spout utter nonsense about diversity, firing Gen. Wins and CRT. And offering unsolicited political advice to Gov. Youngkin to boot… tell me, did he take your advice? Has Miyares responded to your petitions? They certainly should; you’re a latter day Richelieu!

          3. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            You appear to be on a “misinformation” campaign Michael. Please point to the interview I did with John Reid where I called for the firing of MG Wins? Speaking of MG Wins, care to answer my question about a social media post referring to a Brother Rat as a racist?

            What I have called for is the replacement of BOV members. Nice to see you value your opinion so much greater than those that have one different from your own.

            Have you forgotten about the First Amendment and the right for a citizen to express his point of view on an issue such as politics?

            As for AG Miyares “responding to my petitions,” you seem to be misinformed once again. Are you not aware of the interview the AG did with John Reid? You pluralized the word “petition.” I am aware of only one petition to the AG pertaining to VMI. Please direct me to the others.

            Keep digging the hole deeper Michael. Maybe at some point, you might consider answering my questions instead of engaging in personal attacks and putting out what can arguably be described as “misinformation.” I am not some “latter day Richelieu” Michael. I am merely an alumnus expressing his point of view, which happens to be shared by many other VMI alumni.

          4. Spare me. You always agree with John Reid (there’s also another term for it) who routinely calls for Gov. Youngkin to intervene and fire Gen. Wins. You’ve never clarified or corrected him, but instead go on diatribes about CRT, “aggressive action” by youngkin to stop DEI, replacing the BOV, etc. Here’s a challenge–next time you’re on John Reid, tell him why Gen. Wins shouldn’t be fired.

          5. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            First you say I “spout” the words, but now you admit that I don’t. Seems to be a very confused message Michael. Here is my challenge – next time you post something, try answering my questions!

          6. You spout nonstop. Why do you want the BOV turned over? To keep Gen. Wins around? What sort of “aggressive action” are you referring to by Youngkin? Why have you not once told Reid that you’re not asking for Wins to be removed when he brings it up all the time? It’s not hard to read between the lines. You–just like Conte said last week–want him gone. Tell me I’m wrong. Explain it to me. And can you repeat your question so I can answer it?

          7. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            Good morning Michael. You continue to not answer my questions and further conversation is pointless. I’m confident that John Reid would be willing to have y0u come on the air and provide you the opportunity to make your case as to why he is wrong. Would you like me to look into that for you? Enjoy your day.

          8. You too, Carmen. Seriously. As for Reid, I don’t do interviews with racists or bigots:-).

          9. A new low, Carmen! I love it. Thanks for the pub this AM. I should have added thin-skinned to the monikers you deserve;-). But hey, you want a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Watjen and Wins…but, yeah, you’re not calling for him to be fired…we’re supposed to believe that. Hahahahaha.

          10. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
            Carmen Villani Jr

            “It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance.” Thomas Sowell Economist and Social Theorist

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      WHERE is Youngkin? Does he actually support you?

    3. Well written? It’s full of platitudes and right-wing talking points and half truths.

  2. I am APPALLED that VMI presents a medal named after a War Between the States battle revered by the Southern people to honor a select group of people … THIS MUST BE STOPPED!

    How dare the Institute hold up the sacrifices of very young men who marched for some 80 miles before forming battle lines armed with antiquated long guns against the US Government.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    My Dad did the same thing to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham for the same sort of reasons.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      did it work?

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      James. First time I’ve heard you mention your Dad, I think. What did he do?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        The best thing he did was not shoot any blanks!

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Just a word of advice, Doc, if you are going to leave that amount, use a revocable trust, or better still, an irrevocable life insurance trust.

    This latter is a good deal. You establish an irrevocable trust in some State, New Hampshire is a good choice, and the trust buys a Universal Life policy on you. Every year, you give the trust the premiun for the policy and notify the beneficiary that you have made a donation to the trust, which they can take right then but won’t because the policy is worth a whole lot more when you die. They have 30 days to ask for the money. On day 31, or so, the trust pays the premium. Life goes on for 11 months, then repeat. When you die, the trust pays the beneficiary. Usually, it’s a good deal because you are giving, say, $1M but if you die in fewer than 20 years, you’ve contributed waaaay less than $1M to the trust, perhaps as little as $25K — if you’re unlucky.

    Now the good news. Say VMI ticks you off. Stop the contributions. The policy terminates, and you use your 5%+$5,000 right of withdrawal to remove the money.

    If you need to, you can hire a lawyer to terminate the trust, but there may be tax consequences if you do.

  5. I certainly agree. The last place suppression of the First Amendment should occur is within an institution of higher learning. We shouldn’t fear the free exchange of ideas, especially at a fine institution such as VMI.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Where are they limiting “free speech”? That paper that has been co-opted by a staunch opponent? What else?

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Yet another “I was gonna … but because … now I’m not” non-donation donations.

    I’d have more respect (and belief) in a conditional codicil, or perhaps, a trust that clearly stated condition than a claim that he changed his Will.

    Prove it! Publish a witnessed notarized copy of your previous Will. And yes, what you are thinking is EXACTLY what I am calling you.

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “… and to Bacon’s Rebellion I leave Boardwalk, Park Place and two (2) hotels…”

    Not too hard to construct a Will (who uses Wills nowadays?) in which I leave the GOP $10M with ZERO chance they get the first dime. Hey, but they’re in the Will.

    “And to Steve Haner, who I promised to mention in my Will, ‘Hey there Steve’.”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      “And to Steve Haner, who I promised to mention in my Will, ‘Hey there Steve’.”

      that’s a bona-fide spit out your coffee remark… …. 😉

      But yes, they’re doing it all wrong as usual.

      He should say, ” If you won’t do what I want “, I’m going to give The Cadet a million dollars worth of “free speech” Ads….attacking VMI for it’s “woke” behaviors…

      but then that would actually require the million… and much cheaper to do on BR…

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        This is the 2nd such unverified bequeathed and bequests letter tha BR has published. Coincidentally, both were for $1M too. Popular number.

        Well, as Mama used to say, “It’s a real dummy who counts on an inheritance.”

        I think the funniest thing is the author actually believes that $1M is a sum that earns him more latitude from the school than a line on page 1 of the donors list.

    2. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      BR could use your empty treasure trove as an endowment and loan collateral to erect a monument to the Lost Cause of renaming UVA as TJ University.

  9. SmallTowner Avatar

    I guess we won’t hear about other alumni who may have upped their donations. According to the latest issue of VMI’s Alumni Review, last year was the fourth highest fundraising year in the history of VMI, and the new pledges and planned gifts were three time the most recent five-year average.

    1. They’re knocking it out of the park financially, more than making up for older white alum contingent who operate in a fact-free hyper-politicized reality.

    2. They’re knocking it out of the park financially, more than making up for older white alum contingent who operate in a fact-free hyper-politicized reality.

  10. Ruckweiler Avatar

    Enrollment is down 25% and Wins gets a $100k bonus? Fundraising is up but the Corps is being killed by DIE. As lefties do, divide the house so everyone is at each other’s throats. I’m not a VMI graduate but the storied history and traditions of the Institute are being demolished and the lefties defame GRADUATES for being concerned?

  11. Racist douches gonna douche.

  12. Not Today Avatar

    VMI isn’t gonna make it with folks like this as it’s spokespersons/flag bearers. The kids don’t care about your obsession with woke-ness. They don’t care who their classmates date or marry. My kid would have been an awesome ‘get’ for VMI—physically qualified, academically qualified, fourth generation military family, active duty officer dad, in-state, and yet she has NEVER heard of or been contacted by VMI and if she googled it, she’d run in the opposite direction of its legacy bigots. Instead, she’s pursuing a Marine Corps ROTC scholarship/math major in Hampton Roads. These small-minded alums need to pony up a lot more, not less, because they’re driving the place into the ground… one class at a time. Take the school private and spare us all some grief. VMI is anachronistic and irrelevant.

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