A Message from the Superintendent, Sept. 18, 2020
Dear Cadets, Faculty, Staff, and Parents:
It’s been nearly a month since the Corps of Cadets has returned to post. As you all know, the pandemic has affected every aspect of life at VMI. From barracks life, dining, drill, training, and academics, cadets have learned and followed new protocols and guidelines, sometimes at great sacrifice and with nimble adaptation. Likewise, the Institute itself has learned much over these past few weeks. Though we spent months planning, we did not have all the answers and continue to refine our plans.
I am pleased with how things have gone thus far. I believe that the Corps of Cadets and the faculty and staff have risen to the occasion. As I write this, our COVID-19 positive infection numbers are very low compared to our surrounding community and other schools around the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is due in no small part to the efforts of everyone here on post.
There are no easy answers during these strange times. We knew that operations this semester and possibly beyond would take place in a COVID-19 environment. It was not a matter of if, but rather, when. Our goal has been to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus wherever possible. Since it is impossible to eliminate the risk of the virus and fulfill our mission at the same time, we knew that there would be inconsistencies in many of our policies. For example, we require our cadets to be socially distanced in the classroom but space limits our ability to do so within Crozet Hall or within barracks. Given these restrictions, we received input from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and from VMI’s dining partner, Parkhurst, to develop a plan to reduce the risk of spreading the virus in Crozet Hall that included reducing the seating capacity, installing plexiglass barriers at each table, eliminating self-serve food lines, and splitting breakfast and supper roll call into multiple shifts. Similarly, VDH visited post in July and made suggestions for the proper arrangement of racks within each barracks room.
Many of you have expressed your concern over the recently scheduled admissions Open Houses. These Open Houses will not resemble the ones in which many of you participated in the past. The numbers of prospective cadets will be limited to a small number who will only be allowed to be accompanied by one other individual. They will not spend the night in barracks nor will they be allowed inside barracks. Their interaction with cadets will be limited to just a handful of cadets who will give them a post tour while maintaining proper social distance. All visitors will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and risk factors upon their arrival on post. Visitors will be required to wear face coverings. VMI’s efforts in recruiting on post through the Open Houses is essential to inform prospective cadets and families on the unique environment and culture of the Institute. Our experience has shown how impactful participation in an Open House is for each prospective cadet to determine if VMI is a best fit for their academic and co-curricular collegiate experience.
By all accounts, this pandemic will go on for some time. And so must we. VMI is moving forward with delivering on our mission albeit in very different ways than we have operated in the past. We will continue to recruit young men and women to be future cadets. We will continue to provide rigorous academics, participate in NCAA athletics, and train citizen-soldiers to be future leaders. In so doing, we will put the health and well-being of our cadets, faculty, and staff above all else. This does not mean there will not be risk. However, in making decisions on how to deliver services, the health and well-being of our community continues to be the primary factor in developing and evolving our protocols.
We appreciate the trust that has been given to VMI to educate and train our state and country’s future leaders. I believe we all prefer to operate as we have in previous years. Unfortunately, that does not appear likely this year. Whether in a boardroom or on a battlefield, we all face challenges in life. Rather than dwell on the negative, I prefer to use these challenges as opportunities to strengthen our cadets’ leadership qualities. VMI cadets and alumni have faced great adversity in the past. This pandemic will be added to that list when all is said and done. Our cadets will persevere and be stronger because of the trials and tribulations. Certainly, it will be added experience to each cadet’s formative development as future leaders in understanding the dynamics of meeting both operational and safety constraints.
I have heard from many parents and cadets who are concerned about Corps morale. I share those concerns. I have instructed my staff and the Commandant’s staff to work closely with cadet leaders to find appropriate outlets for cadets to relieve the stress that the pandemic, coupled with academic and military duties, may be causing. We are beginning to have conversations regarding Thanksgiving furlough as well as the possibility of limited general permit privileges. It is too soon, at this point, to make any final decisions. The last thing that I want to happen is to open the door too wide and have to scale back privileges at a later date and, more importantly, place the VMI community and Corps of Cadets at greater risk. We must find a balance between controlling the spread of the virus and granting privileges that have been earned. This balance will require patience on everyone’s part – cadets and parents alike.
Considering what is happening on college campuses around the Commonwealth and the country, we should be extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far, particularly when living and operating in the close confines of the Institute and the operational demands and constraints. Each member of the Corps of Cadets is commended for adhering, with diligence, to our new operational standards and contributing to our overall success. Our COVID-19 cases are low at the moment, but we know that can change in an instant as a result of one wrong decision. I appreciate the efforts taken to this point, and implore your patience and support. We will get through this together.
Leadership is the very cornerstone of VMI. There’s no better way to be a leader during this time than to show your concern for your Brother Rats, fellow cadets, and VMI community members through your constant adherence to pandemic protocols.