Founded on 11 November 1839 in Lexington, Virginia, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is the oldest state-supported military college in the United States. Unlike any other senior military college in the United States, all students at VMI are military cadets pursuing bachelor's degrees. VMI offers cadets strict military discipline combined with a spartan, physically and academically demanding environment. The Institute grants degrees in 14 disciplines in engineering, the sciences and the liberal arts.
While VMI has been called the "West Point of the South,", it differs from the federal service academies in several respects. For example, the living conditions at VMI are far more austere and spartan than the service academies. Also, while all cadets must participate in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), they are afforded the flexibility of pursuing civilian endeavors or accepting a commission in any of the US military branches upon graduation.
On 11 November 1839, VMI was founded on the site of the Lexington state arsenal and the first cadets relieved personnel on duty. Under Major General Francis Henney Smith, superintendent, and Colonel Claudius Crozet, president of the Board of Visitors, the Corps was imbued with the discipline and the spirit for which it is famous. The first cadet to march a sentinel post was Private John Strange. With few exceptions, there have been sentinels posted at VMI every hour of every day of the school year.
The Class of 1842 graduated 16 cadets. Living conditions were poor until 1850 when the cornerstone of the new barracks was laid. In 1851 Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson became a member of the faculty and professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. Under Jackson, then a major, and Major William Gilham, VMI infantry and artillery units were present at the execution by hanging of John Brown at Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1859.
The Institute played a valuable role in the training of the Southern officer corps and fought as a unit in actual battles. VMI cadets were called into active military service on 14 different occasions during the American Civil War and many cadets, under the leadership of General Stonewall Jackson, were sent to Camp Lee, at Richmond, to train recruits. VMI alumni were regarded among the best officers of the South and several distinguished themselves in the Union forces as well. Fifteen graduates rose to the rank of general in the Confederate Army, and one rose to this rank in the Union Army. Just before his famous flank attack at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Stonewall Jackson looked at his division and brigade commanders, noted the high number of VMI graduates and said, "The Institute will be heard from today." Three of Jackson's four division commanders at Chancellorsville, Generals James Lane, Robert Rodes, and Raleigh Colston, were VMI graduates as were over twenty of his brigadiers and colonels.
On 15 May 1864, the VMI Corps of Cadets fought as an independent unit at the Battle of New Market. VMI suffered fifty-two casualties with ten cadets killed. The cadets were led into battle by the Commandant of Cadets and future VMI Superintendent Colonel Scott Shipp. Shipp was also wounded during the battle. Six of the ten fallen cadets are buried on VMI grounds behind the statue "Virginia Mourning Her Dead" by sculptor Moses Ezekiel, a VMI graduate who was also wounded in the Battle of New Market.
General John C. Breckinridge, the commanding Southern general, held the cadets in reserve and did not use them until Union troops broke through the Confederate lines. Upon seeing the tide of battle turning in favor of the Union forces, Breckinridge stated, "Put the boys in...and may God forgive me for the order." The VMI cadets held the line and eventually pushed forward, capturing a Union artillery emplacement, securing victory for the Confederates. The Union troops were withdrawn and Confederate troops under General Breckinridge held the Shenandoah Valley.
On 12 June 1864 Union forces under the command of General David Hunter shelled and burned the Institute as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The destruction was almost complete and VMI had to temporarily hold classes at the Alms House in Richmond, Virginia. In April 1865 Richmond was evacuated due to the impending fall of Petersburg and the VMI Corps of Cadets was disbanded. The Lexington campus reopened for classes on 17 October 1865. One of the reasons that Confederate General Jubal A. Early burned the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was in retaliation for the shelling of VMI. Following the war, Matthew Fontaine Maury, the pioneering oceanographer known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas", accepted a teaching position at VMI, holding the physics chair. Following the war, David Hunter Strother, who was chief of staff to General Hunter and had advised the destruction of the Institute, served as Adjutant General of the Virginia Militia and member of the VMI Board of Visitors; in that position he promoted and worked actively for the reconstruction.
VMI produced many of America's commanders in World War II. The most important of these was George C. Marshall, the top U.S. Army general during the war. Marshall was the Army's first five-star general and the only career military officer ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Winston Churchill dubbed Marshall the "Architect of Victory" and "the greatest Roman of them all". The Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during the war was also a VMI graduate as were the Second U.S. Army commander, 15th U.S. Army commander, the commander of Allied Air Forces of the Southwest Pacific and various corps and division commanders in the Army and Marine Corps. China's General Sun Li-jen, known as the "Rommel of the East", was also a graduate of the VMI.
During the war, VMI participated in the War Department's Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) from 1943 to 1946. The program provided training in engineering and related subjects to enlisted men at colleges across the United States. Over 2,100 ASTP members studied at VMI during the war.
Since 1839, VMI has had fourteen superintendents. Francis H. Smith was the first and the longest serving, filling the position for 50 years. Only three of the fourteen superintendents were not graduates of VMI.
The VMI campus covers 134 acres (54 ha), 12 of which are designated as the Virginia Military Institute Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The campus is referred to as the "Post." A training area of several hundred additional acres is located near the post. All cadets are housed on campus in a large five-story building, called the "barracks." The Old Barracks, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, stands on the site of the old arsenal. This is the structure that received most of the damage when Union forces shelled and burned the Institute in June 1864. The new wing of the barracks ("New Barracks") was completed in 1949. The two wings surround two quadrangles connected by a sally port. All rooms open onto porch-like stoops facing one of the quadrangles. A third barracks wing was completed, with cadets moving in officially spring semester 2009. Four of the five arched entries into the barracks are named for George Washington, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, George C. Marshall '01 and Jonathan Daniels '61. Next to the Barracks are offices and meeting areas for VMI clubs and organizations, the cadet visitors center and lounge, a snack bar, and a Barnes & Noble-operated bookstore.
VMI's "Vision 2039" capital campaign raised more than $275 million from alumni and supporters in three years. The money is going to expand The Barracks to house 1,500 cadets, renovate and modernize the academic buildings. VMI is spending another $200 million to build the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics, to be used by cadets, Washington and Lee University students, and other U.S. and international students. The funding will also support "study abroad" programs, including joint ventures with Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England and many other universities.
VMI's academic programs are grouped into four areas: engineering, liberal arts, humanities, and the sciences. The engineering department has concentrations in three areas: civil and environmental engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering. Two recent Chiefs of Engineers of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant Generals Carl A. Strock and Robert B. Flowers, were VMI engineering graduates. VMI offers 14 major and 23 minor areas of study, with the majority of classes taught by full-time professors, 99 percent of whom hold terminal degrees. Within four months of graduation, an average of 97 percent of VMI graduates are either serving in the military, employed, or admitted to graduate or professional schools.
A large number of VMI graduates go on to attend graduate and professional schools. VMI has graduated 11 Rhodes Scholars since 1921 and two in the last six years. Per capita, VMI has graduated more Rhodes Scholars than any state supported college or university in the United States and more than all the other senior military colleges combined. By comparison, Texas A&M has graduated seven Virginia Tech has graduated two and Norwich one. The most recent VMI Rhodes Scholar (as of 2009), Gregory Lippiatt of York, Pa., was named in 2009. In 2007, VMI had two Rhodes Scholarship finalists and one Marshall Scholarship finalist.
VMI is the only military college in the US which is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the same category as the federal military academies. In 2012 VMI ranked fourth, after the United States Military Academy, the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy, in the US News and World Report rankings' "Top Public Schools, National Liberal Arts Colleges" category.
Forbes' 2012 Special Report on America's Best Colleges ranked VMI in the top 25 public universities in the nation, well ahead of any other senior military college in the country. VMI was ranked 14th in the "Top 25 Publics" section, just behind the United States Military Academy, the Air Force Academy, and the Naval Academy, but ahead of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Overall, VMI ranked 115th out of the 650 colleges and universities evaluated.
In 2009 US News ranked VMI's Civil Engineering program seventh, its mechanical engineering program 14th, and its overall engineering program improved from 25th in the United States in 2008 to 21st out of 105 in the 2009 category of "Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (where doctorate is not offered)." In the newly-added 2009 category of "High School Counselor Rankings of Liberal Arts Colleges," VMI is ranked 57th of the 266 best liberal arts colleges.
Kiplinger's magazine, in its ranking of the "Best Values in Public Colleges" for 2006, made mention of the Virginia Military Institute as a "great value", although the military nature of its program excluded it from consideration as a traditional four-year college in the rankings.
VMI alumni include an Army Chief of Staff (George Marshall), an Air Force Chief of Staff (John P. Jumper), and two Marine Corps Commandants (Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. and Randolph M. Pate), making it the only college in the United States (including the federal service academies) to have graduated service chiefs of three of the four primary armed services. As of 2007, VMI alumni included more than 260 general and flag officers, including the first five-star General of the Army, George Marshall; seven recipients of the highest U.S. military decoration, the Medal of Honor; and more than 80 recipients of the second-highest awards, the Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross. VMI offers ROTC programs for four U.S. military branches (Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force).
While all cadets are required to take four years of ROTC, accepting a commission in the armed forces is optional. The VMI Board of Visitors has set a goal of having 70 percent of VMI cadets take a commission by 2015. In 2008, 52.8 percent of the graduating class accepted a commission; 63 joined the Army, 11 the Navy, 26 the Marine Corps, and 27 the Air Force.
This table lists U.S. four-star generals who graduated from VMI. It does not list those who attended but did not graduate from the school, such as Generals Patton and Walker, and the many who served in foreign nations such as Thailand, China, and Taiwan.
In a 2007 study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, VMI's $343 million endowment was the largest per-student endowment of any U.S. public college in the United States.[verification needed] 35.4 percent of the approximately 12,300 living alumni gave in 2006. Private support covers more than 31 percent of VMI's operating budget; state funds, 26 percent.
Prospective cadets must be between 16 and 22 years of age. They must be unmarried, and have no legal dependents, physically fit for enrollment in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and be graduates of an accredited secondary school or have completed an approved homeschool curriculum. The Class of 2015 at VMI had an average high school GPA of 3.50 and a mean SAT score of 1151.
Eligibility is not restricted to Virginia residents, although it is more difficult to gain an appointment as a non-resident, because VMI has a goal that no more than 45 percent of cadets come from outside Virginia. Virginia residents receive a discount in tuition, as is common at most state-sponsored schools. Total tuition, room & board and other fees for the 2008–2009 school year is approximately $17,000 for Virginia residents and $34,000 for all others. These fees can be misleading, because VMI's endowment enables VMI to meet a substantial amount of a cadet's financial need before the cadet needs loans.
Of the 1251 students enrolled in 2005, 66 were African-American, 39 were Asian, 34 were Hispanic and 71 were women. Of 509 students that matriculated in August 2012, 46 were women. The first Jewish cadet, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, graduated in 1866. While at VMI, Ezekiel fought with the VMI cadets at the Battle of New Market. He became a sculptor and his works are on display at VMI. One of the first Asian cadets was Sun Li-jen, the Chinese National Revolutionary Army general, who graduated in 1927. The first African-American cadets were admitted in 1968. The first African-American regimental commander was Darren McDew, class of 1982. McDew is currently a US Air Force lieutenant general and Commander, Eighteenth Air Force, Scott Air Force Base, IL. It is unknown when the first Muslim cadet graduated from VMI, but before the Iranian Revolution, under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, several Persian cadets attended and graduated from VMI. Other Muslim graduates have included cadets from Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia and other nations.
VMI has traditionally enrolled cadets from the armed forces of Thailand and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Graduates have gone on to pursue graduate degrees after VMI at universities throughout the United States before returning to their countries to continue their military service. Several graduates reached general and flag officer ranks. During the 1990s many other nations were represented in the Corps of Cadets, including Great Britain, Bangladesh, Finland, Botswana, Germany, Kenya, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan.
VMI was the last US military college to admit women, having excluded women from the Corps of Cadets until 1997. In 1990 the US Department of Justice filed a discrimination lawsuit against VMI for its all-male admissions policy. While the court challenge was pending, a state-sponsored Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) was opened at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, as a parallel program for women. The VWIL continued, even after VMI's admission of women.
After VMI won its case in US District Court, the case went through several appeals until 26 June 1996, when the US Supreme Court, in a 7–1 decision in United States v. Virginia, found that it was unconstitutional for a school supported by public funds to exclude women. (Justice Clarence Thomas recused himself, presumably because his son was attending VMI at the time.) Following the ruling, VMI contemplated going private to exempt itself from the 14th Amendment, and thus avoid the ruling.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Frederick F.Y. Pang, however, warned the school that the Department of Defense would withdraw ROTC programs from the school if privatization took place. As a result of this action by Pang, Congress passed a resolution on 18 November 1997 prohibiting the Department of Defense from withdrawing or diminishing any ROTC program at one of the six senior military colleges, including VMI. This escape clause provided by Congress came after the VMI Board of Visitors had already voted 9–8 to admit women and the decision was not revisited.
In August 1997, VMI enrolled its first female cadets. The first co-ed class consisted of thirty women, and matriculated as part of the class of 2001. In order to accelerate VMI's matriculation process several women were allowed to transfer directly from various junior colleges, such as New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), and forgo the traditional four-year curriculum that most cadets had been subjected to. The first female cadets "walked the stage" in 1999, although by VMI's definitions they are considered to be members of the class of 2001. Initially, these 30 women who were held to the same strict physical courses and technical training as the male cadets until it became apparent that adjustments to the standards had to be made.[according to whom?] VMI resisted following other military colleges in adopting "gender-normed" physical training standards until 2008 when it was listed as a goal in VMI's 2039 Strategic Plan. On 30 June 2008, gender-normed training standards were implemented for all female cadets.
Just as cadets did nearly two hundred years ago, today's cadets forswear such comforts as beds, instead lying upon cots colloquially referred to as "hays". These hays, aired every Monday, are little more than foam mats that must be rolled every morning. Further, cadet uniforms have little changed; the coatee, worn in parades, dates back to the war of 1812. New cadets, known as "Rats", experience even further deprivations, being unable to watch TV or listen to music or use the telephone outside the presence of their dyke.
During the first few months at VMI, New Cadets are called “Rats,” the accepted term (since the 1850s) for a New Cadet. Legend has it that when Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) students and VMI cadets drilled together in the 1830s, the students called the cadets “Rats” perhaps because of their gray uniforms. The cadets responded in kind calling the neighboring students “Minks” perhaps because many of them were from wealthy backgrounds. As a Rat, they will be part of a tradition and encounter the challenge that VMI cadets who came before experienced - the Ratline. The purpose of the Ratline is to teach self-control, self-discipline, time-management, and followership as prerequisites for becoming a VMI cadet.
New freshmen, known collectively as the "Rat Mass", walk along a prescribed line in barracks while maintaining an exaggerated form of attention, called "straining"]. This experience, called the Rat Line, is intended by the upper classes to instill camaraderie, pride, and discipline into the incoming class. Under this system, the Rats face mental and physical challenges, starting with "Cadre Week." During Cadre Week, Rats receive basic military instruction from select upper classmen ("Cadre"); they learn to march, they learn to clean their M-14 rifle, and they learn how to wear their uniforms. During Hell Week, Rats also meet the members of various cadet-run organizations and learn the functions of each. Most notable of these is the Honor Court. By the end of the week, the new Rat Mass has significantly less hair than before and the Rats are on their way to becoming full-fledged cadets.
At the end of the first week, it is quite clear that the Rats have just begun. At this point, each Rat is paired with a first classman (senior) who serves as their mentor for the rest of the first year. The first classman is called a "Dyke," reference to an older Southern pronunciation of "to deck out," or to get into a uniform. While the Dyke watches out for the Rat and the Rat works for the Dyke in accordance with Institute policy, Cadre still enforce all rules as the Rats. In combining the softness of the Dykes with the hardness of the system they lead, with countless push-ups, sweat parties, and runs, the Rats are instilled with the virtue of time management and attention to detail.
The Ratline experience culminates with Resurrection Week ending in "Breakout," an event where the Rats are formally "welcomed" to the VMI community. After the successful completion of Breakout, Rats are officially fourth class students and no longer have to strain in the barracks or eat "square meals." Many versions of the Breakout ceremony have been conducted. In the 1950s Rats from each company would be packed into a corner room in the barracks and brawl their way out through the upperclassmen. From the late 1960s through the early 1980s the Rats had to fight their way up to the fourth level of the barracks through three other classes of cadets determined not to let them get to the top. The stoops would often be slick with motor oil, packed with snow, glazed with ice, greased, or continuously hosed with water. The barracks stairs and rails were not able to take the abuse, so the Corps moved the breakout to a muddy hill where Rats attempt to climb to the top by crawling on their stomachs while the upper classes block them or drag them back down. As of 2007 the Rats no longer breakout in the mud but instead participate in a grueling day of physical activity testing both physical endurance and team work.
The entire body of Rats during the Ratline is called a "Rat Mass." Since the Rats of the Rat mass are not officially fourth classmen until after Breakout, the Rat Mass is also not officially considered a graduating class until that time either. Prior to Breakout, the Rat mass is given a different style of year identifier to emphasize this difference. The year identifier starts with the year of the current graduating class (their dykes' class), followed by a "+3" to indicate the anticipated year of their own class. For example, Rats that make up the future Class of 2017 are considered the "Rat Mass of 2014+3" as the members of their dykes' class will graduate in 2014 and they themselves will graduate three years onward from then.
The Ratline is not without detractors, and many consider it to be a form of institutionalized hazing, which is outlawed by the State of Virginia and the Federal Government. (http://richmond.indymedia.org/newswire/display/9926/index.php)
In addition to the Ratline, VMI has other traditions that are emblematic of the school and its history including the new cadet oath ceremony, the pagentry of close-order marching, and the nightly playing of "Taps". An event second only to graduation in importance is the "Ring Figure" dance held every November. During their junior year, cadets receive class rings at a ring presentation ceremony followed by a formal dance. Most cadets get two rings, a formal ring and a combat ring; some choose to have the combat ring for everyday wear, and the formal for special occasions.
Every year, VMI honors its fallen cadets with a New Market Day parade and ceremony. These events take place on 15 May, the same day as the Battle of New Market in which the VMI cadets fought during the Civil War in 1864. During this ceremony, roll is called for cadets who "died on the Field of Honor" and wreaths are placed on the graves of those who died during the Battle of New Market.
The requirement that all cadets wishing to eat dinner in the mess hall must be present for a prayer was the basis for a lawsuit in 2002 when two cadets sued VMI over the prayer said before dinner. The non-denominational prayer had been a daily fixture since the 1950s. In 2002 the Fourth Circuit ruled the prayer, during an event with mandatory attendance, at a state-funded school, violated the US Constitution. When the Supreme Court declined to review the school's appeal in April 2004, the prayer tradition was stopped.
The tradition of guarding the Institute is one of the longest standing and is carried out to this day. Cadets have been posted as sentinels guarding the barracks 24 hours a day, seven days a week while school is in session since the first cadet sentinel, Cadet John B. Strange, and others relieved the Virginia Militia guard team tasked with defending the Lexington Arsenal (that later became VMI) in 1839. The guard team wears the traditional school uniform and each sentinel is armed with an M-14 rifle and bayonet.
VMI is known for its strict honor code, which is as old as the Institute and was formally codified in the early 20th century. Under the VMI Honor Code, "a cadet does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do." There is only one punishment for violating the VMI Honor Code: immediate expulsion in the form of a drumming out ceremony of dismissal, in which the entire corps is awakened by the honor court to hear the formal announcement. More often than not, the dismissed cadet leaves campus before the formal announcement is made.
VMI currently offers over 50 school-sponsored clubs and organizations, including recreational activities, military organizations, musical and performance groups, religious organizations and service groups. Although VMI prohibited cadet membership in fraternal organizations starting in 1885, VMI cadets were instrumental in starting several fraternities. Alpha Tau Omega fraternity was founded by VMI cadets Otis Allan Glazebrook, Alfred Marshall, and Erskine Mayo Ross at Richmond, Virginia on 11 September 1865 while the school was closed for reconstruction.
After the re-opening, Kappa Sigma Kappa fraternity was founded by cadets on 28 September 1867 and Sigma Nu fraternity was founded by cadets on 1 January 1869. VMI cadets formed the second chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order. In a special arrangement, graduating cadets may be nominated by Kappa Alpha Order alumni and inducted into the fraternity, becoming part of Kappa Alpha Order's Beta Commission (a commission as opposed to an active chapter). This occurs following graduation, and the newly-initiated VMI alumni are accepted as brothers of the fraternity.
The VMI corps maintains and operates an independent student newspaper published as The Cadet. The paper has been published weekly since its first issue from the fall of 1907.
VMI fields 14 teams on the NCAA Division I level (FCS, formerly I-AA, for football). Varsity sports include baseball, basketball, men's and women's cross country, football, lacrosse, men's and women's rifle, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's swimming & diving, men's and women's track & field, and wrestling. VMI is a member of the Big South for almost all sports; it is an associate member of the Southern Conference for wrestling, the MAAC for lacrosse, and the MAC for rifle. The VMI team name is the Keydets, a Southern style slang for the word "cadets".
VMI has the third-smallest enrollment of any FCS football college, after Presbyterian and Wofford. Approximately one-third of the Corps of Cadets plays on at least one of VMI's intercollegiate athletic teams, making it one of the most active athletic programs in the country. Of the VMI varsity athletes who complete their eligibility, 92 percent receive their VMI diplomas.
VMI played its first football game in 1871. The one-game season was a 2–4 loss to Washington and Lee University. There are no records of a coach or any players for that game. VMI waited another twenty years, until 1891, when head coach Walter Taylor would coach the next football team. The current head football coach at VMI, Sparky Woods, was named the 30th head coach on 13 February 2008. The Keydets play their home games out of Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium, built in 1962. VMI's last winning football season was in 1981.
Perhaps the most famous athletic story in VMI history was the two-year run of the 1976 and 1977 basketball teams. The 1976 squad advanced within one game of the Final Four before bowing to undefeated Rutgers in the East Regional Final, and in 1977 VMI finished with 26 wins and just four losses, still a school record, and reached the "Sweet 16" round of the NCAA tournament.
The current VMI basketball team is led by head coach Duggar Baucom and associate head coach Daniel Willis.
VMI's alumni include a Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Pulitzer Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, Medal of Honor recipients, an Academy Award winner, an Emmy Award and Golden Globe winner, Senators and Representatives, a Supreme Court Justice, college and university presidents, many business leaders and numerous flag officers, including service chiefs for three of the four armed services.
VMI considers non-graduates who completed the Ratline as alumni:
During World War II the U.S. Army made use of VMI for providing technical education and training to soldiers. Though they did not matriculate as cadets, nor did they live within the VMI cadet system, they nonetheless attended VMI for some period. Among these non-alumni is filmmaker Mel Brooks, who trained at VMI for 12 weeks.