The Virginia Military Institute (VMI), the oldest state-funded military college in the United States which was founded in 1839, has for the first time in 181 years appointed a Black man as its head, the institute’s officials announced last week. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins will serve as an interim superintendent until a permanent one is appointed in 2021.
His predecessor, retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III’s term of office has come under attacks as Black cadets complain of racism on campus. Peay III, the school’s long-time superintendent who served in his capacity for 17 years, resigned on October 26, making the Board of Visitors appoint Wins in the short-term to steer the affairs of the college.
“I am excited to return to VMI, a place that had an extraordinary impact on me as a leader and person,” said Wins. “Now, more than ever, the lessons and values of VMI are needed in the world, and I am humbled to be a part of making that happen.
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“I most look forward to leading the cadets and ensuring we have a safe and successful conclusion to the academic year, hit the ground running during the spring sports season, and continue fulfilling our vital mission of producing educated and honorable men and women.”
Wins, a 57-year-old, is a class of 1985 alum of VMI who played for the school’s basketball team and was one of the top five scorers in the school’s basketball history. He is a decorated army veteran receiving the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit Medal, and the Bronze Star Medal.
He served in the Army as a field artillery officer for 34 years after graduating college with a degree in economics. He held several roles in the army including one at the Headquarters Department of the Army and the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
The retired veteran has two master’s degrees, one from the Florida Institute of Technology in management and the other — national security and strategic studies from the National War College.
With his amazing record, many hope he will help move VMI in the right direction especially with what is happening in the world and many Americans leading the charge to fight institutional racism.
The investigations ordered by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) into the landscape of racism in the institution has been welcomed by Wins.
“We welcome the investigation, because it allows us to set the record straight on many fronts and to better understand the experiences of all cadets.
“We will also have the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of VMI’s unique method of education that calls forth leaders in our nation. We remain committed to a challenging but equitable experience for all.”
“It is my commitment to you that we will change what is necessary and safeguard what is necessary to preserve,” Wins said in an email to the VMI alum.
VMI has had 14 White superintendents and the first Black students were admitted in 1968 because the school was the last public college to integrate, admitting five Blacks at the time. Meanwhile, today, there are about 1,700 students of whom eight percent are Blacks.
The school since its inception did not admit women into the college but that changed in 1996 after a Supreme Court decision overturned that record.
According to the Times, to shed light on allegations of widespread racism at the school, old cadets ranted on social media in July recounting gruesome stories and their experiences at VMI.
They were forced to salute the statue of Stonewall Jackson and made to re-enact a Civil War battle in which VMI cadets took part. It was also a requirement to memorize the names of fallen cadets who fought to defend slavery during the Civil War.
“The selection of Major General Wins is a strong move in the right direction,” said Michael Purdy, a 1999 VMI graduate and a Google attorney who helped lead a campaign this year to remove a campus statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
“It tells the commonwealth and nation that VMI still produces high-caliber leaders and is ready to embrace positive change. Given his stellar reputation, we’re optimistic that General Wins will lead the institute with clarity of purpose.”