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Leadership at VMI has defended ongoing DEI initiatives amid alumni criticism.

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Under fire from a Virginia Military Institute graduate, VMI president and retired Army major general Cedric T. Wins publicly rebuked the alumnus, who claimed Wins has inadequately defended VMI amid a push for reforms at the college.

Wins directly challenged the alum in a post on a VMI family Facebook page, writing in part that “contrary to your views and misstatements of facts, every interview, speech, op-ed and writing I and others have done to defend VMI and define the things necessary to preserve what is foundational about it to produce young leaders, is well documented and readily available.”

Wins, the first Black superintendent at VMI, was appointed to the position in April after serving in an interim role following the resignation of former VMI leader and retired Army general J. H. Binford Peay III, who was accused of allowing a racist, sexist culture to proliferate at the institute.

The graduate, Carmen D. Villani Jr., claimed in a Jan. 18 radio interview that under Wins’s leadership, VMI has taken a stance of appeasement in response to findings that the public college tucked away in the mountains of Virginia has a long and troubling history of racism and sexism. (This paragraph has been updated to reflect that VMI is public, not private.)

That past was examined in a state-ordered investigation and subsequent report released last summer, which found that “racial and gender disparities exist and that improvement is needed.”

Villani, who has downplayed the many allegations of long-standing systemic sexism and racism at VMI, also encouraged alums to contact the Virginia Legislature regarding nearly $6.2 million in state funding tapped to address issues raised in the report—funds that he questioned. That money would partly go toward expanding Title IX and diversity initiatives and staffing at the college and expanding the admissions staff, adding three positions focused on recruiting underrepresented minorities.

A cost breakdown shared by the university also notes that $350,000 is earmarked for renaming buildings, developing new marketing and admissions materials, and “reconceptualizing”—or establishing new—memorials on a campus that only recently relocated a statue of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, who is buried in nearby Lexington, a small Virginia town with a population of around 7,000, where Confederate flags still wave from neighborhood homes.

“Many detractors are spreading the fallacy that VMI has requested $6.2 million and 25 positions for our DEI efforts,” VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt wrote in an email. “That’s simply not the case.”

He added that “12.8% of the budget request is for the creation of a DEI office that the investigators said we should have and an office that every other public college and university in Virginia already has. The other 87.2% of the budget request is for cadet life, academic support, and competitive salaries for our faculty and staff.”

In the same radio interview, Villani claimed that critical race theory—a once obscure but now controversial academic concept that conservative politicians have seized on as evidence that students are being indoctrinated with misleading lessons about American history and racism—has “entered into the VMI realm, which is very concerning.” Villani also praised newly elected Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin for “being very aggressive in addressing critical race theory.” Youngkin focused often on critical race theory during his gubernatorial campaign, despite the fact that CRT is not taught in Virginia’s K-12 school system.

Asked about Villani’s claim that critical race theory is being taught at the university, Wyatt flatly denied it, stating, “VMI does not teach CRT in any way.”

Villani declined an interview request.

The Response

Villani’s comments prompted Wins to take on the Class of 1976 graduate publicly on Facebook, an uncommon move for a college president.

“You chose to go on a local Richmond radio show and say that CRT has entered into the VMI realm. That is categorically false,” Wins wrote in a Jan. 21 post on the public Facebook page, where he mentioned Villani by name. “You were asked whether VMI has been weakened and you respond that VMI leadership had appeased and not defended the Institute. You failed to fully answer but acknowledged acts of racism and sexism likely happened and needed to be addressed. Your one credential that allows you to think you speak authoritatively about the Institute is that you were a (not THE) Honor Court president back in 1976.”

The post prompted more than 200 comments, many supportive of Wins.

Wins also took issue with Villani’s call for VMI alumni to contact the state Legislature about the nearly $6.2 million in funding to advance diversity, equity and inclusion measures.

“VMI’s funding request will pale in comparison to that of the other public colleges in the state,” Wins wrote. “You have no understanding of DEI or what it means, or how much of the funding for DEI is represented in our request. The fact ALL of the 15 public institutions already have established some form of chief diversity office to support an initiative that is consistent with efforts by federal and state governments, [Department of Defense], some corporate boards as well as corporate entities to include your former employer [American Airlines].”

Wins was not available for an interview Friday due to an all-day meeting with the Board of Visitors, VMI’s governing body, according to Wyatt.

In a post on his personal Facebook page Jan. 27, Villani wrote that he spoke with Wins following the rebuke and the two were “able to find some common ground.” Villani did not specify what the two agreed upon.

Wyatt confirmed the conversation took place and called it productive. “Maj. Gen. Wins was able to educate Mr. Villani on the fact that VMI is in a far better place than a year ago when legislators were threatening to pull state funding,” Wyatt said via email. “Now they are considering adding $6.2 million to our appropriation—a $25 million shift. Maj. Gen. Wins corrected the erroneous assertion that he has done nothing but appease the former governor. Rather, the record is very clear that Maj. Gen. Wins has continually defended and promoted the fundamentals of VMI (single sanction Honor Code, ratline, class and regimental systems) while addressing the challenges that made the Institute less accessible and welcoming to current and future cadets.”

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