For many alumni of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and the Citadel, the last two state-supported schools that hoped to continue their pattern of discrimination against women, the Civil War has been lost again. The suit by the Department of Justice against VMI was heard by the Supreme Court (litigation against the Citadel was deferred pending the decision on VMI) and VMI was found to be in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. These two military-style institutions, which give their sons handsome educations in engineering, the sciences, and liberal arts and a lifetime “oldboy” network of contacts, now have to admit women—and thus expose themselves to the “virus” women will bring, as one administrator at VMI put it.
Many wars were fought on the battlefields of these two cases. Alumni and administrators at both institutions did not appreciate the “northern” lawyers who came down from the Justice Department (in an action that was actually started during the Bush administration). Indeed, the schools posed the issue in terms of states’ rights, of the war between the North and the South, and then used the language of the left to argue that they were offering programs to guarantee “diversity” and to benefit disadvantaged boys and girls (in their separate institutions). Debates on “difference” and “similarity” between the sexes brought forth arguments long familiar in feminist and popular literature. For example, VMI’s expert witnesses argued that women were physically weaker and could not take stress as well as men, and that more than a hundred physiological differences contribute to a “natural hierarchy” in which women cannot compete with men. The fact that the federal service academies—West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy—have admitted women since 1976 was, not taken into account in the lower court’s ruling, which permitted segregated programs.