Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins '85 interview with Ian Shapira, Washington Post - Nov. 15, 2021
The following is a transcript of a Washington Post interview of Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins following Gov. Ralph Northam’s address to the Corps of Cadets. Despite knowing that he was going to interview Maj. Gen. Wins after the governor’s talk, the Post’s Ian Shapira published a story at 8:55 p.m. prior to talking to Maj. Gen. Wins. Shapira’s story was published six minutes after the governor’s speech ended. The reporter did not attend the speech.
The interview transcript is followed by a text conversation asking the reporter why he couldn’t wait 15 minutes to publish his story so that the Institute’s comments were reflected in the story.
Ian Shapira: Hello?
Col. Bill Wyatt: Hey, Ian, it's Bill, how are you?
Ian Shapira: Hey, how you doing?
Col. Bill Wyatt: Good. I'm sitting here with General Wins.
Ian Shapira: Hey General Wins, how are you?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: I’m doing well, Ian. How are you?
Ian Shapira: I'm hanging in there. Just trying to you know, just juggle everything going around, we got bedtime with the kids and all that. So just, all is good on my end. Thanks for taking this phone call late at night. I appreciate it.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: No problem. No problem. We've had a long day here, but it just gives me a little time to go and get ready for tomorrow.
Ian Shapira: Okay, cool.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Yeah. Hey, yeah. So before you start asking questions, and I certainly will entertain any questions that you have. I just want to kind of let you know my perspective. First of all, is that tonight, Governor Northam came to Lexington, to speak with our Corps of Cadets and some selected faculty, those that chose to attend some members of our Board of Visitors those that chose to attend, and some from our alumni agencies who chose to attend. And the first thing I would tell you is that the governor did not come to a hostile environment, as was described, okay, the governor came to his alma mater, to speak to about 1,690 young men and women who embody and carry out what we talk about when we talk about citizen soldiers and young men and women who are civil, whether or not they believe or agree with the message that's being put before them. And it's their purpose, and what we try to instill in them to be reasoned judgment and intellectually curious. Okay, so that's the backdrop of what took place today, the governor had the opportunity, and he delivered on a message to the Corps as an alum of the Corps and as the chief executive of the state. So that they understood his perspective of where he sits now as the governor and the actions that he's had to take. But also that of a former cadet, one who has undergone some of the same challenges that our current corps have undergone.
Ian Shapira: That's great. That's great. I've heard from some cadets, and told me that everybody was really respectful. And, you know, they behaved well, and that they took it well, and there was great reception.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Well, I it was, it was exactly as I would have expected it from our corps of cadets. And the one thing that I've asked them to do, which they've demonstrated time and time again, contrary to the narratives that are put out, is they demonstrate the very best of who they are as VMI cadets.
Ian Shapira: Great. Great. Well, thanks for letting me know that I appreciate it. Did you have any of the thoughts on his speech? Like did you have any specific takeaways from his speech?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: I took away that the Governor, as am I, we're forward looking. We're interested in doing the things that we believe need to occur here at the school to move it forward. We are not averse to change in the right way. I certainly believe that we have defined what that change will look like. And we've taken into account the recommendations coming from the Barnes and Thornburg report in such a way that we understand what was reinforced in that report. And those are the things that are fundamental to VMI. And they are the things that we'll continue to hold on to because we think it allows us to develop young men and women of character here and we just like many other colleges in the state, will take action on any violations or infractions that are inconsistent with that.
Ian Shapira: Got it. Okay, great. I just had a few more questions.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Sure. Okay.
Ian Shapira: You know, when I was talking to people ,to students, and alumni, and parents in advance of this interview. I'm sure you have seen this from day one with Northam given his own troubles with race, given the controversy that came out in early 2019 with his yearbook, photos, both in his medical school yearbook and VMI’s yearbook. You know, a lot of people felt like the investigation’s, you know, on the one hand, they felt like the investigation was fine to do but maybe Northam was the wrong person to order it, given his own past. And I wanted to ask you, what did you make? What do you make of that argument that his past made him the wrong person to order this investigation?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Well, first of all, it's hard for me, and I can't speak for what the governor's past looks like. Only I believe the governor can speak for that. But what I will say is that I don't understand, at least in my little circle, I don't understand how anyone else other than the chief executive of the state, of which we are one of 15 to 17 public institutions, when things are brought to his attention, that may or may not be accurate, and but certainly represent things that are inconsistent with how public institutions ought to operate. I don't know that there's anyone else in the commonwealth who would do a direct examination, and investigation, and audit. So from that perspective, it made sense. And it makes sense to me that, given the reports that the chief executive would direct some type of inquiry.
Ian Shapira: Great. Just a few more questions. And then I'll and then I'll go to bed. Are you concerned? You know, I guess this is something that I raised in my recent article about VMI, which was a lot of alumni, cadets included, they're mixed about the new the incoming administration, and they're concerned that Youngkin whose campaign relied a lot on race, will appoint new board members who might be resistant to the kinds of changes you're spearheading. And I guess I'm just wondering, are you worried about that at all? Are you worried about a push by some alumni to bring back even the Stonewall Jackson statue or other Confederate symbology that you all are trying to minimize or eliminate?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Well, I'll put it like this Ian, VMI, just like all the other public institutions in the state, but certainly VMI has had a long history of building a relationship, not only with the governor's office, but with the legislature as well. As a public institution, we have to build those relationships because of our public standing, and the fact that a large portion of our resources comes from the state. We will have and have had a very good relationship with the current governor. And I expect that we will have a very good relationship and build a relationship with the next administration as they come in. There'll be a lot of things that we will have an opportunity to inform the new administration about as a public institution, the size, the type of institution we are, the value that we bring to the Commonwealth, all of those things will occur over the next administration, just like they have in the previous administrations. And oftentimes for us, and something that we're very proud of, it begins for us, typically, with an inauguration that for over 100 years has had the Corps of Cadets involved in the inauguration ceremonies. And so we look forward and anticipate that that will happen. And that will be the start of the building of a relationship with the new administration.
Ian Shapira: So you're all going to definitely, so VMI’s Corps of Cadets will be in Youngkin’s inauguration?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: We anticipate that we will be. There are no guarantees. It's certainly up to the governor in his office, but we look forward to it if the opportunity presents itself.
Ian Shapira: Cool. And just to clarify, so basically, you're not worried about going backwards? You're with the new administration, you're all about going forwards?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: I'm about going forward and I'm pretty sure that we will be able to build a strong relationship with the new administration.
Ian Shapira: Okay, great. And just two more questions. What concrete changes are you most excited about that are coming up? For you like, are there a couple concrete changes that you're just really, that you're really excited about?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Well, I think all the things that we're doing right now bring a degree of energy to the institute. First of all, we're coming out of a tough year last year with the COVID environment, where we've resumed most of the same activities. We've got a new team here, who I'm very excited about. They're the right team. And they're a very professional team. And we're implementing the right set of changes, but holding on to those foundational things about the institute that need to remain as we move forward but build a better VMI that is focused on citizen soldiers, young people of character, who are going to go out and be prepared to go and work in a very, very diverse world.
Ian Shapira: Okay, great. And that's my last thing was to ask you is just when I was looking at the budget request, in response to the investigation, it asked for three, you know, asked for additional money for new for several new admissions officers. And this was really intriguing to me, it caught my eye, because it was asking for three new admissions officers that will focus on underrepresented populations. And that seemed really intriguing to me. And so I wanted to ask you, what do you think the ideal makeup of the student body should be? And how do you and then I guess a second question to that would be, how do you envision on persuading more Black students and other minorities and women to enroll in VMI.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: So I can't give you a specific number in terms of what our overall diversity makeup should be. What I would tell you is that I think what we should be doing here is we ought to be creating awareness and opportunity for young men and women, about VMI, the quality of the education, and that this is a great educational environment for them here in Lexington, Virginia. And what that means for us, is that we've got to go out and we've got to be purposeful in our recruitment efforts, more so than we have been in the past. And I think we have to reach out to high schools, to job fairs, to other resources that are out there differently from what's been done in the past so that young men and women, regardless of what race or color they are, there's a greater awareness of the type of school that VMI is, and that might appeal to them. So I certainly believe that among our corps, and the women in our corps, that we can do better than 13%. And we can do better than 13% with highly qualified women. I certainly believe that among our overall minority population, we can do best…
Ian Shapira: Sorry. Sorry, general. You broke up. You said I certainly am. You said, you can do better than 13% for women in our Corps, but then.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: So I believe we can do better than 13% of women in our Corps in terms of highly qualified young women who want to come here and excel. And I think among our minority population, we can certainly do better in our overall numbers of somewhere around, don't quote me on the numbers, but I want to say about 25 to 28%. But that's probably I don't know if it's exactly that number, but I believe we can do better, but it's about increasing the awareness.
Ian Shapira: Got. Yeah, I think the black population for fall 2020 at least was around 6%. I don't know if that's still the case
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: It's historically been somewhere around 7%. And I think this year, it was probably a little higher, but that was only because our overall numbers of students that came in matriculated this year was lower, but so it hovers somewhere around 7, 8%.
Ian Shapira: So the Black population right now for this current year is somewhere between 7, 8%?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Correct.
Ian Shapira: Okay. Okay. I didn't really have anything else to ask. Those are sort of the main questions, but if there's anything else you want to touch on, you know, feel free to say something if you have something else you want in mind you want to say. But I really appreciate this generous offer. Yeah. So.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Yeah, no, no, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. And, and, you know, I certainly believe that when things get written, I'm pretty passionate, particularly now, after having been on the ground for year, and having been the superintendent for about that time, both on an interim basis and now as the permanent superintendent. I think what I would tell you is I'm pretty passionate about the interactions that I have with the Corps, the young men and women. And I certainly see a lot of young people who are trying to figure things out, but a lot of young people who have enormous potential to go out and do great things. And so, I think as people begin to understand what VMI is, and what it produces, I think you would benefit from gaining value and understanding of what we produce. And that hasn't changed. And those young people do tremendous things and will be ready to go out and make a difference.
Ian Shapira: Yes, I believe that's the case. And I've met a lot of incredible people, incredible students at the school. So it's been that's been a great upside to all this is that I have gotten to meet so many wonderful people to school, especially students. But anyway, I presume you're gearing up for college basketball season.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Yeah, we are. We're one in one now. I think we have a game tomorrow. We lost a close one here last week. But we're excited about it. I think…
Ian Shapira: Are you allowed to play if you wanted to, to suit up?
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Yeah, I've got two problems with that, Ian. It's my left knee and my right knee. But other than that, I'd be happy to do anything that Coach Earl would need me to do. If he wants me to get some balls out of the rack or go retrieve balls, I'm happy to do that.
Ian Shapira: Well, I would love to, I would love to see you play. Well, anyway, thank you again, I'm gonna I'll try to incorporate some of this material into our story for tonight. And I'm really grateful that you offered this and I always I really, really do enjoy our conversations, and I hope we can talk more.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Okay. All right. Thanks.
Ian Shapira: Have a great night. Bill, thank you very much for organizing this.
Col. Bill Wyatt: Yeah, thanks. Good night.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins: Bye bye.
SMS Transcript -- Col. Bill Wyatt, VMI director of communications and marketing, discusses Washington Post article release without comments by Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, '85, superintendent, with reporter Ian Shapira, Nov. 15, 2021:
COL. BILL WYATT, VMI: You couldn't have waited 15 minutes to include the Institute's perspective? How will you be incorporating his remarks?
IAN SHAPIRA, Washington Post: We are updating the story now with his remarks.
COL. WYATT: You couldn't have waited 15 minutes?
COL. WYATT: That's pretty unprofessional knowing full well you were going to interview MG Wins.
SHAPIRA: My editors wanted the story online as soon as the speech was over. I am adding the superintendent and other reaction now and we will republish the story online once I am done. The story will not appear in our print edition until Wednesday's paper.
COL. WYATT: Didn't you tell them you had time scheduled with MG Wins?
SHAPIRA: Yes and they told me we'd add that after publishing the initial versions.
COL. WYATT: That's a bunch of crap. Maybe next time I will talk MG Wins out of making time for you.