Single-Sex Schools Brace for VMI Ruling the Citadel and Virginia Military Institute Struggle over Male Exclusivity

Article excerpt

EVEN with elite schools and military academies opening their doors to women in the last 30 years, tradition still reigns at the state-funded Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Va., and the Citadel in Charleston, S.C. With both schools embroiled in court battles to remain all-male, VMI is making a unique effort to avoid admitting women by establishing an all-female leadership program with Mary Baldwin College, a nearby women's school.

For supporters of the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL), the case represents a sort of last hope. If the courts rule that the plan doesn't allow equal educational opportunity for women, it could mark the end of VMI and the Citadel, the last two public schools of their kind in the country.

It could also signal the end of all single-sex education, which would be a dire development for diversity in education, says Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, an expert on educating women.

Opponents of the plan say it is a rehashing of "separate but equal" arguments, with the results being anything but equal. The development of VWIL leaves the United States Justice Department and women's rights groups incredulous, saying the program in no way compares with a VMI education.

"The Mary Baldwin program is not a question of educational merit," says Ellen Vargyas of the National Women's Law Center. "Does the {Mary Baldwin} program offer young women what {VMI} offers young men? The answer is a resounding no."

VWIL would offer training with VMI cadets for young women as well as eight semesters of physical education and strict academic requirements. "It will be the optimum environment for leadership formation and experiential challenges," says Cynthia Tyson, president of Mary Baldwin College.

Critics say the program lacks components such as VMI's powerful alumni network, a large endowment, and stringent military discipline. "The program lacks the rigor, discipline, and physical and mental hardships, based on stereotypes that women are frail, weak little creatures and simply can't stand up to it," says John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University and one of the initial complainants in the Citadel case.

The Justice Department argues that such stereotypes are "meritless." Yet US District Judge Jackson Kiser ruled April 30 that VMI need not admit women. He wrote that the educational outcome for VWIL students would be the same as VMI's even if VWIL's method were not the same.

VMI and Mary Baldwin College are waiting for the Justice Department's appeal of the case to the Fourth Circuit Court, scheduled for July 12. …


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