A few weeks ago, President Bush, congratulating the 1,000 female graduates of West Point, called the U.S. military the "greatest equal opportunity employer around." Someone ought to let Judge Jackson Kiser know. Kiser, a U.S. District Court judge in Roanoke, Va., ruled this week that Virginia Military Institute's 152-year-old male-only policy should remain intact.
Fifteen months ago the Justice Department brought a sex-discrimination case against VMI, charging that the school -- whose budget is one-third taxpayer funded -- violated the 14th amendment of the Constitution by refusing to admit women. Kiser disagreed, ruling that "the distinctive ends of the system would be thwarted if VMI were forced to admit females."
If those "distinctive ends" are to offer a "unique" educational experience only to young men, then Kiser is shamefully right. But if VMI's mission is more noble -- to turn out well-educated, well-disciplined citizens to assume military and civilian leadership roles -- then there is no more justifiable reason to deny that opportunity on the basis of gender than to deny it on the basis of race. The participation of female soldiers in the invasion of Panama last year and, more recently, in the Persian Gulf war -- along with a House-passed measure to allow women pilots to fly combat missions, and Senate debate over removing all gender restrictions -- is a clear signal that the nation needs, and wants, a more inclusive military. So too is the fact that nation's three service academies -- Navy, the Air Force Academy and West Point -- have been admitting women for more than a decade.
VMI and the Citadel, a military school in South Carolina, now have the dubious distinction of being the country's only state-supported institutions that refuse to admit women. The fact that "VMI truly marches to the beat of a different drummer," as Kiser notes, is a flimsy rationale for allowing it to continue to do so.