Preston Library at Virginia Military Institute. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

Ms. Rowan’s coverage of the recent controversy surrounding the editors of The Cadet newspaper receiving a prestigious award never given before to a student newspaper by the Virginia Press Association (VPA) and the direct involvement of the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) Director of Communications & Marketing warrants a response. Her most recent article (“VMI board asks attorney general’s office to investigate student newspaper controversy“) discusses the VMI Board of Visitors’ (BOV) Executive Committee meeting held July 13th, mentions the false allegation of “systemic racism” for the fifth time, and demonstrates an inability to differentiate between “support (of) the college” versus support of policy. 

In my view, her coverage of the Executive Committee meeting missed some key discussion topics. Contrary to Superintendent Major General (MG) Wins’ assertion that the investigation was primarily about “whether or not procedurally things were done appropriately in the determination of those awards,” the investigation centered more around disclosure, plagiarism, and responsibility of editorial content. Another topic was raised by BOV and Executive Committee member Mr. Gottwald about Colonel Bill Wyatt (VMI Director of Communications and Marketing) providing the VPA an email from a cadet. That suggests a possible violation of privacy law (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act/FERPA). He also pointed out that despite repeated assurances from cadet editors about editorial control of the newspaper, VMI officials continued to challenge their integrity. 

Mr. Gottwald then questioned what was the “objective” in providing information to reporters portraying VMI in a negative light, to which there wasn’t a response by either Col. Wyatt or MG Wins. Mr. Watjen then responded by suggesting that a “few of us get together, which doesn’t constitute a board meeting.” If “few of us” refers to members of the BOV, that would be a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) according to a briefing given by VMI’s attorney in April of this year to the BOV. Mr. Gottwald later went on to say that what was done was “wrong and we gotta stop it.” Speaking of alleged violation of the law, VMI alumnus Col. Todd Pegg, who epitomizes the citizen-soldier, filed a lawsuit against VMI for violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Just this past week at a pre-trial hearing, the judge did not grant several motions put forth by VMI’s legal counsel. 

On the false allegation of “systemic racism” that continues to be brought up in the media, what purpose and relevance is it to a story about The Cadet newspaper receiving an award never given to a student newspaper? Since the issue was brought forth, I would direct Ms. Rowan to the following. In an article appearing on the Bacon’s Rebellion blog (2022) in which alumni that identified themselves as the Senior African American Alumni (SAAA), the following was stated about VMI: “Throughout our cadetship, racial incidents were handled by the cadet leadership and the administration. During the ensuing years, those incidents did not fester to become a part of the policy or fabric of the school.” Black alumnus and retired General Darren McDew ’82, former VMI Regimental Commander, had this to say in 2011: “I would do it all over again in a minute, and I wouldn’t change a thing. . .There are no barriers except the ones you put up for yourself.” Finally, in a “Featured Article” on the VMI Alumni Agencies’ website, a story of a 2001 Black alumnus contains the following: “He did his homework on his college decision; Ransom excelled at VMI; (elected) vice president for the Class of 2001; Willie (father) gives VMI an A+.” “Systemic racism” should not be confused with isolated incidents of racism.

Finally, the issue should not be about support for the college as Ms. Rowan infers in her article, but whether the policies that have been put in place the last three years will enhance the VMI experience or endanger it. One is reminded of the Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities. In this case, two VMIs.

On one hand, there are those in the VMI community that believe by introducing the divisive ideology known as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), now changed to Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion (DOI), endangers the VMI experience. Although VMI officials don’t tie Critical Race Theory (CRT) to DEI, scholars such as Dr. Carol Swain, experts like Heather MacDonald, and even the Heritage Foundation do.

Another part of the community believes that the experience is enhanced by introducing this ideology and will better prepare cadets for the challenges that they will be facing in today’s society. How this plays out is uncertain. What is known is that for 180 years, VMI embraced honor, meritocracy, “content of character,” and a common bond shared by a diverse group. In doing so, it served the Corps of Cadets, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and this nation with distinction.

Carmen Villani Jr. is a 1976 graduate of Virginia Military Institute, where he was president of the Honor...