- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2002

LEXINGTON, Va. (AP) Starting today, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers will be unwelcome in the Virginia Military Institute corps of cadets.
VMI's new marriage and parenthood ban, in the works for seven months, takes effect with the beginning of the winter term. From now on, cadets who are married or who become pregnant or cause a pregnancy must leave the state-supported school.
They will be expected to resign or will be removed from the corps, not for disciplinary reasons, but for "failure of eligibility," as if they didn't pay their tuition, made poor grades or suffered a permanently disabling medical problem.
Cadets will be allowed to finish the semester in which the marriage or parenthood is discovered, and the policy will not be enforced retroactively.
"It's not a punitive thing at all," VMI spokesman Chuck Steenburgh said.
Critics of the policy call it unconstitutional and a clear violation of federal law, which forbids discrimination against pregnant women in academic programs.
"We have grave concerns about it as a legal matter, as a policy matter, as a matter of common sense," said Jocelyn Samuels, vice president and director of education at the National Women's Law Center in the District.
Ms. Samuels and Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, both predict the policy will face a legal challenge.
"It could happen, and we're prepared for that," Mr. Steenburgh said. But "we wouldn't have adopted it if we didn't think it's defensible."
The issue arose after VMI learned that a junior cadet was pregnant last winter. The school's attorneys advised that she was covered under Title IX, a federal anti-sex discrimination law that says pregnancy cannot be used to exclude a woman from any academic program. Instead, it must be treated like any other temporary disability or physical condition.
The woman finished the semester at VMI and did not return.
A short time later, the VMI Board of Visitors passed a resolution ordering Superintendent Josiah Bunting III to write a policy "whereby a VMI cadet who chooses to marry or to undertake the duties of a parent, by that choice, chooses to forgo his or her commitment to the Corps of Cadets and his or her VMI education."
Cadets have long been forbidden from being married, but the policy was enforced on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis.
The VMI policy does not address the physical condition of pregnancy as a medical issue. Rather, it speaks of the ongoing responsibilities of parenthood, which begin upon learning of a pregnancy.
"Despite the fact that the words of the policy make it appear to apply equally to men and women, in reality women are far more likely to be affected than men," Mr. Willis said. "Men can more easily hide the fact they have caused a pregnancy than a woman can hide her own pregnancy."
Ms. Samuels said the timing of the policy and the lax enforcement of the marriage prohibition in the past are evidence that the policy is targeting pregnant female cadets.
The ACLU is encouraging a federal review. If VMI is found in violation of Title IX, one penalty could be loss of federal funding.

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