Virginia Military Institute chief resigns amid ‘structural racism’ probe

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The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute has resigned one week after state officials ordered a probe into “ongoing structural racism” at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college.

Retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay, 80, submitted his resignation Monday after Gov. Ralph Northam’s chief of staff and other legislative leaders “lost confidence” in his leadership at the 181-year-old public military college in Lexington and wanted him to step down.

“Therefore, effective today, 26 October 2020, I hereby resign,” Peay wrote in his resignation letter. “It has been the honor of my life to be the Superintendent of VMI for over seventeen years. I always have and always will love the Institute, all of our cadets, alumni and the entire VMI family.”

The college’s Board of Visitors said it accepted Peay’s resignation with “deep regret” while noting he had served “exceptionally well” in his role for more than 17 years.

“General Peay is a great American, patriot, and hero,” VMI’s Board of Visitors President John Boland said in a statement. “He has profoundly changed our school for the better in all respects.”

Northam, who graduated from VMI in 1981, ordered an independent probe last week into allegations of racism after black cadets described several racist incidents, including a lynching threat in 2018 and a white business professor who reminisced during a class last year about her father’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan, the Washington Post reported.

Boland disputed those claims of bigotry in a letter to Northam a day later, saying “systemic racism does not exist” at the college, while promising that an independent review would back up that assertion, the newspaper reported.

Peay also emailed VMI students last week, indicating he also did not believe systemic racism was an issue at the college, which was the last public institution in the state to integrate when it accepted five black students in 1968, according to the Washington Post.

A spokeswoman for Northam, meanwhile, told the newspaper change was “overdue” at VMI and called on administrators to embrace it.

“Diversity is a fundamental commitment,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said. “Without this recognition, VMI cannot properly educate future citizen-soldiers nor live up to its values of honor, character and service.”

Northam nearly saw his political career come to an end last year when a photo emerged from his 1984 medical school yearbook of a person wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood standing next to a person in blackface. After initially saying he was the person in blackface, Northam later claimed it wasn’t him but did admit to darkening his face once for a Michael Jackson costume.

Brig. Gen. Robert Moreschi, who previously served as deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty, will serve as acting superintendent, according to the school’s website.

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