VMI and different drummers

January 12, 1993

"VMI truly marches to the beat of a different drummer," U.S. District Court Judge Jackson Kiser ruled.

Not this year. Not in the presidential inaugural parade. It won't march at all. Traditionally the school's cadets have marched, but this year there will be no VMI on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Some Virginians say their military school was snubbed because its males-only admissions policy is politically incorrect and unacceptable to the Clinton administration. Inaugural committee officials say that is not true, they just wanted more "diversity."

Instead of VMI cadets and other old favorites, there will be Elvis impersonators, chain saw jugglers, a reggae group, the Lawn Chair Precision Drill Team and the Gay and Lesbian Band of America, all of which march to the beat of a very different drummer. This makes good sense. It is a big country, and its diversity ought to be celebrated.

We understand VMI's blue mood. However, its real complaint should be with the Reagan-Bush crowd. Its real complaint is not being snubbed on inauguration day but being told it cannot continue as a males-only school unless Virginia stops subsidizing it or starts subsidizing an equal program for women. No Sister Rat, no Brother Rat, ruled the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The opinion was written by a Reagan appointee, Judge Paul Niemeyer of Baltimore. The case against VMI was argued by the Bush Justice Department.

We assume the Supreme Court -- if it reviews the decision -- will uphold the circuit court. It may go further. Some experts believe the court might rule there cannot be one public VMI for men and another for women, no matter how equal they are.

Under such a ruling, VMI could survive as a private institution. It could survive as a co-ed school, for that matter. If West Point and Annapolis can do it, so can VMI.

But such a ruling might also doom pedagogical arguments in favor of all single-sex education, though studies show this can benefit men and women, in school and later in the job market. We would be especially dismayed to see courts outlaw separate public schools for black males and females in the slums. This is an experiment that many educators, sociologists and others familiar with the grim situation in big cities persuasively argue may be the last, best hope for the worst of the ghettos.

Surely in the name of diversity, the Clinton administration will support this concept in the VMI case or some other appropriate one.

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