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The VMI Class of 2025’s Elephant in The Room

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Rat Mass of 2024+3 is now the Class of ’27. That recognition brings a time to pause and reflect on the past and future of what was and is no longer. The mantle will soon pass to the Class of ’25 for their Ratline next year and it is time to address “the elephant in the room.” Unless ’25 brings it back, the Ratline will continue to degrade into a risk-averse basic training curriculum providing little more to incoming Cadets than how to march and endlessly repeating the Inscription on the Parapet and the VMI Mission. While the knowledge and understanding of this information is important for a Rat undergoing our indoctrination phase, what value does it provide if Rats do not have the time management skills, self-discipline, or physical ability to compete in our academic and military environment?

It was the administration, not the First Class, that dictated the date for “breakout”. The activities were known well in advance not only by Rats but parents who asked on social media how they could attend. The much advertised “fakeout” (fake breakout) to try and add a little mystery was an open secret, and directly pinpointed the true date of “breakout”. Though the First Class, and especially the Rat Disciplinary Committee (RDC), worked hard, a majority of the Corps were not involved in the event that took place on Tuesday afternoon starting around 2:00PM and only lasted several hours. Turn out for the Second Class sweat party was weak, at best. Professors scheduled exams the next day requiring many to choose between participation and their grades. Coaches and Dykes in NCAA programs were notified and briefed on the events, of which they immediately informed their freshman players. Rats were not even required to fill the sandbags used to depict their class year in the photo. They are now returning to storage until needed for the next spectacle.

The administration stated the main Rat Mass priority is “retention” with the Dean continuing to brief the Board of Visitors (BOV) on the failing numbers for Corps and, especially Rat Grade Point Averages (GPAs). An increasing number of Cadets who would normally be placed on academic suspension are being held in the Corps, while the Dean advocates for General Order 1 restrictions on Corps events that limits the “leadership laboratory” experience of VMI to no more than a few hours a week.

The Blue Book and other official documents have now expunged the term “Rat” in favor of “New Cadet”. Photos soliciting donations in the name of “One VMI” show cadets packing stands for basketball and football while first Class Ratline activities were canceled in favor of mandatory attendance at those games.

Alumni are enticed with parades when they visit while, over their four year cadetship, Cadets now pay over $10,000 in fees for uniforms the Institute retains. On Parents’ (now family) weekend and special events with the BOV and other VIPs, such as “tomahawk steaks” for the football team, the Dining Facility serves great meals but routinely runs out of Corps favorites and many cadets cannot eat lunch due to class schedules. These cadets can buy replacement meals at the PX with the Dining Facility contractor paying VMI a portion of the profits.

For the proposed transgender policy, one that will have immense impact on the Corps, the Superintendent tells the BOV “the Corps” fully supports it. Later the BOV is told administration-invited LGBTQ+ representative(s) spoke for the Corps. When The Cadet submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the names of the Cadets on the Committee so members of the Corps could provide their views to be part of that process, the request was denied on the grounds it would violate the privacy of the cadets on that secret committee and any records associated with developing the policy were also kept secret from release under the “Superintendent’s working papers” exemption. As a result, the Corps has no idea who speaks for them, although the Superintendent proudly boasted to Governor Youngkin’s Freedom of Speech Summit that, at VMI, cadets have an “obligation” to “speak truth to power”.

The administration, during the 25 Jan. BOV Executive Committee (ExCom) session committed to explore “…something that we can do about those [public comments critical of the administration] that have a very, very hostile, negative, toxic effect.” However, when the Commandant’s Staff raises issues with the Human Resources Director with what they perceive to be their own hostile work environment, the recording of that meeting is lost but the Inspector General (IG) is tasked to conduct an investigation into the participants of this meeting to determine if another recording was made.

The BOV passes resolutions attesting to VMI’s commitment to Free Speech and viewpoint diversity but takes no action against administrators working with the media to question the honor of its own cadets and uses the IG to investigate and clear itself of any wrong-doing despite substantial evidence provided by alumni and others. Some of this supports a hypothetical conclusion: officials provided false and misleading information to the media, an action that could violate state code Virginia § 18.2-209. The employee involved is promoted to Executive Officer (XO) to the Superintendent and, comparing public records of his old pay to that received by the incumbent’s position he filled, appears to result in over a $30,000 pay increase. The BOV, with the exception of a couple members, remains silent.

The Institute manages a massive recruiting campaign based on its unique honor code, but when the BOV and VMI are sanctioned and fined for making false and misleading statements to a Court of Law no one is held responsible.

Alumni, parents and guests marvel at the pristine barracks architecture from the outside, while the interior is in a state of disrepair that some of the facilities are unusable by cadets and capabilities as simple as Wi-Fi connections are a continual point of humor for the Corps. The administration, in the meantime, seeks $5M in additional funds for NCAA sports “to win”. Unlike Harvard, Cornell, and other schools, as long as there are parades and football games against The Citadel, it seems, the alumni donations will roll in without many of them knowing what those funds actually do, and do not, pay for. Furthermore, it is a well-known joke within the Corps that these alumni—those that make huge donations through the Keydet Club and other non-profit donation organizations—that they ask Cadets “how they did against VT” (a rivalry that hasn’t existed since 1964, hasn’t been held by VMI since 1974, and doesn’t have a game scheduled until 2026).

VMI and its Agencies continue to solicit donor funds in the name of preserving VMI’s legacy while the current academic calendar now only schedules the Joint Commissioning Ceremony on May 15th where traditionally a New Market ceremony and memorial parade recognizing VMI’s veterans and the New Market Cadets was prominent.

The Cadet – athlete divide is growing with one first classman opining, “… Cadets [are] mad about having to fund a losing team that doesn’t care about the system because they are still being lied to by their coaches and severely undercutting the VMI mission in a massive, noticeable, objectively measurable way…Every athlete rolled [drummed out] for an honor offense adds more ammunition for the [media] to investigate our leadership into making drastic decisions with little planning. It’s not like cadets don’t want to do well in their sport, we obviously see that with swim, rugby and hockey!” Notably, sports like swim have produced excellent Rats and maintain the class system, while club sports such as rugby and hockey continue to win despite slashed budgets and an ever-smaller amount of time for these passionate Cadets to practice due to General Order 1.

Images of Rats participating in “Ratline activities” fill the Institute’s social media accounts while a number of cadets cannot conduct complete military training after their M14s were confiscated, as if there were not over 1,400 more in barracks, and they were moved to another room after their Rat roommate complained he “feared” them. Rats no longer face the feared “third stoop gauntlet” returning to their rooms in barracks and an increasing number of Cadets won’t risk being disciplined for enforcing the Ratline or facing demerits, penalty tours and confinement for the offense of “failure to intercede when witnessing Ratline abuse”. Every Ratline activity is subject to multiple “observers” from the Corps, the Commandant’s staff, Diversity representatives and others.

Compared to the average Army basic training company, which has only two to five medics, VMI continues to shoot down plans and punish Cadet leadership for conducting physical training and military training that is “too risky” – while the average Rat platoon has a team of three EMTs and also bolsters a battalion team, with reserves to be used for Casualty Collection Points (CCPs).

The only bright spot was those approximately 55 brave souls in the Class of ’25 who were about to protest their Brother Rat’s severe punishment and loss of rank for “unauthorized Ratline activity” when he tried to properly discipline a Rat. Before they even met as a class, the administration backed down. Reportedly, over a dozen Rats of this cadre member’s company also were preparing to stand up for him.

Alumni gleefully remember when they hear that “resurrection week” is at VMI, when “Hell Week” is brought back before breakout. Few understand that resurrection activities were replaced by frivolous “rat missions” for silly tasks. Even then the administration abruptly cancels them as potential “hazing”, and severely punishes Dykes for doing as much as assigning their Rats the task of completing 2,024 pushups (spread out over the entire week). Long gone are the days of morning sweat parties, physical training, push privileges for all classes, and motivational/leadership alumni guest speakers.

Today’s reality is that the “Corps will never completely run the Corps”. In truth, it never did, even in the Old Corps. When their cadets have issues, parents don’t call the First Class President, they call the administration and the administration responds. But in the past the administration worked in good faith to find a middle ground. When they did not the Corps simply stopped enforcing the Ratline until balance returned. With the threat of losing the greatest developmental system to raise the next “great VMI product” (a graduating First Classman of good character), the administration responded quickly to the leverage. Now, VMI views itself as a “great liberal arts college” with a suffering engineering program and professors retiring and being replaced in droves. Cadets who abused the Rat system were punished, mostly by the Corps, and Rats were not coddled.

The harsh reality administrators must face, as their predecessors did, is that if VMI is truly to develop leadership as all its marketing and fundraising promotes, there must be a middle ground where the Corps is truly empowered and mentored rather than being dictated to. Control is not mentoring and a “zero-defect” environment is not one that develops leaders of VMI’s historic caliber.

The situation mandated by many who never shared and do not support the VMI experience ultimately harms the Rats. Many are disappointed they did not receive the full measure of the VMI experience they desire and expected.

Following the theory of Occam’s razor, the rising first class of ‘25 has a simple choice. They can, as “the 55” heroically demonstrated, follow the examples from the past and simply refuse to enforce the Ratline unless they are the lead with support from the administration, or it is time VMI remove the façade. Suppose they had Hell Week and no Cadre reported to their week-long pre-Hell Week training? What if the Corps, as in the past, simply said “no” and demanded their right to bring their issues to the BOV?

If they do not, it is best for VMI to be honest with itself. Publicly acknowledge the term “Rat” is dead and all freshmen are “new cadets”. Rename the Ratline what it really is, “new cadet orientation” executed by a select cadre under supervision of the Commandant’s staff. Eliminate all uniforms, except those required for parades, to save Cadets money and adopt a dress code for classes like every other Virginia College and University. Turn over discipline from the Cadet Committees to the Commandant’s staff and make all but the fourth stoop in barracks a dormitory-like environment. Finally recognize that “breakout” is really “class day” and convert it to a social event with tailgates and other celebratory activities.

Time to move out of the Potemkin village.

– The Cadet Staff / Submitted by Sal Vitale VMI ’61

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