LEXINGTON, Virginia – The Virginia Military Institute superintendent resigned Monday, a week after state officials ordered an investigation into what they called a culture of “continuing structural racism” at the college.
The Visitors’ Council accepted the resignation of retired Army General JH Binford Peay III, 80, “with deep regret,” Council Chairman John William Boland said in a statement.
“General Peay has served VMI exceptionally well as superintendent for over 17 years. General Peay is a great American, patriot and hero. He has profoundly changed our school for the better in every way,” the statement read.
The VMI, founded in 1839, was the country’s first state-supported military college. School officials said they would cooperate with an investigation, but denied the allegation that the institution had systemic racial problems.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI graduate, and other senior Democrats sent a letter to the public school board a week ago announcing an investigation into its culture, policies, practices and fairness in disciplinary proceedings. The move follows a Washington Post article that described black cadets and former students facing “relentless racism.”
The Post’s story described incidents such as threats of lynching and a white teacher in class recalling his father’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan. He cited interviews with “over a dozen” current and former students of color.
The Roanoke Times also reported months ago of former black students speaking out against racism in school.
Boland responded to officials last week, saying the school welcomes an exam.
“However, systemic racism does not exist here and a fair and independent review will find it to be true,” Boland wrote in the letter.
Boland’s statement on Monday said the board would turn “immediately” to finding a new superintendent. Brig. General Robert Moreschi, former deputy superintendent of academics and dean of the faculty, will serve as interim superintendent.
A school spokesperson said Peay was not granting maintenance requests.
His resignation letter, which was posted online, said Northam’s chief of staff “conveyed” on Friday that Northam and some legislative leaders had lost confidence in his leadership and wanted his resignation.
“Change is overdue at VMI, and the Visitors Council has a deep responsibility to accept it,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement. “Diversity is a fundamental commitment.”
Yarmosky said Northam “wishes General Peay good luck and is grateful for his decades of public service.”