by Giovanna Johnson
The Virginia Military Institute continues to face intense pushback from an alumni group that opposes the military school’s ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The activists in recent months upped their efforts by seeking to redirect the institute’s alumni fundraising in an effort to persuade campus leaders to pull back on critical race theory policies and programs.
“The only way you can influence them is by hurting their pocketbook,” alumnus Gene Rice told The College Fix in an interview.
In a Jan. 23 letter to their fellow “Brother Rats of the great VMI Class of ’74,” concerned alumni requested that for their 50th reunion class gift, they do not donate to VMI Alumni Agencies but instead to the Cadet Foundation.
“All contributions directed to the Cadet Foundation would be used to fund programs and projects that directly benefit cadets but not those that would impose divisive changes derived from political agendas and policies on the Corps, Ratline and Honor System,” the letter stated.
“…We desire to take a stand and save what is left of the VMI experience,” the letter added. “… DO NOT fund programs and policies that force changes on the Corps, Ratline, and Honor system, resulting from political agendas and ideologies such as CRT, a divisive DEI Program, and others.”
The donation disruption effort is the latest in an ongoing campaign by a large and vocal company of alumni, cadets, parents and friends of VMI calling for the discontinuation of DEI programs at the school.
The controversy dates back to a 2021 Barnes & Thornburg report that accused VMI of “institutional racism and sexism” and recommended the implementation of new DEI measures.
VMI reportedly did not vigorously refute the charges, but the superintendent “tasked his senior staff with evaluating each recommendation and providing an update on requirements for implementation,” as stated in VMI’s “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Review: 30 Day Report.”
“All of us are really upset because we were essentially being accused of being racist and sexist,” alumnus Carmen Villani, from the class 1976, told The College Fix.
Villani said he is “absolutely convinced” that DEI and critical race theory “are being woven into the fabric of VMI.”
Sal Vitale, class of 1961 and class agent for 48 years, told The College Fix that prior to targeting donations, he along with several others “took on a mission” of trying to persuade the Board of Visitors to join their cause by “offering solutions” and not just condemning board actions.
But after they requested 30 to 45 minutes at a Board of Visitors meeting to present their concerns, they said they were refused.
Several members of the class of 1974, including Gene Rice, Ron Stelmasczyk, James Cottrell, Mike Andriani, and John Williams, Jr., said they now support the Cadet Foundation. They spoke to The College Fix in a group Zoom interview.
The Cadet Foundation, an independent financial support system for VMI cadets, aims to financially support the cadets without the “baggage and overhead” of the VMI Alumni Agencies and administration, the alumni told The Fix.
The foundation sent a letter in December 2022 to VMI Alumni Agencies extending an “open hand” and providing an opportunity “to work together supporting the VMI Mission,” requesting that they formally recognize the foundation as a partnering organization.
The foundation has received no response, the alumni told The Fix.
Stelmasczyk pointed out that VMI can request a budget to support “operating costs” from the Alumni Agencies’ unrestricted funds for the institute to use how it sees fit, including DEI initiatives. He said he does not want his money supporting such endeavors.
The effort to convince fellow alumni is beginning to show results, they said, with one donor promising to pull $1 million out of his will and rechanneling that to the Cadet Foundation.
“We’re fighting the grassroots battle,” Rice told The Fix.
The alumni group does not seek to overthrow the institution, but to “stop the money” given to administration while preserving the core values of VMI, they said.
“We want the ability to express our points of view, we’re not asking anyone to endorse it,” Villani said.
“What we really want is to preserve the VMI experience,” Stelmasczyk added.
Tim Cordle, class of 1979, said that the alumni “have the ability to do this,” and is hopeful for the future of VMI alumni and that the redirection of funds to the Cadet Foundation will bring back alumni who lost trust in the administration and the Alumni Agencies.
The alumni told The Fix they do not believe VMI is too far gone to redeem.
“It’s not too late,” Rice said. “We wouldn’t be fighting this fight if we thought it was too late.”
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College Fix contributor Giovanna Johnson is a student at Gordon College in Massachusetts studying political science. She is a senior editor of the student publication The Gordon Review, and her writing has appeared on Future Female Leaders and her blog Sustained By Grace.
Photo “Virginia Military Institute” by Virginia Military Institute.