The last two years have been transformative for the Virginia Military Institute. A secular religion, Critical Race Theory (CRT) – which requires “antiracist” good works that are, in fact, racist – has taken root. CRT’s “close cousin” – as Dr. Carol Swain describes the Diversity-Equity-Inclusion (DEI) package – is overseen by a VMI chief diversity office and accompanied by a number of changes – physical, philosophical, cultural, and military – in various stages of implementation.
Governor Glenn Youngkin’s upcoming Board of Visitors (BoV) appointments provide an opportunity to begin restoring VMI to its status-quo-ante-blackface scandal brought by then-Gov. Ralph Northam in 2019, after which Northam employed the deliberately divisive ideology of CRT-DEI to assault his alma mater in order to keep his job. Instead of offering authentic leadership for Virginians in the midst of a cultural revolution in commonwealth and country, VMI has demonstrated the craven followership of countless institutions in its response to the fraudulent and equally lucrative CRT-DEI mantra.
The BoV is key. In its most recent official statement on this subject, the board addressed DEI in terms that highlighted the importance of selecting new members holding convictions different than those of the present board. President Tom Watjen stated:
“We have a responsibility to educate our cadets on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues but not indoctrinate. I can assure you we understand that distinction. I’m appealing to those [in opposition] to educate themselves on what’s really happening at the Institute and support us as we help assure that our cadets are positioned for success in the military, business, and public sectors following graduation.”
While VMI’s leadership has embraced DEI in various statements and documents since 2020, the cozy relationship between CRT and DEI has been denied or overlooked. Dr. Swain states succinctly: “The greatest threat to American society today . . . is coming from the [DEI] industry. It is steeped in Critical Race Theory, which is Marxist. It divides people.” Other scholars agree, including Hanson, Lindsay, Rufo, and Sowell.
Three points are relevant to the impending BoV appointments. First, if VMI is to be restored to the meritocratic traditions for which it was renowned, the board must acknowledge past errors and change course. The current BoV is comprised largely of the same membership from 2020, when it failed to defend the previous superintendent, General Peay, and the school itself from Ralph Northam’s unsubstantiated accusations of “structural racism.” In the aftermath of his October 19, 2020, broadside against VMI only one board member, President Bill Boland, spoke out in defense of the school. On October 29 – following the resignation of two board members – the board voted unanimously to remove the statue of “Stonewall” Jackson from VMI and to create a “permanent diversity office.”
Second, is it wise, as Watjen favors, to attempt to “educate” cadets on CRT-DEI “but not indoctrinate”? Who’s he kidding? That’s playing with fire. As one 1979 alumnus said, CRT “has become the air that they breathe” at VMI – cadets pick it up by being there. Isn’t it more prudent to teach the history of a complex, fallen world in which solutions to difficult issues are not to be found? Rather, as Dr. Thomas Sowell writes, “There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs.” (General Peay’s initiatives in the summer of 2020 represented one step in that direction.)
Third, why is VMI continuing to pursue anything related to DEI when the rationale for its implementation there since 2020 has proven to be fraudulent? Surely the current board knows that prior to its recent DEI statement, the superintendent, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, refuted the idea that systemic, structural, or institutional racism exists at VMI. On February 27, 2022, Gary Robertson of Virginia Business wrote: “While past acts of racism have occurred at VMI, Wins says that charges of ‘institutional racism’ at VMI are not supported by the facts” [emphasis added]. The superintendent’s communications office confirmed to me the exact quote and its proper context.
Sadly, the current BoV has embraced CRT-DEI. But many VMI alumni, and presumably many more Virginians who helped elect Gov. Youngkin, oppose its pernicious tendencies. Such alumni and voters should be watching closely for the board’s upcoming new members to exercise the leadership required to help turn the ship, as it were, from the shoals of an ongoing tear-it-down, utopian mindset. Rejecting this ideology that Youngkin’s executive order number one rightly termed “Inherently Divisive” will have much to do with restoring a meritocratic, color-blind VMI.
– Forrest L. Marion, PhD