- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

LEXINGTON, Va. After a weeklong protest led by its senior class, Virginia Military Institute rescinded the expulsion of a cadet yesterday and will allow additional hearings before punishing others for reputedly abusing freshmen.
"This was done in the interest of fairness," said VMI spokesman Chuck Steenburgh, who would not release the identities of the cadets or their reputed offenses.
Last Thursday, VMI expelled two seniors, suspended one junior and penalized two other upperclassmen for improper activities while training new cadets on the school's traditional "rat line."
The cadet corps decided to halt the rat line to protest what they considered a hasty decision. Some cadets refused to march in last week's parade the first of the year.
"It just seemed like a witch hunt just to save face with parents," said Leven Harrison, 22, a mechanical engineering student from Atlanta.
The cadet whose expulsion was rescinded will face other disciplinary action, Mr. Steenburgh said.
Since before the Civil War, freshmen "rats" have been forced to walk in straight lines and cut sharp corners, with chins tucked and arms at their sides. They frequently march in drill, eat with restricted motion and are required to answer impromptu questions on school history posed by upperclassmen.
The tough treatment is meant to mold unruly freshmen into citizen soldiers.
This year, training was especially rough 40 freshmen quit VMI after the first week.
Some upperclassmen said that prompted school officials to suggest toning down the rat line.
The commandant's office told seniors that no more than two upperclassmen at a time could dress down a rat. They were instructed to remain at least 6 inches away from the rats' faces.
Eventually, they were told to quit yelling at the rats altogether.
It's an adjustment that VMI makes every year, and one that almost always causes a rift between the administration and the senior class, Mr. Steenburgh said.
But some cadets said the school has weakened the rat line too much.
"Without this type of military training and discipline, we're just another college," huffed Brandon Turner, 23, the junior class president.
"It's like we have a bunch of rebellious children now, and there's nothing we can do about it," Cadet Harrison said.
Mr. Steenburgh said in the next few days the disciplined students all will have another chance to convince school officials they were unfairly penalized.
As for the dispute over training theory, senior Mike Zanetti said, "That's a battle for another day."
Meanwhile, VMI officials are considering further disciplinary action against some cadets for what the school has deemed an improper protest.
Mr. Steenburgh said if cadets have a problem, they can voice their opposition by notifying the administration through the chain of command.
"But refusing to march in the parade is unacceptable," he said.

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