Of “Rats” and Women
By now, anyone not holed up in a cave for the past few months must be aware that, in a seven to one decision handed down on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), a publicly supported, all-male, collegiate-level academy in Lexington, Virginia, to open its doors to women. Barring an unlikely effort by VMI alumni to privatize the institution by purchasing it from the state of Virginia—an effort that could cost anywhere from $100 million to $400 million, and would almost certainly end up making VMI a target for further litigation—this ends a long, expensive, and emotional legal battle, and with it 157 years of tradition at one of the nation’s most venerable and tradition-conscious institutions.
The school’s superintendent, Major General Josiah Bunting III, has vowed that VMI will continue its mission of creating “citizen-soldiers” equipped for leadership in civilian and military life, a task it undertakes through a uniquely harrowing “adversative method” designed to build physical and mental discipline and moral character among its “rats,” or cadets. But Bunting also acknowledges that with the admission of women, “the architecture of VMI will be changed” in ways that cannot be anticipated. Virtually no one thinks it can continue to be the same institution it has been.
About the Author
Wilfred M. McClay, who holds the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed “Is Conservatism Finished?” to the January COMMENTARY. His latest book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past.