Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigns amid racism investigation

The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute resigned Monday after Virginia’s governor ordered an investigation into accusations of structural racism at the college. General J.H. Binford Peay II served as the school’s superintendent for 17 years.

In his resignation letter, Peay said the governor’s chief of staff informed him that Governor Ralph Northam and other state leaders “lost confidence” in his ability to lead and “desired” his resignation. “It has been the honor of my life to be the Superintendent of VMI for over seventeen years,” he wrote. “I always have and always will love the Institute, all of our cadets, alumni and the entire VMI family.”

John Boland, president of the school’s Board of Visitors, said administrators accepted Peay’s resignation with “deep regret,” calling him a “great American, patriot, and hero” that has “profoundly changed our school for the better in all respects.”

A Washington Post report earlier this month detailed experiences of racism from Black cadets at the college. The Post reported that many Black students felt unheard, surrounded by Confederate landmarks and reenactments, and had been subjected to numerous incidents of racism from fellow students.

In response, Northam announced an independent probe into the school’s “culture, policies, practices, and equity in disciplinary procedures.” Northam, a graduate of the college, said the alleged culture was “unacceptable for any Virginia institution in the 21st century, especially one funded by taxpayers.” 

Boland wrote that the school “welcomed” the review, but said that the Post’s reports of racist incidents “had more to do with an individual’s lapse of judgment” that the school’s culture. “Systemic racism does not exist here and a fair and independent review will find that to be true,” Boland wrote.

Peay was in support of keeping the school’s statue of Confederate leader Stonewall Jackson, something cadets were previously required to salute before the school ended the practice. In a July letter to cadets, Peay stated he was “committed to addressing and fixing any areas of racial inequality,” but also called Jackson’s statue representative of the college’s “direct ties to many of the historical figures that are the subject of the current unrest.”

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