Lori Parrent
Secretary to Gen. Peay

P: (540) 464-7311
F: (540) 464-7660
E: parrentlr@vmi.edu

201 Smith Hall
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, VA 24450

Remarks to the VMI Faculty and Staff

20 August 2012

Virginia Military Institute

Good afternoon. I welcome you to a new academic year and the beginning of VMI’s 173rd year. This commences my tenth academic year with you…and I would like to take a few moments today to reflect on what we have accomplished together these past years, but more importantly, to discuss the significant challenges facing all colleges and universities in the Commonwealth, and the excitement associated with the important work to be accomplished this year. The Institute has made splendid advancement in many categories since 2003, not only in the visible number of new buildings and facilities, but clearly in the quality of its cadets, faculty, programs, and reputation.

I extend a very warm welcome to the new members of the faculty and staff…and hope this will be the start of a rewarding and satisfying long-term relationship with the Institute. As you have no doubt already discovered, VMI is an academic community that addresses all aspects of the development of our cadets -- including the physical and moral as well as the intellectual. The success of the Institute, in fact, is best measured by how well we integrate these separate aspects into what traditionally has been called the education of the “whole person.” This approach to education is not unique to VMI, though also not widespread…, yet there are parts of it – based on our history, traditions, and educational philosophy – that can be found only at the Institute, and this is why we sometimes refer to it as “The VMI Way.” In the months and years to come, you will not only participate in this system that seeks to transform youngsters into informed, motivated, and disciplined young adults, but you will also help to guide and adapt the VMI system to meet their’s and the nation’s changing needs.

I also welcome back those members of the faculty and staff returning from summer furlough and sabbatical leave. The strength of any great college or university lies primarily with those who serve in the front lines: those who teach, coach, guide, advise, administer, and keep the institution moving forward. That is especially true of VMI which is not only the classroom and leadership laboratory for our cadets….but, for four demanding years, also their home. We are fortunate in the quality of our faculty members for their skill in teaching, their dedication to scholarship, and their ability to relate to the young men and women who look to them for knowledge, guidance, and inspiration. In many colleges, alumni often remember best their fellow classmates. At VMI, that is also true – though they speak not of classmates but of “Brother Rats” – but, also remarkable, is how dedicated and connected former cadets remain over the years to their VMI instructors and coaches. Here, truly, teaching is an inspired calling…. and I “salute” all who have dedicated their lives to this noble profession.

The last few years have been especially challenging for institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth and across the nation. The long years at war and a falling or flat economy, coupled with steadily declining state support of public colleges and universities, has caused many institutions to retrench, constrict, and limit their programs. State support for the Institute in terms of resources for its operational budget has been reduced from 38% to 16% in the past decade. It is not surprising that these reductions would be the consequence of hard times. With economic threats facing our citizenry and all of U.S. higher education, we increasingly see…

• Natural tensions growing between faculty–centric expectations and State and Board governance corporative models that emphasize operating efficiencies and cost containment in order to limit tuition increases.

• Increased pressure to integrate distance learning or on-line instruction in our courses, and in some cases as a replacement or substitute with the objective to massively grow enrollment while reducing costs per student.

• The development of partnerships and affiliations, to facilitate course credit and transfers….and substantive discussion for three year degrees.

• The centralization of processes, out-sourcing, greater use of facilities, increasing adjuncts, and more regulatory control.

• The increasing need for private philanthropy and public-private partnerships.

• Greater presence in the legislative arena by government relations teams and participation by senior college leaders on educational study committees to shape responses and new directions.

• Funding tied to statistical performance…enrollment and graduation rates, STEM degrees, in-state attendance, and utilization rates of classrooms.

Certainly, some of these are enhancements in terms of efficiencies, substance, and learning…while others do not necessarily fit VMI’s unique educational model, nor address the quality of the education experience.

Often, under such circumstances, colleges and universities turn to a purely operational and tactical approach, or … to state it another way … to an approach that is reactive. Performance at the operational level is essential, and perhaps it seems “safe,” but it cannot stand alone without the most thoughtful, strategic thinking and planning for the future. At VMI, throughout these recent difficult years…, we have continued to think strategically while negotiating the turbulence and uncertainty that has come with a declining economy and the needs of the nation. Much time, effort, and thought has gone into basic questions such as: “What is the role and responsibility of the Virginia Military Institute in today’s society?” and “What might it be in the future?” This took place against a “back-drop” of exponential rapid change. Upon completion of the highly successful ten (10) year Accreditation-Reaffirmation in 2007, and responding to new requirements of our QEP (Quality Enhancement Plan), the academic leadership and others courageously undertook a full review of our academic core-curriculum versus the option of submitting a “narrow or small” initiative. This review was all encompassing and rich and will be “reported-out” in September to SACS --- the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, our accrediting body. Like many, I felt this work would easily last a decade if not more. That was not to be the case.

Recognizing new requirements for change during this past year, and outside the on-going QEP work, the Dean and faculty now present a series of Academic Program Initiatives for study and completion principally in AY 2012-13 to better meet the vision for the Institute, promote greater vitality and contribution, and meet “right-sizing” objectives. Despite the day-to-day operational challenges, we must look deep into the future if we are to remain strong and vibrant, and that applies equally to the individual instructor in the classroom as it does to administrators of this Institute.

When I first addressed the faculty and staff in 2003, I made the following observations about the role and responsibility of VMI. I said, “In common with other institutions of higher education in the state and nation, VMI’s role is as a wholly undergraduate institution that offers the BA and BS degrees to students of the liberal arts, sciences, and engineering. But, as its name, character, organization, and history indicate, its role is more precise: it is a military college. To be more exact, it is a military institute. Among the many and diverse institutions that educate the youth of our nation, only a few carry this proud designation.” VMI has remained an entirely undergraduate military college, and it will continue as such for the foreseeable future. In fact, our goal (as you know) is to be known as the premier undergraduate military college … and among the very, very best undergraduate colleges in the nation.

Our work is to produce highly educated, informed young men and women who have the knowledge and skills to be useful citizens for all professions and ready, if qualified, to serve as citizen-soldiers. It is a philosophy of education that originated with our founders, J. T. L. Preston and Francis H. Smith, whose births one hundred years ago, we celebrate in 2011 and 2012. For going on 173 years, the Institute has offered an educational program based on a healthy balance among three academic domains … the humanities, the sciences, and engineering … accompanied by a military education component (mandatory ROTC and a Co-Curricula) that can lead to the awarding of a commission along with a college diploma. This multifaceted educational program continues to distinguish VMI from all other undergraduate colleges.

Some years ago, the Academic Board approved a statement of educational philosophy that included the following {and I quote}: “We value faculty who are interested not only in promoting mastery of a subject but also in nurturing in cadets a love of learning itself….” {end quote} That statement continues to guide us today. At the same time, as an “institute,” VMI has always tended to emphasize the practical side to a college education or, as the Founders aptly put it, an education that prepares cadets for all the great professions. Cadets who graduate from the Institute need to have an understanding and appreciation of great literature, art, music, and philosophy. They need to be able to put into words their thoughts in a clear and persuasive manner. They need to be able to analyze complex issues and solve complex problems. And they need to be prepared to live in an increasingly technological world.

“Vision 2039” continues to be our roadmap; it is a statement of ambitious goals. It is a plan to truly improve cadets’ education and personal development and to enhance the post’s facilities. Since its inception in 2003, it has examined the academic curriculum, military and athletic training programs, and the environment and culture of the Institute, seeking a more “common purpose” and greater “civility” in all that we do. The Vision has a focus that emphasizes leader development…synchronized and integrated across the Institute in every classroom, in every athletic program, in the regimental system, and in the barracks. And it is a plan to ensure that VMI remains a state and national treasure at its 200th birthday in 2039. All the initiatives of “Vision 2039” are targeted on crafting a four-year journey that produces young men and women of character to lead and if necessary to serve our nation in times of peril and peace. The bottom line has been and remains a determination to strengthen and to position VMI to meet the future needs of its graduates in a dynamic and changing world environment.

Creating an environment to facilitate and encourage the major goals of “Vision 2039”, by necessity, has meant improving, updating, and expanding our physical facilities. This has been, perhaps, the most visible aspect of “Vision 2039.” Though only the stage and foundation upon which programs are carried out, and “never” as important as the people and ideas behind those programs, facilities are nevertheless essential to success. There have been many improvements, additions and new buildings: Third Barracks and Lejeune Hall; upgrading of Foster Stadium and Alumni Field; the renovation of Mallory and currently the New Science Building (shortly to be dedicated as Maury-Brooke Hall); Nichols Engineering; North Post and Saunders Fields; an expanded Kilbourne Hall; a new Gray-Minor baseball complex; a new museum and acquisition of the Jackson House; numerous new parking areas; 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; Shell Hall, and this year a total modernization of our Post Hospital. All of these changes have taken place over the past decade and … have taken place during a period of dramatically declining state budgets and funding for higher education. That is a testimony not only to our government relations, construction and marketing teams, but also to you as it has been VMI’s reputation for competency, professionalism, and integrity, that has gained the legislature’s and private donor’s confidence and trust….resulting in approximately $300 million of construction.

We should all be particularly proud of our academic performance. Princeton Review, Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and a myriad of others…have ranked VMI well in the upper quartile of all. Two weeks ago, Forbes ranked the Institute in the top 5% of 6500 accredited colleges across the nation. Our small classrooms (1:11 faculty-student ratio), impressive number of Ph.D. qualified instructors, 98% of our students with jobs at graduation, and our graduation rates all contribute to our expanded reputation. But it is also “word of mouth” and our credentials…the graduate…that favorably impacts as well. And, it should be noted that, while still in its “infancy”, we now have 20 separate agreements with superb graduate schools that will beneficially serve our graduates and faculty in the future.

At graduation, approximately 50% of recent classes have taken commissions across all services…a significant measure and statement in time of war. This is a tribute to their desire to serve and 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, competitive performance. We should note that 410 of our cadets play NCAA sports and another 600 participate in physical club sports or 60 % (combined) of the Corps of Cadets. We have been awarded the Big South Sportsmanship Award numerous times. No other college in America plays on this field.

Much has changed over the past decade, but much at VMI has remained unchanged. And in this respect I am talking about the fundamental ideals and systems that have sustained the Institute throughout its long history. Despite the many changes in the look and fabric of the Institute, it remains essentially what is has always been: a disciplined community of learning and individual development, dedicated to the highest standards of integrity and personal honor. We continue to teach cadets how to organize and manage time, how to break down problems, how to think under pressure … and always to act honorably. As a result, VMI is well-known and highly respected across the Commonwealth and increasingly across the nation. Admissions numbers grow each year…and in quality. Two days ago we matriculated 508 cadets, from 36 states and the District of Columbia, and 7 foreign countries; 53% were from Virginia and 47% out of state. 46 were females; 100 were recruited NCAA athletes; 51.4% majoring in math, science, and engineering and 48.6 % in the liberal arts…with a grade point average roughly 3.5. This is the 2nd largest matriculating class in VMI’s history. It was a very selective and competitive process this year. I firmly believe parents and many of America’s youth want the VMI challenge and education.

I mentioned earlier that we cannot just react to operational challenges… we must think ahead and plan and act strategically. This we must do at all levels, whether it involves programs and practices at the Institute, VMI’s role in the local community, or VMI’s role in the state and national higher education community. The “unexpected and unimagined” does happen, and we need to be prepared: the monumental developments in communications and information technology that have taken place since “Vision 2039” was announced a short nine years ago; the crisis in our U.S. economy and the lingering threat of economic collapse in other nations over the past five years; the advent of home-grown terrorists, and the continuing and concerning conditions affecting our national security should impact our thought and actions. Whatever happens, I am confident that VMI will be prepared for we have been thinking strategically as well as operationally. In some ways, this is also the “Spirit of VMI.” And, so, my remarks this afternoon “welcoming you back” as we commence Academic Year 2012-13 have really been only a “prelude” to my personal energy and excitement…, and I hope yours, as we welcome a new class and the returning Old Corps (back) on Sunday evening.

Why am I excited…and energized at the start of this academic year?

• The set of new academic initiatives…really the first significant change since the approval of the Core Curriculum eight years ago…now being studied by multi-faceted faculty committees. This work could involve: the establishment of a new Information Technology Department; the redirection of our current English and Fine Arts Department to promote robustness and relevance; introduction of new languages in the Modern Languages and Cultures Department, and perhaps significant realignment of courses and content in the Psychology Department. A major part of this study envisions clearer enrollment objectives by degree granting departments to ensure our initiatives will be appropriately actioned. These initiatives literally will impact all departments at the Institute.

• On-going accreditation work in all three engineering departments, the Economics & Business Department, the Chemistry Department, and the Office of Cadet Counseling.

• The fall STEM Conference which is rapidly gaining national interest, and the spring Honor Conference…with objective to help establish honor systems at other colleges and high schools --- as a “follow-on” request from last year’s inaugural Honor Conference.

• The commencement of a broad-based faculty and staff leader and professional development study…and publishing a work for each cadet and parent on leader-development opportunities in the Corps.

• The work being done today that may significantly increase the performance and number of commissioning cadets at graduation.
• Advancing engineering and construction of our new $80 million South Post Corps Indoor Training Facility, and programming Cormack Hall for our Physical Education Department and Cocke Hall as a Corps (and Faculty) Support building.

• Initiating Phase II construction of Saunders Fields on North Post to complete our Leadership Valley Project.

• Showing visitors our beautiful post, the result of the daily work of our Physical Plant Team…and explaining our deep history and traditions.

• The excitement surrounding the competitive improvement of our athletic teams and “winning” the VMI way.

• The “quiet work”, behind the scenes, “organizing” for the public roll-out of our next Campaign in late 2013 or early 2014.

• The numerous operational details and procedures carried out by our Commandant’s Team that more efficiently and professionally impact the Corps each day.

• The Oath Ceremony to the new Rat Mass at New Market, and observing their remarkable change in such short time.

• The opportunity to witness so many individual examples of teaching and mentoring at all levels by the staff, faculty, coaches and Corps, that truly make a difference in a cadet’s life.

• Reviewing the splendid and very difficult work, principally by the Institute Planning Committee, as it prepares operating budgets and master plans, conducts assessments, updates all General Orders, and prepares new policies, procedures, and best practices that discipline and administratively guide the Institute.

• Observing and listening to our cadets, under the tutelage of a faculty member, as they proudly present their undergraduate research work…and “minutes later” don full dress and march on evening parade.


• Hopefully, the opportunity to observe the Corps of Cadets on display “nationally” at the Presidential Inauguration in January 2013.

These are only a “few” reasons for my renewed energy and excitement…and perhaps explain why in May I’m happy to see the Corps depart for furlough…and in August excited to welcome these young people “home”.

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, keeping in mind that little…little happens at VMI that doesn’t affect the whole enterprise, I am confident that the Institute will continue to provide generations of informed, skilled, fit, confident, dependable men and women of the highest integrity for our state and nation. I encourage each of us to engage, to be more involved, to deepen our friendships, and truly enjoy our daily regimen. Each year this important work begins anew, and with that in mind I wish you every success as you launch into this new academic year. Let’s get started….!