A 'Half-Baked' VMI

June 22, 1991

A federal judge has upheld the Virginia Military Institute's xTC males-only admission policy. U.S. law clearly states that such schools as VMI, which have always been single-sex, may continue to be, but opponents of this policy in public institutions believe it is unconstitutional. Yet this is not as easy an issue to dispose of as it looks. The federal judge's ruling will definitely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Virginia women are right that as taxpayers and citizens they should not be denied a "unique" educational experience the state provides for males. But VMI is just as right when the school claims its males-only policy is in large part what makes the experience unique. The questions for the Supreme Court will be: 1) Does VMI's policy further an important state objective? 2) Can VMI do so only by following this exclusionary policy?

VMI's objective is to produce civilian and military leaders. Its models used to be the service academies. Those now have women in increasing proportions. As President Bush noted at West Point recently, 1,000 women have graduated from the U.S. Military Academy. But a VMI attorney said at its trial, after a West Pointer testified that its standards had changed, "We don't want to be like West Point, we don't want to be a half-baked, watered-down version of what we are now."

We sympathize with VMI. Single-sex education has merits. So does tradition. If the Supreme Court approves of VMI's uniqueness, no harm will be done to Virginia's women. The state has a diverse, excellent collection of colleges and universities (including three private all-women's colleges). But harm may be done to VMI.

Many Virginia men already choose more highly rated public colleges for a better education: Virginia Polytechnic Institute (almost half women), the University of Virginia (half women) and the College of William and Mary (majority women). Even private Washington and Lee is now a third women. A VMI education will likely become less and less relevant -- and less valuable -- in the brave new "co-ed" worlds of commerce, the professions and the military. The school could turn into a half-baked version of the great public universities its graduates must compete with. Virginia's taxpayers may question the wisdom of continuing VMI as it is.

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