Amid Controversy, VMI Board of Visitors Calls Sudden Executive Session

According to an October 20 press release from a group of concerned VMI alumni and other stakeholders, whose website is protecthonor.com, the VMI Board of Visitors (BOV) Executive Committee will hastily convene a special Executive Committee Session on Monday, October 24. That group, which claims their mission is to “support preserving and improving the VMI experience,” issued the following statement:

“In a sudden decision following a week of turmoil at the Virginia Military Institute, the schools Board of Visitors suddenly, and quietly, scheduled a VMI Board of Visitors Executive Committee Meeting for October 24, 2022, Time: 2 – 4 p.m., in the Virginia Military Institute, Smith Hall Board Room. The notice barely met the statutory Public Notice requirement for such meetings.

“The notice is vague in revealing the nature of the sudden meeting, only stating, “Virginia Military Institute business will be discussed by participating members.” The Notice goes on to say only “This meeting will begin and end as an open meeting and is expected to include a closed session to discuss matters pursuant to Va. Code Section 2.2-3711 (A) (1). Any board actions deemed necessary will occur during the open meeting upon the conclusion of the closed session” and “There will be no public comment at this meeting.”

“The published meeting agenda is equally vague, listing only, “Welcome and opening remarks, discuss current issues & matters applicable to VMI, a closed session pursuant to Virginia Code 2.2-3711 (A) (1), other business and adjournment.”

“The sudden meeting comes amid great controversy following a scathing rebuke by the School’s Superintendent, Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, this week who attacked critics who accused his Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies as too radical and contrary to VMI’s history of openly debating all sides of issues.

“Win’s called his critics, “a group of unhappy alumni who want to stoke the worst fears and sow seeds of discord.” Those who previously contacted VMI and its BOV actually requested, repeatedly, that the presentation be carried by live-stream so all those interested could watch and form their own opinions. This was a  request that VMI, the VMI Alumni Association, and the BOV never responded to.

“Wins’ letter also stated, “Critics called for executive and legislative leaders to put a stop to “social indoctrination” like Dark’s presentation. These are the same critics who just three weeks ago accused the Institute of infringing upon their free speech rights. Now they want to do the same to someone who has opinions different from their own.” In doing so, Wins dismissed the recent Warning Letter VMI received from Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) as part of this agenda. Neither SPLC nor FIRE had any involvement with the controversy over Ms. Dark’s presentation and never claimed VMI was engaging in “social indoctrination.” Rather it focused on extensive, documented instances and a pattern of Maj. Gen Wins and his administration suppressing cadets’ First Amendment Rights. 

“The BOV’s closed session is also raising interest as the notice states it is closed pursuant to Virginia Code 2.2-3711 (A) (1). That portion of the code (see below) strictly limits closed session topics to personnel matters including such topics as hiring, firing, discipline and other matters.”

Moreover, in addition to the hurried timing of the meeting and the vague wording surrounding it, a number of VMI stakeholders are upset about a lack of transparency they are observing from the school’s top brass. One such member told The Roanoke Star, “A number of concerned alumni, parents and others requested the VMI Board of Visitors live-stream, or at least record, the open portions of the meeting to provide greater transparency. They also requested the President of the VMI Alumni Association join their request so alumni, the public and others interested could view the proceedings. Neither the BOV President nor any member responded to the requests. Neither the VMI Alumni Association President nor any representative responded to the request for their support. The VMI Superintendent’s Executive Officer did respond and according to an email circulated among alumni from him, ‘At this point technical arrangements are not in place to record the meeting.'” No explanation was given as to how an elite institution with strong engineering and military programs is unable to set up a livestream of a public meeting on campus.

-Scott Dreyer

The relevant text from the Code of Virginia is cited below:

§ 2.2-3711. Closed meetings authorized for certain limited purposes.
A. Public bodies may hold closed meetings only for the following purposes:
 
1. Discussion, consideration, or interviews of prospective candidates for employment; assignment, appointment, promotion, performance, demotion, salaries, disciplining, or resignation of specific public officers, appointees, or employees of any public body; and evaluation of performance of departments or schools of public institutions of higher education where such evaluation will necessarily involve discussion of the performance of specific individuals. Any teacher shall be permitted to be present during a closed meeting in which there is a discussion or consideration of a disciplinary matter that involves the teacher and some student and the student involved in the matter is present, provided the teacher makes a written request to be present to the presiding officer of the appropriate board. Nothing in this subdivision, however, shall be construed to authorize a closed meeting by a local governing body or an elected school board to discuss compensation matters that affect the membership of such body or board collectively.
 

This story was updated on 10-22-22.

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