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The Following Article Appeared Today in the Richmond
Top cadet at VMI dismissed /
Rising senior allegedly sought sexual relations with 3 freshmen women
Saturday, June 26, 1999
BY WES ALLISON
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
The highest-ranking cadet at the Virginia Military Institute, the young man expected to best exemplify the school's rigorous disciplinary standards, was dismissed last month for allegedly trying to obtain sex from three freshmen women.
Jerry B. Webb II, a rising senior who had been chosen to serve as regimental commander of the Corps of Cadets for the coming academic year, was expelled the last week of school for conduct unbecoming a cadet, VMI officials said.
School sources say the misconduct involved Webb allegedly demanding sexual favors from the three women this spring. The sources declined to say whether the favors were granted.
Webb, of Casper, Wyo., is the first regimental commander to be expelled in memory. The student-run Honor Court, on which Webb served as an assistant prosecutor, dismissed him from the court a few days before he was expelled.
"We acted as we normally do, as quickly as we could under normal disciplinary procedures," VMI spokesman Mike Strickler said yesterday. "We handled everything properly."
The women were not disciplined and are scheduled to return in the fall, he said. Strickler, citing regulations that protect the privacy of cadets, declined to discuss specifics of the case.
Webb has been replaced as regimental commander by Kelly R. Underwood of Radford, who also is vice president of the senior class. Repeated attempts to reach Webb were unsuccessful.
VMI Superintendent Josiah Bunting III could not be reached for comment yesterday. His office referred all calls to Strickler. Col. Mike Bissell, the special assistant to the superintendent who investigated the matter, also declined to comment.
Anita K. Blair, a member of the VMI board of visitors, was on campus during the week before graduation while the situation was developing. She said it bothered her greatly.
"For the sake of all the cadets, male and female, it deserves an investigation and some close attention," said Blair, who also serves on the Congressional Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues.
"I don't think we can sit back and say, 'He's gone, and that's the end of the problem,' " she said yesterday.
"We need to be asking, 'Is our system OK? Is our administration sufficiently knowledgeable about what's going on, and do the cadets in fact -- and not just theoretically -- feel free to make complaints?' "
Another board member, Charles Lindsey, an Alexandria businessman and VMI alumnus, suggested that the administration survey female cadets -- anonymously if need be -- to determine whether others have faced such pressures from upperclassmen.
"I want to know if it's systemic. Anybody running the school should want to know that," Lindsey said.
How VMI handled the incident also is likely to draw questions from the U.S. Department of Justice, which waged a six-year legal battle to force VMI to admit women after more than 150 years of educating only men.
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered VMI to admit women three summers ago, and the school remains under supervision of a federal judge to make sure female cadets are treated fairly. The Justice Department also has asked the judge periodically for updates on how the women are being integrated into VMI's masculine system.
Strickler said school officials relayed word of the matter to the Virginia attorney general's office, which serves as VMI's attorney and acts as its liaison with the court and the Justice Department.
Women continue to account for a scant minority of VMI's 1,200 cadets: 24 women from this year's freshman "rat" class are expected to return in the fall, along with 22 who entered with the first coed class in August 1997. Also, about 30 women are expected to enroll in August with the incoming class of 2003.
Nine women, all of them rising sophomores who were reached by a reporter this week, said they knew about the incidents resulting in Webb's dismissal. But, several said, VMI officials or students instructed them not to discuss the matter, and all declined to comment.
"We don't want to bring VMI down," said Nichole Ford, a rising sophomore from Woodbridge. "We felt like it had been dealt with at VMI."
Webb is the second male student expelled for sexual misconduct since women arrived in August 1997. The first was expelled shortly before his graduation in May 1998 after he and a female exchange student were found having consensual sexual relations in the barracks, Strickler said. The female cadet was sent back to her school.
Each spring, the upcoming year's regimental commander is chosen by a committee of graduating senior officers and top officials, including Commandant of Cadets James N. Joyner. Bunting must approve the choice, too.
The regimental commander, also known as first captain, is expected to exemplify VMI's military, physical and academic standards. He and his staff oversee military training and discipline within the cadet corps, from holding routine room and uniform inspections to leading the popular Friday dress parades.
Often the regimental commander serves as a spokesman for the corps. And Webb, an engineering major, was the only cadet Bunting mentioned by name in the acknowledgments of his most recent book, "An Education for Our Time."
Lindsey and Blair, the board members, said they want to know how the alleged misconduct was discovered. Before the first women arrived on campus in August 1997, VMI established an elaborate system for reporting sexual harassment or misconduct.
Professors, cadets and staff -- from assistant commandants to laundry workers -- have been trained to receive harassment complaints.
"What they're saying is the system is working," Lindsey said. "I'd like to know."
More From the April Alumni Association Board Meeting:
Co-Curriculum Committee Report - Hugh Fain, III '80
On April 6, 1999, the Co-Curriculum Committee of The VMI Alumni Association met by telephone conference. The committee first had a follow up discussion regarding concerns raised during the committee's January 1999 meeting about the overly aggressive, harsh treatment observed by the current Corps toward the rats, and in some instances by first classmen toward their own dykes. Dick Knight mentioned that he had heard from members of the Corps that, in many cases, rats are not enjoying good mentor relationships with their dykes, but instead are being mistreated by them. Chip Beaman made the point that often the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other with respect to the treatment of rats by upperclassmen. Tom Bauer reported, however, that based on his 11 years experience on Post, he believes that the mistreatment of rats is becoming progressively worse.
Chip Beaman was able to report on the meeting of all living past presidents of The VMI Alumni Association recently conducted in Richmond by Bert Deacon. Chip reported that among the many positive aspects of this meeting, a sub-group of the past presidents has been formed with the purpose of meeting with current leaders in the Corps over the summer furlough to discuss with them various aspects of the class system and barracks life in general. The committee is hopeful that this subgroup of the past presidents will impress upon the current Corps leaders the importance of administering a firm, yet fair rat system.
It was reported that General Bunting has become very interested in this problem and has formed a committee to address it. Hugh Fain will be serving on this committee. Doug Marechal stated that the Athletic Committee is following this issue with great concern also.
The committee next had a follow up discussion of the issue of Col Joyner's decision to room cadets by company in barracks. This issue was discussed thoroughly in the minutes of the January meeting of the Co-Curriculum Committee. The committee continues to be troubled by the implications of the decision to room cadets by company in barracks, notwithstanding Col Joyner's compelling decision to room cadets by company within barracks. Although Col Joyner has committed to return to a policy of allowing cadets to select their own roommate after the current third class has graduated, the committe feels that waiting this long will create a further imbalance within the class system by focusing too much emphasis on company structure.
The committee therefore encourages the Executive Committee of the Alumni Association to impress upon the administration the committees' disfavor of the decision to room cadets by company within barracks.
The committee next discussed the fact that the administration has recently allowed first classmen to be dressed in civilian clothing uptown. Apparently this change in policy was implemented as a reward to the first class for some duty well performed. Each member of the committee expressed his concern that rewarding members of the Corps for performing their expected duty is not a good leadership technique. The committee is strongly opposed to the administration's decision to allow first classmen to wear civilian clothing uptown, and is also generally very concerned about other "rewards" that have been given to the Corps in recent years for performing their duties. Tom Bauer did report, however, that the administration does appear to be reducing the number of weekends or academic days available to cadets to leave post. Tom explained to the committee about a new phenomenon known as the "gray box" weekend. Apparently, when no military duty or other official function is planned for Saturday morning, the cadets' calendar shows the Saturday block colored in gray. Cadets are given liberal latitude in leaving post for the weekend whenever there is no military duty or other official functions scheduled for Saturday.
Other Stuff From the Alumni Association Meeting:
Mr. Deacon expressed great appreciation to the retiring members of the board: Tom Boyd '68, John Kearney '73, and Kent Wheeless '74 for their near perfect attendance record while serving as directors, their dedication to the job, and the numerous contributions made by each of the them.
That's it for this week.
Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75
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