LEXINGTON, Va. — The superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute resigned Monday, a week after state officials ordered an investigation into what they characterized as a culture of “ongoing structural racism” at the college.
The Board of Visitors accepted 80-year-old retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III’s resignation “with deep regret,” board President John William Boland said in a statement.
“General Peay has served VMI as superintendent exceptionally well for more than 17 years. General Peay is a great American, patriot and hero. He has profoundly changed our school for the better in all respects,” the statement said.
VMI, founded in 1839, was the first state-supported military college in the nation. Officials at the school have said they will cooperate with an investigation but denied the allegation that the institution has systemic racial problems.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI graduate, and other top Democratic elected officials sent a letter to the public school’s board a week ago announcing an investigation into its culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures. That decision came on the heels of a Washington Post story that described Black cadets and alumni facing “relentless racism.”
The Post story described incidents such as lynching threats and a white professor reminiscing in class about her father’s Ku Klux Klan membership. It cited interviews with “more than a dozen” current and former students of color.
The Roanoke Times also reported months ago on Black alumni speaking out about racism at the school.
Boland responded to the officials last week, saying that the school welcomed a review.
“However, systemic racism does not exist here and a fair and independent review will find that to be true,” Boland wrote in the letter.
Boland’s statement Monday said the board would “immediately” turn its attention to the search for a new superintendent. Brig. Gen. Robert Moreschi, formerly the deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty, will serve as the interim superintendent.
A school spokesman said Peay was not granting interview requests.
His resignation letter, which was posted online, said Northam’s chief of staff “conveyed” on Friday that Northam and certain legislative leaders had lost confidence in his leadership and wanted his resignation.
“Change is overdue at VMI, and the Board of Visitors bears a deep responsibility to embrace it,” Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement. “Diversity is a fundamental commitment.”
Yarmosky said Northam “wishes General Peay well and is grateful for his decades of public service.”