A vocal group of conservative White VMI alums is accusing the school’s “hyper liberal regime,” led by Black superintendent Cedric T. Wins, a 1985 VMI alum, of trying to destroy the military school from within.
The issues have been ongoing since before Wins, a retired Army major general, was named the interim superintendent in 2020, then was appointed by the school’s Board of Visitors to the post on a full-time basis in 2021, making him the first African American to serve as superintendent at VMI, which was founded in 1839.
Wins took over as the school was working through the findings of a state-ordered investigation into systemic racism and gender-based discrimination on the Lexington campus, where 8 percent of the approximately 1,500 students are Black and 13.5 percent are women.
The push to address the issues with race and gender discrimination led then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is also a VMI alum, to pressure retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III to step down as superintendent after 17 years in that job.
The school, under the leadership of Win, who was a star basketball player at VMI before being commissioned in the Army in 1985 as a field artillery officer, has initiated a diversity, equity and inclusion program that Win’s critics are saying is at the root of a 25 percent drop in enrollment in the 2022-2023 freshman class.
Win, in a September presentation to the VMI Board of Visitors, pointed to the school’s tarnished brand reputation and ideological differences among the divided alumni base as key drivers in the enrollment decline, even as one critic said the reason was that “nobody wants a woke VMI,” and others have accused the administration of embracing critical race theory, which Wins blasted earlier this year as being “categorically false.”
The Spirit of VMI, a group of conservative White alums, is trying to use Wins’ $625,000 annual salary and a $100,000 bonus approved by the Board of Visitors in September as a PR wedge, questioning the performance metrics used to justify the bonus and conjuring up “major concern among alumni and friends about VMI’s direction.”
Chuck Rogerson, a White retired Army colonel who was Wins’ roommate at VMI, told the Washington Post that the real issue at play here has to do with “a bunch of rich, older White guys who are losing power.”
“They can’t handle the change because they’ve never had to deal with it before – a man of color leading the Institute,” Rogerson said. “Did they ever question prior superintendents’ salaries? Whatever they’re paying Wins, they ought to pay double, given all the crap he’s dealing with.”
The Post story included details from an Oct. 24 Board of Visitors executive committee meeting where the tensions between Wins’ critics and supporters were on full display.
“It’s not a small group of alumni who feel like their voice isn’t being heard right now. It’s a big group,” Teddy Gottwald, the CEO of a petroleum additives company who resigned from the Board of Visitors in 2020 before a board vote to remove a status of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson from campus, but was reappointed this year by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, told Wins.
“To make broad generalizations about alumni, about anyone being critical of what is going on, is just one further implication that alumni need to just shut up and get in line, that dissenting opinions, different opinions aren’t encouraged or welcomed here,” Gottwald said.
Lester Johnson, one of the board’s four Black members, pushed back at Gottwald, telling him that “respect goes both ways.”
“It would be good that if some of the stuff that’s being said about board members, some of the stuff that’s being said about General Wins cease and desist,” Johnson said. “Some of these alumni are saying that Gen. Wins is trying to destroy the school. I don’t see how we’ve gotten there, where Gen. Wins, a storied alumni, would take a job as the superintendent in an effort to destroy the school from the inside out.”