Board also adopted a number of new policies, focused on diversity.
LEXINGTON-Stonewall Jackson’s statue won’t be in front of the Virginia Military Institute’s barracks much longer. By a unanimous vote, the school’s Board of Visitors agreed Thursday to move the Confederate general’s statue to a different location, potentially the Battlefield at New Market.
VMI’s administration will handle the statue’s removal and relocation. That was one of several decisions made during the meeting. In addition, the group voted to create a permanent diversity officer at the school, as well as a permanent diversity and inclusion committee for the Board of Visitors.
“I am proud of the commitment by the VMI family to continue fulfilling our mission,” said William Boland, president of the Board of Visitors. “VMI, like all aspects of society, must honestly address historical inequities and be intentional about creating a better future.”
During a busy meeting Thursday, the board also set up a building and naming committee. Earlier this summer, 400 cadets and alumni asked for the school to create a similar commission. They wanted VMI to not just examine traditions, but also the monuments and building names. Now that will happen, although no timeline has been given for when the group might meet. The Board also created a permanent diversity office, added diversity initiatives to include a focus on gender for the first time and ordered that a diverse hiring plan be created.
“We care deeply about the individual experiences of all of our cadets and alumni,” Boland said. “Our mission is just as important today, and tomorrow, as it has been for 181 years.”
Changes at the school
The changes come after Gen. J.H. Brinford Peay, the school’s superintendent, resigned Monday. In his resignation letter, Peay said he met with Gov. Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer last Friday. Mercer made it clear “that the Governor and certain legislative leaders had lost confidence in my leadership as Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute,” Peay wrote. “Therefore, effective today, I hereby resign.”
Earlier this month, Black cadets and alumni spoke to the Washington Post about allegations of racism at the school. They told of a place where lynching threats occured and faculty spoke openly about praising the Confederacy. As a result, Gov. Ralph Northam, himself a 1981 graduate of VMI, sent a letter to Boland, outlining several steps his administration would take in the coming months to address the problem.
That includes an independent, third party review of VMI. Northam said a non-partisan, national organization will conduct the investigation. The group will investigate and compare VMI’s culture to other Virginia universities, with a report due by the end of the year. That way the General Assembly can review the information and take action as needed in the 2021 session. State officials had not selected that third party as of Thursday.
During Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Visitors set up a search committee to find Peay’s replacement.