Open Letter to Thomas R. “Tom” Watjen '76 and Gene Scott '80
September 12, 2022
Messrs. Watjen and Scott,
We know we speak for many of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) alumni, and other members of the VMI family by voicing our concerns surrounding your letter dated August 26, 2022. When it was first received, it was not obvious who the target audience was to which the letter was directed. However, it soon became obvious that the letter certainly included alumni in that audience. As a result, we were initially heartened because it appeared that the Board of Visitors was, at last, addressing alumni about matters of great concern to us rather than merely extending another invitation to open our collective check books. Alas, after a rigorous consideration of it, we have regretfully determined that your letter is yet another disingenuous attempt to direct alumni away from our rising anxiety and conviction that divisive concepts are being introduced at VMI with alarming speed encouraged by the administration and, unfortunately, with support from the Board of Visitors itself.
In reaching our conclusion, we have undertaken, as you pleaded that we do, not to jump to conclusions about the Inclusive Excellence training program you seem to enthusiastically endorse. The first paragraph after your introductory one, immediately warns us of an alleged “level of misinformation” circulating about Inclusive Excellence which you are going to dispel with facts. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with VMI communications, broad general criticisms by the administration, the BOV and the Alumni Association directed at critics are not followed with any specific allegations addressed in a forthright manner. Accordingly, alumni are left completely uninformed about what is appearing in the media with which you disagree and which alumni should reject if they are convinced truth lies on the side for which you advocate.
The Roanoke Star, for example, published a fact-based article supported by court filed and publicly available documents detailing serious allegations that VMI violated Virginia procurement law in attempting to award a DEI contract for divisive training under LTC Love that if actually put to use would clearly violate Governor Youngkin’s policies. It further documents very disturbing statements by VMI faculty and staff including, but not limited to, the position VMI is not “military” and speaks of plans to control who speaks to the media and conceal controversy from the Governor and others.
If we are wrong in our conclusion, we invite you to point to a single misrepresentation you have identified in that article or the others on which you based your letter and that is rebutted through the agency of your letter. If you cannot, we must necessarily conclude that the unsubstantiated claim about misrepresentations is but a ploy to have alumni uncritically accept that your mere representation that nefarious persons through unnamed media are libeling VMI, is intended to make us more empathetic to the subsequent representations and positions you advance. Notable among them is that “Inclusive Excellence training at VMI focuses on critical thinking skills….” That is an interesting observation because may of us examined: (i) the Superintendent’s “VMI Inclusive Excellence One Virginia Strategic Plan; (ii) the Glossary of Terms of the VMI Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; (iii) minutes of the Board for 2021-22, including minutes of the Executive Committee of the Board over that period; (iv) all of the minutes of the Superintendent’s Inclusive Excellence Committee since its inception; (v) minutes of the March 15, 2022 meeting of the Board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee; and (vi) the Request for Proposals for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Consultation and Training which was to have been developed by a private company to facilitate DEI training at VMI (recently, as noted in the Roanoke Star,was enjoined from being undertaken by the Circuit Court in Lexington). None of them mention that Inclusive Excellence includes a focus on critical thinking skills. In fact the words “critical thinking” are not found in them
We tried diligently to find the first reference to “critical thinking” relating to Inclusive Excellence or DEI training at VMI other than in your letter. After considerable effort were able to find two more. One was in the minutes of a July 26, 2022 meeting of the Board’s Subcommittee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (presumably a committee that is not the same as the committee to which reference is made in (v) of the preceding paragraph). There LTC Love indicates, almost as an afterthought that past training exercises are being discontinued in favor of ones that focus more on critical thinking. Another was in an interview of Colonel Wyatt reported on August 17 by the ABC affiliate in Lynchburg. There he disputed that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is taught at VMI . Instead, he insisted that what VMI’s program “deals with critical thinking and teaching that others have different opinions than you…” and how to deal with that. To us, the sudden and last minute introduction to discussions about DEI training of the notion that it is a vehicle for developing critical thinking skills smacks of the all too common and modern practice of disguising a continuation of an unpopular cause or “ism” under a new name in order to raise less concern to the general public in the hope that the subterfuge will not be detected. It disappoints us greatly that the Board of Visitors of VMI has adopted this cynical practice.
Finally, we accepted your invitation to find out the facts about what is going on at VMI by reviewing the minutes of the DEI subcommittee meeting of July 26 about which we have already commented. With all due respect to your confidence that someone can glean significant facts about DEI training at VMI from the minutes of the subcommittee’s deliberations, we respectfully dissent from your suggestion the minutes would be helpful. To illuminate our dissent, we offer below a brief excerpt from those minutes as typical of the depth of factual presentation in them:
“Dr. Love gave a brief overview of some of the things she covered in the last academic year for VMI’s Cadet Training. She identified two primary training activities namely Crossing the Line which she stated was primarily used with new cadets and Four Corners which was utilized by other cadets. Dr. Love also shared a bit about how the cadets interacted with each other during the exercises. Dr. Love notes that based on the previous year’s feedback and assessment it was determined that VMI will not be using the past exercises but have developed new exercises that focus more on critical thinking and questioning skills. Dr. Love discussed lesson plans for cadets for the coming academic year which may include video clips that will serve as discussion starters for Inclusive Excellence topics. There was discussion to narrow the scope of the video clips to be less discordant. Additionally, the CDO is reviewing other, more moderate references suggested by Mr. Miller. Parent Council representatives echoed the desire for a more moderate approach.” [emphasis added]
Take a moment to consider LTC Love’s observations as you have asked us to do and consider her remarks for a factual based discussion about what is going on: She does not describe the “Crossing the Line” and “Four Corner” activities used last year; lesson plans next year may (and therefore may not), include video clips (of what sort?) and these clips may be narrowed to be less discordant; and she is considering a more moderate but undisclosed approach. If it is your honest opinion that a discussion of that level of detail presents important and “materially different “information from what we are “hearing/reading” there must have been deletions from those minutes of which you are unaware since you composed your letter that permitted you to reach that conclusion.
We would, therefore, welcome the text of those deletions if they exist to shed some light on the substance of LTC Love’s meaning of her truncated discussion or fill in for us the unstated factual content we, unlike you, lack the facility to discern. If there is no enlightenment you can provide, again we must conclude the worst again and that is referring us to the minutes is but a ploy. A cynical ploy embodying the hope that we will take on faith your suggestion that if we seek information emanating from VMI to rescue us from falling prey to misinformation we pick up from the “chatter” in the media, that misinformation will be dispelled.
We reaffirm that a critical part of the VMI mission is to produce graduates that are “advocates for American Democracy and the free enterprise system.” Developing training that portrays traditional values in a negative light as being the product of systemic or institutional racism and/or sexism is simply unacceptable. It is evident that the goal of “One Corps, One VMI” is not being achieved. Sugarcoating what is happening to the Institute, instituting divisive training, minimizing the abysmal number of cadets matriculating this year, and attempting to discredit alumni that have given countless hours and sacrifice in articulating their concerns as mere “chatter” is not the way forward to preserving the VMI Experience. Twentieth century British philosopher C.S. Lewis said:
“We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
For these reasons, we offer to form a contingency of alumni and cadets to meet with the both of you to discuss further our concerns and hopefully, find common ground, get back on the “right road” and “position VMI as one of the leading colleges not just in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but the nation.”
We ask for at least 30 minutes of equal time during the open session of the September 19-21, 2022 BOV meeting to present our perspective, concerns and recommendations.
Unless you can factually refute its contents with documentary and empirical evidence, we request you to distribute the Roanoke Star article enclosed to all those who received your letter so they can explore other points of view in their own critical thinking on this issue.
As time is of the essence in this critical matter, we look forward to your response within two business days of receiving this letter.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of ourselves and a growing number of VMI alumni, cadets, faculty, parents, Virginia tax payers and other supporters whom we represent.