Remarks at the Institute Society Dinner
General J.H. Binford Peay, III
9 November 2012
Ladies and gentlemen of the Institute Society… On behalf of the faculty, staff, and cadets of the Institute, I take great pleasure in welcoming you this evening. This is the tenth time I have had the privilege of joining you as Superintendent on this festive occasion. It is a gathering that I always look forward to because it gives me an opportunity, on behalf of the entire VMI community, to “thank you” for your generous support and commitment to the Institute.
Here, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in the midst of a number of anniversaries important in the history of VMI. The 11th marks the 173rd anniversary of the founding of the Institute. Last year, 2011, was the bicentennial of the birth of COL J.T.L. Preston, principal advocate of the establishment of the Institute, author of the inscription that appears on the Parapet, and long-time professor of Latin. This year, we are celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of GEN Francis H. Smith, first superintendent whose tenure spanned fifty years – known to us as the “builder and rebuilder” of the Institute. Nation-wide, we are in the middle of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War, and in 2014 we will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Market. As a nation, we are also celebrating this year the bicentennial of the War of 1812, of which one of the results was the establishment of the Lexington Arsenal on this site in 1816. And, 100 years ago, Sir Moses Ezekiel’s statue of “Stonewall” Jackson was dedicated on the Parade Ground.
There are two other important anniversaries I must mention because they are even more relevant to this evening’s occasion. This year is the 75th anniversary of the creation of the VMI Foundation. And, next year we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of The Institute Society. In 1973, due largely to the inspiration of Executive Vice-President Joseph D. Neikirk, VMI Class of 1932, the VMI Foundation established The Institute Society as a way to encourage and recognize unrestricted financial support to VMI. Over that span of years, the Institute Society has routinely donated more than two-thirds of the unrestricted money raised through the Foundation Fund. As a result, the Society enabled VMI to provide that extra measure of excellence that has advanced our educational program to the forefront of American colleges. On behalf of all who have benefited from these remarkable organizations, I express warmest thanks.
The Institute’s past is a source of pride to us all, and we owe the founders and builders of this great institution our gratitude. Behind all that has been accomplished are the stories of great men and women who dedicated their lives and gave of their fortunes to insure that the Virginia Military Institute will flourish far into the future. I emphasize the word “flourish” because the Institute will not only survive, but will become stronger with each passing year. VMI’s future is bright.
There are important changes taking place in almost every corner of the Institute. The most obvious of these changes are the many renovations to aging buildings and other facilities. Not so obvious are modifications in the academic, military, and athletic programs. VMI is changing… but the Institute continues to be dedicated to producing, in the words of its founders, “…honorable youths… an honor to our country and our state, objects of honest pride to their instructors, and fair specimens of citizen-soldiers….”
Some of the most exciting developments at the Institute today are taking place in the academic program. Upon the completion of our “highly successful” ten year Accreditation-Reaffirmation in 2007…, the Institute’s academic leadership conducted a full review of the academic core-curriculum. After five years of study and work, this all-encompassing review was reported-out this past week to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, our accrediting agency.
And, recognizing new requirements for change just during this past year the Dean and faculty presented a series of Academic Program Initiatives to be completed by May 2013 to promote greater vitality and contribution, and to meet “right-sizing” objectives among the different disciplines and departments. These academic initiatives include strengthening the writing program in the Department of English and Fine Arts; introducing Mandarin Chinese into the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures; possibly creating a separate academic department in informational technology or computer science; and considering restricting the psychology program to a BS degree-only program. As with all areas of the Institute, we must look deep into the future if we are to remain strong and vibrant.
We are especially proud of our academic performance and reputation. Princeton Review, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and many others have ranked VMI well in the upper quartile of colleges. Last month, Forbes ranked the Institute in the top five percent of 6,500 accredited colleges across the nation. Our small class size (1:11 faculty-student ratio), impressive number of Ph.D. qualified professors, 98 percent of our students with jobs at graduation, and our strong graduation rate all contribute to our high reputation. But it is also “word of mouth” and our ultimate “credential”… the graduate … that favorably affects the reputation of the Institute.
Our reputation continues to attract growing numbers of well-qualified and talented young men and women. This year we had over 2000 applications. Admissions numbers grow each year… and in quality. At the start of this academic year, we matriculated 508 cadets from 36 states and the District of Columbia and seven foreign countries. The last three years have been the largest matriculating classes in VMI’s history. With the addition of Third Barracks, the Corps now numbers slightly greater than 1600 cadets. I firmly believe parents and many of America’s youth want the VMI challenge and our unique education.
We are also very proud of the fact that at graduation, in recent years, greater than 50 percent of our graduates have taken commissions across all services. In 2011, the number reached 60 percent. This is a significant measure and statement in time of war. And this is a tribute to their desire to serve and to the leadership and example of the men and women comprising our ROTC departments.
I am often asked, “What is VMI’s Way as regards athletics?” The answer in these turbulent athletic times bears repeating. It starts with a “One Corps – One Team” philosophy, with a solid underpinning of academics, honor, and discipline. It means no easy degrees, the very best of sportsmanship, and respect as confirmed by our competitors, limited sports and the right sports, being NCAA and Big South compliant, with reasonable expectations satisfied by a balanced and competitive performance. We should note that 422 of our cadets play NCAA sports, and another 866 participate in physical club sports…, an impressive 75% of the Corps of Cadets. We have been awarded the Big South Sportsmanship Award numerous times. No other college in America plays on this level playing field. We have work to do…, “never say die”!
Improving, updating, and expanding our physical facilities has been a highly visible part of “Vision 2039,” the long-range plan introduced when I arrived in 2003. Though only the stage and foundation upon which educational programs and training are carried out, and never as important as the people and ideas behind those programs, facilities are essential to success.
There have been many recent renovations, improvements, and new buildings and I encourage your visit to them: Third Barracks and Lejeune Hall; upgrading of Foster Stadium and Alumni Field; the renovation of Mallory Hall and currently the New Science Building; Nichols Engineering; North Post and Saunders Fields; an expanded ROTC facility in Kilbourne Hall; a new Gray-Minor baseball complex; a new VMI Museum and acquisition of the Jackson House in downtown Lexington; numerous new parking areas around Post; Marshall Hall, our Center for Leadership and Ethics; a new Hinty Hall supporting our Physical Plant team; increased cadet and ROTC training acreage and Sky Farm at McKethan Park; a Shell Hall; and a total modernization of our Post Hospital. Our classrooms are of highest technology and climate enhanced. All of these changes have taken place over the past decade, and they have taken place during a period of dramatically declining state budgets and funding for higher education. This is a testimony not only to our government relations, construction and marketing teams…, but also to VMI’s reputation for competency, professionalism, and integrity. These qualities have gained the legislature’s and private donor’s confidence and trust… resulting in approximately $350 million of construction in the past ten years.
At the present time, we are planning and securing resources to build a state-of-the-art $80 million South Post Corps Indoor Training Facility; programming Cormack Hall on Main Street, for a state of the art Physical Education Department; and looking to modify Cocke Hall as a Corps and faculty support building. We hope shortly to begin Phase II construction of Saunders Fields on North Post to complete what we call our “Leadership Valley Project”. Many of you will remember this area as “The Nile Valley”. On-going is a $19.6 million modernization of Maury-Brooke Hall (“The New Science Building”) to be completed late summer 2013.
After a decade of state financial cuts to higher education, encouragingly, state support stabilized this year at 17 percent of our total operational budget. We are also in the “quiet phase” of our next comprehensive campaign, and there is great excitement and considerable work ongoing as we organize for this endeavor, with public announcement of goals, organization, and plans in early 2014.
The Institute continues to stand on the bedrock of personal honor as described in VMI’s historic Honor Code. And in its fundamental expectations and requirements…, the VMI Honor System and the Honor Court basically remain as you knew them. The VMI Honor System is the most cherished of all our systems, and we continue to work tirelessly to ensure its integrity and effectiveness.
I firmly believe that the future holds even greater things for our school and its graduates, and that its reputation will rise to even greater heights. With all of us working together for the benefit of the cadet, I am confident that the Institute will continue to provide generations of informed, skilled, fit, confident, dependable men and women of the highest character and integrity for our state and nation.
Pamela and I are committed to an all-out effort in the years ahead to leave VMI –your school – positioned strongly for the future, and to serve our cadets, faculty, and staff efficiently and effectively. We thank you for your loyalty and continuing support.
Tonight’s “video presentation” is a sampling of our alumni, cadets and parents feelings for the Institute and their experience. It reminds all of us why private support is so critical to our success.
I now have the pleasure of introducing the VMI Cadet Glee Club…and COL John Brodie, our Director of Music and the VMI Band.