Editor’s Note: This letter first appeared in the 2021-Issue 1 Alumni Review.
Dear Fellow Alumni and Members of the VMI Family:
I am honored to serve as interim superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute. I appreciate the support and encouragement received from many of you. Since my appointment at the beginning of November, I have invested much time in listening, internalizing the many issues confronting us, and lending my own voice to strategic planning in coordination with the Board of Visitors.
First among the many issues has been how we manage the cadet experience through the ongoing pandemic. We found that our unique system of education is most effective when our cadets are present to learn and train. We began the fall semester knowing that we would be operating in an environment where COVID-19 was present. We had 101 positive cadet cases of the virus last semester. However, we know from our meticulous contact tracing that none of those cases originated from contact in the classroom. We were able to deliver 44% of classes in person last semester with an additional 34% as hybrid classes (part in-person, part online). The additional space now available in the newly expanded Scott Shipp Hall will allow the Institute to offer 64% of classes in-person with an additional 19% in a hybrid format. The lessons learned from COVID-19 protocols last semester have informed our operations for the spring semester.
Upon their return to post in January, cadets were tested for COVID-19. Those who tested negative were able to resume their normal responsibilities. Those who tested positive were isolated in accordance with CDC guidelines until the medical staff cleared them to rejoin the Corps. Our faculty and staff continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our cadets are offered a VMI experience as normal as possible during these difficult times.
As you know, the proven VMI system teaches us resiliency as well as our core values of honor, integrity, respect, civility, duty, service above self, and leadership. Throughout this pandemic, the Corps remains resilient. Cadets continue to adapt to meet the academic, athletic, and training challenges the Institute poses. This has always been the case for cadets regardless of the circumstances.
All of us engaged in life outside limits gates, in public, private, academic, or military careers, have learned adaptability and constant improvement are fundamental to any successful organization or effective leadership. In my own case, I am certain the values forged at VMI enabled me to confront, lead, and manage necessary and difficult changes in my life and career. That is the position in which VMI finds itself. Change and evolution may be more difficult at VMI but are not new concepts during our 181 years of progress.
In light of recent national events, VMI began to reflect upon its own culture, policies, and procedures with regard to diversity and inclusion. This intensified focus began last summer and continues today. The Board of Visitors created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee tasked with oversight of our efforts and a committee to study VMI’s commemorations, naming, and memorials. These committees are meeting regularly and will recommend policy improvements for the Board of Visitors to consider. Senior Institute officials each are tracking more than 30 issues within their areas identified for study and/or improvement. The Stonewall Jackson statue was relocated from in front of barracks and is in the process of being placed at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Per the plan submitted in July 2020, the flagpoles will be recentered on the statue of Gen. George C. Marshall, Class of 1901, signifying a symbolic shift to a greater focus on VMI’s 20th century history and beyond.
We will remain committed to our mission, unique system of education, the Honor Code, and the ideals and values that VMI has held dear since our founding.Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85 U.S. Army (Retired), Interim Superintendent
Also in June, the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors established a sub-committee focused on diversity and inclusion pertaining to VMI alumni engagement, service, faculty and staff recruiting, and support for admissions activities. Already productive, the committee is moving forward on initiatives that will strengthen the alumni network and its contribution and relevance to the Institute.
These changes and those to come continue the evolution of our storied history. In fact, such improvements are sequential to the evolution the Institute has taken over the past 50 years. The common theme is to make VMI better and stronger.
I am convinced no other college in America is so attentive to and so proud of its mission as we are of ours—to produce citizen-soldiers prepared both for military leadership and for civilian leadership. At the very core of this mission is the ideal of noble emulation as cadets strive to be like the very leaders who have come before them: Nobel Peace Prize recipient George C. Marshall; Jonathan Daniels ’61, civil rights martyr; more than 230 military flag officers (more than any senior military college in the nation); thousands of captains of industry and finance; world explorers; scientists; advisors to the nation’s highest office; a Supreme Court justice; 11 Rhodes Scholars; seven Medal of Honor recipients; a Pulitzer Prize winner; an Emmy Award winner; and those who are leaders and active members in their local communities. Rest assured, this legacy will continue for generations to come.
VMI is among a small few institutes of higher learning in our nation where young men and women can choose a rigorous freshman college experience that tests their character and determination on every level. The Rat Line and regimental and class systems will remain and are the bedrock of what VMI is as an institution and are the very reason for our success and acclaim:
- Our early applications are running nearly 8% ahead of last year, which was a record year.
- The VMI Class of 2020 commissioned military officers at a rate of over 55%.
- The Institute continues to be recognized among the top five public liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
- Money magazine ranks VMI 16th among public colleges and universities nationwide (26th overall) and third among Virginia schools.
- VMI’s national ranking represents a jump of more than 20 positions over last year’s ranking.
- VMI is recognized as the top school for the promotion of public service by Washington Monthly while our academic programs continue to rise in the rankings nationally.
Cadets and the cadet experience both in the classroom and throughout barracks life will continue to be my priority. As we move the Institute forward, we will improve upon our already solid foundation. We will remain committed to our mission, unique system of education, the Honor Code, and the ideals and values that VMI has held dear since our founding. We must hold ourselves accountable to represent the best of VMI as an inclusive environment where we treat each member of the Corps and the VMI family with dignity and respect. As we recast our legacy to reflect more on the significant accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries, our intent is to allow every cadet to identify with those accomplishments and to ensure that no cadet feels less than any other when called by our most inclusive term of devotion to one another: Brother rat.
Thank you for your support to the Institute over the years. It is a powerful symbol of the bond we share as brother rats and alumni of VMI. Many cadets are being formed as leaders of character and citizen-soldiers because of your generosity. They are being taught and formed by world-class faculty in state-of-the-art facilities because of you. As I said before, our commonwealth and our nation need the VMI experience now more than ever. Now is the time for your continued investment in VMI.
The future is bright for VMI. I pledge my best efforts to join with you in making VMI the best version of itself reflecting the best version of ourselves, the alumni. If you have any questions, comments, or ideas, please do not hesitate to contact me at VMI-Superintendent@vmi.edu. Here’s wishing everyone a happy new year and many blessings in the coming year. I look forward to seeing you all on post as soon as the pandemic passes and we are able to resume normal activities.
Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85
U.S. Army (Retired)