Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Doug Wilder calls for firing of Virginia’s chief diversity officer

A person stands behind a podium with the seal of Virginia on it. Behind them is an American flag
Whittney Evans
VPM News
Former Gov. Doug Wilder called for the removal of Virginia's chief diversity officer during a Tuesday press conference in Richmond.

The former governor called on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to replace Martin D. Brown “immediately.”

Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder is calling on Gov. Glenn Youngkin to fire his chief diversity officer, Martin D. Brown, after he declared DEI to be dead during a recent speech at Virginia Military Institute.

Youngkin appointed Brown, a Black Republican, to the state Cabinet position in November.

VMI is the country's oldest state-supported military college. White men make up most of the school's roughly 1,600 enrolled cadets. There have been years of turbulence over the school’s treatment of Black and women cadets.

In late 2020, Democrat then-Gov. Ralph Northam ordered an independent investigation into the university for what he called a “clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism.” The investigation conducted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia concluded racism and sexism were tolerated and often left unaddressed.

“We are not talking about a hundred years ago,” Wilder told reporters Tuesday. “We're not talking about 50 years ago. We are talking about now taking place at VMI.”

VMI’s longtime superintendent, retired Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, stepped down in 2020 amid the allegations. The school then appointed its first Black superintendent, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins. It also created a diversity, equity and inclusion office.

Brown told faculty and staff in late April, “Generally when you are focusing on equity, you're not pursuing merit or excellence or achievement.”

Wilder — who was the first African American to be elected governor in the United States — called the comments “reckless.”

“[T]he comments from Brown signals a direct departure from the recognized needs for improvement at VMI,” Wilder said. “And that he would so blatantly make such an inflammatory statement flies in direct contradiction into the face of the roll that he’s appointed to fulfill.”

He said it demonstrates Brown’s “inadequacy,” “lack of leadership” and “lack of accountability.”

“I have not asked for him to resign,” Wilder said. “I’m calling for him to be immediately replaced by the governor, because it’s in dereliction of his duties and responsibilities. And his statements do collective harm to all of the people of Virginia.”

Youngkin echoed Brown’s statements during an unrelated press conference on Monday, saying environmental, social and governance funds — an investment strategy which considers firms’ social and environmental impacts — and DEI have “gone off the rails.”

“These ideas, five, 10 years ago were laudable. How do we embrace diversity? How do we make sure that opportunity is made available to everyone? How do we foster an inclusive environment where people feel part of, as opposed to excluded,” Youngkin said. “I think they’ve taken on a new mission that’s really not consistent with those key principles.”

"Governor Youngkin will continue to advance equal opportunities—not equal outcomes—for all Virginians,” said Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter in a Tuesday email to VPM News. “This is too important of an issue to succumb to those seeking to cancel Chief Brown for challenging the groupthink of the progressive left’s pursuit of equity at any cost."

During his Tuesday remarks, Wilder also demanded Youngkin fire Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao and called on the state’s governmental investigative arm to open a investigation into the university’s spending.

Richmond BizSense reported last week that VCU Health spent $73 million in February to back out of a downtown development project.

Michael Porter, VCU’s associate vice president for public relations, provided a statement to VPM News in an email. He said the university is also disappointed in the outcome.

“Moving forward would have caused dire long-term financial repercussions. The one-time payment was funded by VCU Health operating funds and represents less than 2.5 percent of the health system’s annual operating budget,” he wrote. “Neither university funds nor state revenues were used to make this one-time payment, which allowed VCU Health to avoid far greater financial obligations and problems in the future.”

Youngkin’s office did not comment on the VCU Health payment when asked on Tuesday.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.