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A Broadside Across the Bow at VMI

In a local alumni organization’s election earlier this year, candidates for office had, first, to be nominated to, and approved by, a nominating committee appointed by the incumbents.  This is unusual enough, but it gets better.

In this earlier election, the nominating committee accepted/rejected nominees at its sole discretion, then consolidated the candidates into an approved slate, with only one candidate for each open position.  The voters were informed that “neither write-in ballots nor nominations from the floor will be accepted.”  Moreover, they could only vote for the entire “approved” slate, not individual candidates.  Of course, the voters could vote “no” on the slate, but, if rejected by a majority of the voters, the current incumbents would simply remain in office until, after however many votes it took, the approved slate passed by a majority.

In this same organization, members disagreeing with the governing body were refused access to the organization’s mass communications network and denied access to the list of members, guaranteed by Virginia law, to pass their opposing views to other members for their consideration.  To reach the full membership, therefore, the members then copied readily available (to all members) email addresses and engaged commercial sources to buy email addresses to independently get their voice heard.

For this brazen action, they were “indefinitely expelled” by the organization’s governing body for conduct “detrimental to the interest” of the organization.    There was no due process, no published rules or laws broken, no appeal – simply a determination by the governing body to expel these members who had dared so openly to oppose them.  The governing body refused to consider third party arbitration, saying, in part, that they did not bear any burden of proof for its accusations, nor validation of its punishments.  This same organization has members convicted of violent felonies and other crimes – none of whom have been expelled, but, apparently, actively opposing those in charge by voicing opinions they disagree with and expecting fair and open elections was too much.

As a Marine, I served around the world for over twenty years to protect and defend our rights as US citizens.  While I have seen many governments and organizations trample what we consider our “inalienable rights,” I never thought I would witness such despotic behavior in this country, and, especially, from an organization I had, until the last few years, held in very high regard.

No more.

The organization I refer to above is none other than the Alumni Association of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the oldest public college alumni association in the United States. A few years ago, I would have thought such a situation impossible.  As a VMI Alumnus (Class of 1974), I have always held VMI and the VMI Alumni Association (VMI AA) in high regard.  I expected VMI and VMI AA leaders to set the example in personal integrity and responsibility, honesty and fairness, that all Cadets and Alumni aspire to.

Again, no more.

I have watched in disbelieving fascination as, over the last few years, VMI leaders colluded with the VMI AA to turn the VMI AA into an oligarchy, answerable only to themselves, and who’s primary purpose seems to be to tightly control Alumni communications to (1) keep all Alumni in line with the “official” VMI storyline, and (2) keep Alumni wallets as open as they possibly can.  That this collusion is happening now is quite telling, with VMI leaders struggling with increasing costs and decreasing applications by lowering academic and conduct standards, and denigrating proven aspects of VMI Experience.

This must stop.  The VMI AA must be returned to the control – the real control – of its Alumni.  A couple of days ago, 29 VMI Alumni, supported by numerous other Alumni, filed suit against the VMI AA in Federal Court for the Western District of Virginia to do just that. The Alumni allege the VMI AA Board of Directors repeatedly violated Alumni rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution and of the Virginia Nonstock Corporation Act and Civil Conspiracy statutes. Among the allegations:

> Violated the civil rights of its membership by denying rights to fair and open elections for leadership positions;

> Ignored the membership mandate to remove the entire Board in a previously held, legally conducted annual membership meeting/election – the Board President just decided not to recognize the vote and, on his own, then adjourned the meeting;

> Suspended or took adverse actions against members who voiced opposing views or exposed their activities without legal due process in violation of their civil rights;

> Publicly promulgated false/misleading information to the media, the VMI Community, and the public;

> Made major unlawful modifications to the VMI AA’s Articles of Incorporation and its bylaws without majority member knowledge or approval.

Details are available in the short 2 page information sheet and the full lawsuit located at this link or

For years, many VMI Alumni have worked behind the scenes to assist struggling VMI and VMI AA leaders – only to be repeatedly rebuffed.  Recently, in desperation, we’ve been more open in our critiques and recommendations, even as VMI continues to struggle.  We simply cannot be silent any longer.  For fellow alumni, particularly large donors, who continue to contribute, you face a morale and ethical dilemma – do you continue to fund this behavior and the persecution of your fellow alumni, or do you demand change?  The VMI AA repeatedly tells alumni that, if they stop giving, stop supporting the VMI AA Board, they are “hurting cadets”.  It is, however, their dishonorable behavior that is hurting cadets and, indeed, the entire VMI Family, as well as the honor and reputation of VMI.

This lawsuit may be best considered as, not a shot, but a broadside across the bow of the VMI and VMI AA leadership.

– Gene Rice ’74

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