Local News

Resignation, Not Surprise, Greets Supreme Court Decision

Posted June 26, 1996 7:00 a.m. EDT

— June 27, 1996 - 4:12 a.m. EDTBy BRUCE SMITH,Associated Press Writer

In the end, after years of heated court fights, there was quiet resignation on the shady Citadel campus when the U.S. Supreme Court opened the gates of public all-male military colleges to women.

``Was I surprised? No. Disappointed? Definitely,'' Citadel President Claudius Watts said Wednesday. ``The Citadel will comply with the law - both in letter and in spirit - as the law has been interpreted by the highest court in our land.''

If anything, the only surprise was the lopsided 7-1 decision by which the justices ruled Virginia Military Institute's all-male admissions policy unconstitutional.

``It's a little surprising, I suppose, that it was so overwhelmingly negative for us,'' said Jimmy Jones, a 1958 alumnus and chairman of The Citadel's governing board.

VMI Alumni President Lou Buonopane says the school has survived setbacks before, and it will survive this ruling.

Buonopane says female cadets will change VMI and rob the school of the very reasons they want to attend.

The campus was quiet as word spread among small groups of cadets taking summer school classes. They were outnumbered by dozens of school children attending wrestling and soccer camps.

``We're just kind of accepting the fact that it's going to happen. There is really no defense against it - political correctness, that is,'' said Ben Welch, sophomore cadet from Greenville.

Shannon Faulkner, who became the first woman cadet at The Citadel last year after waging a 2-1/2-year court fight, said it was the only decision the justices could have made.

But she said she had no plans to return to The Citadel even with other women. ``The hatred would still be at me'' for bringing the lawsuit, she said.

Ms. Faulkner, who was a cadet for less than a week, left citing her isolation as the only woman cadet and the stress from the court fight.

Her departure was greeted by cadets cheering, honking car horns and doing pushups in the rain.

Unresolved by the high court's decision was just when women would join the corps. College officials had said earlier they hoped they could have until the fall of 1997 to bring in women.

Watts said to have a critical mass of women, the school needs more than the four who have applications on file.

But Val Vojdik, the lead attorney in the suit challenging the all-male policy, said women who want to enroll should be allowed to do so this fall.

``They don't need another year,'' she said. ``We have already had Shannon in the corps. The Citadel knows the nuts and bolts of how to admit women.''

Outside the white walls of the Law Barracks where Ms. Faulkner briefly stayed, cadets said they realized the school faces changes.

``I knew what was going to happen, but I was hoping it wouldn't,'' said Bob Daugherty, a sophomore from Asheville, N.C.

``The fourth-class system is sort of hard to explain. I've never pictured it with females,'' he said.

Under the system, freshmen cadets, called knobs because of their close-cropped hair, undergo rigorous training overseen by upperclassmen.

``I'm thrilled with the Supreme Court ruling in the VMI case,'' said Nancy Mellette of Irmo, who took Ms. Faulkner's place in the lawsuit. ``I feel I have played only a small part among the many women who have worked over the years on this case.''

Ms. Mellette earlier opted to attend the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School in Fort Monmouth, N.J., for a year because of the uncertainty over the Supreme Court decision.

Although guaranteed a place at West Point if she successfully completes the program, she has not ruled out attending The Citadel in the fall of 1997.

The Citadel has four active applications from women, including Ms. Mellette's. Two women, including Kim Messer of Clover and another applicant who has not been identified, have been told they meet all requirements for admission, except for their sex.

Messer, 18, had planned to enroll this fall at the New Mexico Military Institute, a two-year junior college, and then enlist in the Army, The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reported today.

Messer, who couldn't be reached for comment, is spending the summer at ROTC leadership camp in Fort Knox, Ky.

Her father, Harvey Messer, said she was excited but hasn't decided whether she would give up several scholarships at the New Mexico school to attend The Citadel this fall.

``She knows how hard The Citadel would be. But she feels very strongly that it's something she wants to do,'' he said. ``It's just a question of timing.''

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