Making Room for Sister Rat

Article excerpt

VMI has accepted its first women cadets and, its superintendent vows, they will be treated exactly as though they were men

IN 1901 GEORGE C. MARSHALL WAS GRADUATED FROM VIRGINIA Military Institute, to make for himself a life of service to the country--service whose hallmarks were nobility of character, self-sacrifice and resolution. It was not what General Marshall did, but what he was, that lingers in the memory.

"His very goodness seemed to put ambition out of countenance," so wrote an English contemporary. Marshall is cherished as much for the legacy of his character as for his works.

Exactly 100 years after his departure, in 2001, VMI will graduate its first women. Among those who have applied, the first four were selected just this week. They will enroll here next August, and like their Brother Rats, they will find the institute in its essentials unchanged from a century ago. Many people profess to find this appalling; I find it wonderful. And We are determined to sustain and strengthen those essentials in a college that will enroll both women and men. For us to do less would not only be to break faith with a living heritage that proves and re-proves its worth daily in the lives of 15,000 graduates; it would also be to demean the character and aspirations of the young women who will enroll as cadets. Uniformly, our first female applicants are telling us that they would not have applied to the institute had we not affirmed our determination to retain the "infamous" features of the VMI system, a system that seems to me to be directly antipathetic to much of what contemporary culture celebrates.

The media present VMI as the equivalent of marine boot camp, only harsher. The school is routinely labeled as "defiant" because it fought for so long to remain an institution for men and because its board took its allotted time to consider whether VMI should become a private college. In fact, our long struggle was principled,. most carefully wrought and undertaken to preserve an enterprise whose efficiency was not questioned.

The school has a superb tradition of academic and teaching excellence. Presumably it is for this, as well as for its spartan and military culture, that prospective cadets, male and female, apply. As for the Ratline, the "adversative" system, and the deliberate emotional and physical stresses and tests it imposes, these will remain in force as VMI's means of inculcating qualities of character and behavior in those who choose to join it. …