• U.S.

Marching Forward

2 minute read

Defenders call it a bonding experience between college-age men sharing the rigorous physical regimen and discipline of a military education. Opponents call it state-sanctioned discrimination that ultimately bars women from access to power. Last week a federal appeals court in Richmond called it unconstitutional and ruled that the elite Virginia Military Institute must remedy its all-male admissions policy by opening its 153-year-old doors to both sexes, providing a separate program for women or forfeiting more than $10 million a year in state money. But while the decision overturns a lower-court ruling, it sends a mixed message by not ordering V.M.I. outright to admit women. Feminists say this demonstrates the reticence of even the court to tread on the Old Dominion that spawns many of the nation’s leaders.

School officials and faithful alumni contend it is simply a matter of diversity in approaches to education that, if stymied, will backfire. “It’s going to be the death knell of single-sex education,” warns Stephen C. Fogleman, chairman of an alumni task force fighting the change. But two of the options presented by the court are highly unlikely, says an A.C.L.U. lawyer who supported the Justice Department’s case against V.M.I. “The handwriting is on the wall. The only way to cure this constitutional defect is to admit women.”

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