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Jewish World Review July 12, 2001/ 21 Tamuz, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

VMI: Ratting out the rats -- "MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR,'' has taken on new meaning at Virginia Military Institute, where Stonewall Jackson taught math and George C. Marshall, the architect of victory in World War II, learned military science. A cadet is pregnant and expects to deliver her baby cadet later this month.

The mother-to-be does not expect to rejoin her class in the fall, when she would have been a senior. The father-to-be's name has not been made public, but it's assumed that he's a cadet, too.

Surprise, surprise. You don't have to be a beekeeper or a bird-watcher to figure out what moves the birds and the bees. VMI, which was forced in 1997 to become coed or give up the federal funds that it, literally, could not afford to do, has foundered on the rocks of reality. When you put healthy young men and women together, no matter how disciplined and rigorous their training, sexual attraction will out. So much for rules.

The first-year classmen, known as "rats,'' are not exactly romantic heroes and heroines in the mating game. Hair is closely cropped and humiliating and degrading exercises tear down egos. VMI rebuilds egos, hair grows back, and camaraderie begets intimate connections. If cadets don't breed like rabbits, they can breed like, well, rats.

Clearly, these were not the "affairs'' VMI had in mind when the VMI Office of Cadet Affairs was put in charge of coed extracurricular activities. So what's a school administration to do?

The mission of VMI is to train "citizen soldiers'' with a well-established set of character values, educating students for leadership roles in society for a professional life and for "the military in time of national need.'' Stonewall Jackson, who found some of the men who stood "like a stone wall'' at First Manassas from among his students at VMI, is no doubt spinning at the mere thought of soldiers in skirts, let alone maternity clothes.

The VMI administration, reacting quickly to the pregnant coed, set down a policy that speaks directly to what we used to call common sense. The school will dismiss a female cadet who becomes pregnant, as well as any male cadet who fathers a child, whether with a cadet or with a woman who lives off campus.

"One cannot be a parent and a cadet at the same time,'' says Lt. Col. Charles J. Steenburg, a VMI spokesman. "To be a good parent, you don't leave and go to school, and be somewhere else.''

Rules are rules. Or they used to be. You might expect potential citizen-soldiers, whether male or female, to appreciate the equality of this position and to value the straight-forward sensibility behind it, that a new baby needs a parent who is present, and prospective soldiers need to train as a cohesive unit.

But nooooo, that's merely common sense. Diverse groups of feminists, civil-rights lawyers and anti-abortion activists are concerned less with fairness and the workability of the new policy than with their own separate agendas, arguing that VMI will discriminate against pregnancy, even though it would discriminate in favor of both the baby and the training mission of the institution.

It's likely that the U.S. Department of Justice could find the new policy to be in violation of Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds. That would be costly (in the millions of dollars) indeed.

"My poor feeble sex has embarked on the maddest, wickedest folly of its imbecilic history,'' essayist Florence King wrote more than a decade ago when a young woman, supported by her sisters, embarked on enrolling at VMI. At that time the issue was more easily rendered in terms of satire than sense. But that was before the case wound through the courts. Today we are all witnesses to the triumph of madness, wickedness and folly.

The herd mentality, which sociologists had seen as intimidating 1950s conformists, was taken over by defenders of "equal rights.'' This notion was brilliantly articulated by David Riesman, author of "The Lonely Crowd,'' who was in his 80s when he testified against VMI becoming coed.

The "other-directed conformists'' he had identified more than four decades earlier, he testified, had been replaced by doctrinaire feminists and politically correct censors who demand that everyone act, think, live and learn alike. The "steamroller that would crush VMI,'' he said, would ultimately destroy private single-sex education, too.

He didn't know then, as we know now, that it might also beget citizen-soldiers in maternity smocks.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS