Vmi Cannot Survive Women Students

By Will, George | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

Vmi Cannot Survive Women Students


Will, George, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


It was a famous victory women won. The Supreme Court gave them the right to enroll in an educational institution that, the moment they enter it, will essentially cease to exist.

Virginia Military Institute's men-only admission policy was put on a pat h to extinction 14 years ago when the court held that men denied admission to Mississippi University for Women's nursing program were denied what the Constitution promises, "equal protection of the laws." After the court's ruling against VMI's male-only admissions policy, it is probable that all single-sex public education has been put on the path to extinction. So perhaps have all private single-sex institutions of higher education that receive significant government aid. (Such aid provides an average of a lmost 20 percent of their budgets - not counting direct government aid to students.)

In the hands of any willful Supreme Court the logic may forbid single-sex classes or sports teams in public schools, and government support for such single-sex programs as shelters for battered women and boot camps for young male offenders. What else? We will know when our robed masters tell us what single-sex programs have "exceedingly persuasive" justifications. The VMI ruling establishes that vacuity as the judiciary's latest "standard."

VMI, one of Virginia's 15 publicly supported colleges and universities, enrolls 1,300 of the 160,000 students in the state's public higher education system. It has an "adversative" system emphasizing physical rigor, mental stress, military etiquette, absence of privacy and minute regulation of behavior. Virginia's attempt to shield VMI by creating at a women's college an analogous program for women was inherently implausible.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court and joined by John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Stephen Breyer (William Rehnquist concurred separately and Clarence Thomas did not participate because his son attends VMI), sought to portray the ruling as narrow by emphasizing VMI's uniqueness - its special prestige and its origins in 1839 in a context of male chauvinist stereotypes about women. Purging society of unacceptable stereotypes is the point of the court's ruling.

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting, said the majority believes, against considerable evidence, that no substantial educational value is served by all-male military academies. …

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