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Virginia Military Institute on Friday named a Black general and alumnus as its interim superintendent, and he pledged to give the college a self-assessment of its racial culture as an independent investigation into claims of bigotry is about to begin.
The Lexington school named retired Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins its temporary leader, chosen by the board of visitors’ executive committee. Wins graduated from VMI in 1985 and spent 34 years in the Army. He is the first Black person to hold the highest position of leadership at the country’s oldest state-supported military college, which received $19 million from the state in fiscal 2020.
His arrival comes three weeks after the resignation of retired Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, who had led the school since 2003. Peay left shortly after Gov. Ralph Northam called for a third-party investigation into the school’s treatment of minority cadets following reports of racism by Black cadets and alumni.
“Gen. Peay’s 17 years of service to the Institute were transformative, and I am confident that Maj. Gen. Wins’ experience and values will provide steady and principled leadership as we continue to move the Institute forward,” John William Boland, president of the board of visitors, said in a statement.
Wins, 57, said in an interview that VMI will take a look in the mirror to ensure that as society has changed, VMI is keeping up with the times.
“You have to periodically take a look at how things are going relative to the model that you have and the young men and women who come into VMI from various different walks of life,” Wins said.
The essence of VMI — its honor system, its regimental system, the rat line and barracks life — won’t be altered. Those elements of the school teach duty, discipline and attention to detail, he said, and they are why VMI has produced great leaders.
Wins expects to name an individual or a team of people to advise him and the board on the topic of inclusion. The board has laid out a list of initiatives that he has begun to study, and he says the school will face the independent investigation with full transparency. Wins wants to find out what works and what needs to be changed.
“Those things that we know that need to be corrected, we’re going to take action, and we’re going to take action swiftly, if possible,” he said.
State leaders issued a request for proposals for administering the investigation with a deadline set for next week. A final report is expected in June.
VMI’s board voted last month to remove a statue of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson that stands in front of the student barracks. Jackson taught at VMI before serving in the Confederate army.
Wins grew up in Hyattsville, Md., near Washington, and attended VMI on a basketball scholarship. His father had enlisted in the Army and later became a police officer, but Wins never saw himself following in those footsteps.
As a high schooler, he was recruited by the Naval Academy, but he told the coach he didn’t envision a military career for himself.
A point guard and shooting guard, Wins helped lead VMI from last place in the Southern Conference as a freshman to the conference final as a senior. Wins is in the top five of the program’s all-time scoring list.
While a cadet, he never experienced racism, he said. But as a basketball player playing road games, he did hear derogatory racial comments from opposing fans.
Wins was the first member of his family to earn a college degree, and the scholarship he earned allowed him to attend school without working or taking breaks in his education.
After VMI, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, he was required to serve three years in the Army — VMI cadets are no longer bound by service requirements.
The Army kept presenting new opportunities for him, so he kept accepting them, prolonging his stay in the military. He worked in field artillery, earned two master’s degrees and was deployed to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and to Afghanistan, among other locations.
His final post before retirement was commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Army’s largest technology developer.
VMI, he said, will look at its model and assess how it’s working for all students from all backgrounds.
“We’ll work our way through the other challenges,” he said. “We’ll take the insights and recommendations that come forward from the independent investigation and what the team has already put together and figure out a way to move forward.”
A permanent superintendent is expected to be named in the summer.