Cadets take the lead in important elements of the Institute — the Corps of Cadets, the Honor Court, the Class System, and in the various ROTC units. The manner in which these elements interrelate creates the VMI's unique system of leadership development.
The heart of VMI’s student government is the honor system. Although honor, like many idealistic concepts, defies exact definition, it clearly refers to relationships which govern society and which yield to the members of that society immediate and tangible benefits. The honor system at VMI is not so much a set of rules—although rules are published and distributed to every cadet—as it is a way of living. Lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating those who do are considered violations of the Honor Code. A cadet’s statement in any controversy is accepted without question as truthful; examinations are not proctored; the word “certified” on a paper means that the work is the cadet’s own and that the cadet has neither given nor received help.
The Corps as a whole has always been the guardian of its own honor, and its honor is its most cherished possession. To administer the system, the Corps elects an Honor Court. Any suspected violation is reported to this Honor Court, which conducts an investigation of the circumstances. An accused cadet may admit guilt and leave the Institute or may request trial. If found guilty, the cadet is dishonorably dismissed. If the accused is acquitted, the case is closed, and all records pertaining to the case are destroyed.
The VMI Class System, consisting of the General Committee, the Executive Committee, the Officer of the Guard Association, and the Rat Disciplinary Committee, has far greater responsibilities than student government systems at other colleges.
This body enforces rules that govern the conduct of the Corps and grants increasing privileges to classes as they advance in seniority. The administration recognizes the General Committee and class officers as official representatives of the Corps and their separate classes, and it extends to them wide authority in self-government.
The Cadet Regiment is designed to provide the discipline of a military structure for the Institute’s student body. On the basis of demonstrated qualities of leadership and proficiency in military and academic studies, cadets are appointed rank.
The First Captain, as the highest-ranking cadet, commands the regiment. The Corps is accountable to the commandant; however, cadets provide the leadership to operate the Corps on a day-to-day basis and to accomplish long-term goals.
Preeminent among VMI graduates is George C. Marshall, who served as Cadet First Captain in 1901 and went on to lead America’s military to victory in World War II, served as secretary of state, and secretary of defense.