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New Articles Jul-Aug 2022

 
Dereliction of Duty​

[T]his institution will be based
on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead,
nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.

Such is the ambition that sustains an undergraduate college or university committed to promoting the liberal arts and that exhorts the institution faithfully to encourage in its faculty and to instill in students entrusted to its care.

However, many observers -- including Mr. Thomas Klingenstein, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Claremont Institute, whose challenging essay appears HERE -- believe American higher education now responds to a different drummer. It no longer advocates for the "illimitable freedom of the human mind" or asserts the power of "reason . . . left free" to search for truth in an open marketplace of ideas and opinions.

Mr. Klingenstein argues, among other things, that this evolving "educational" preference is one result of faculty alignment with and promotion of a fashionable, overarching Orthodoxy -- at the cost of intentionally failing to expose students to the estimable accumulated thought and wisdom, traditions, and values that instructed the Founders and their successors, and that long have been at the center of curricula at universities such as ours.

He maintains that, instead of informing or supplementing instruction in the humanities, the embrace of this Orthodoxy has dethroned such instruction, causing unacceptable consequences to institutions themselves and fostering purposeful discouragement of independent or unOrthodox thought among students and faculty. 

To borrow from the quotation above (attributed to Thomas Jefferson more than two centuries ago), even though many institutions have demonstrated a high degree of tolerance for error, they might wish again to champion viewpoint diversity and freedom of inquiry as means to enliven civil discussion and to reaffirm, with high confidence, that Reason can guide us to the right places. 

So, even if Mr. Klingenstein’s arguments and recommendations would be unwelcome at a number of other institutions, they should be welcomed at Washington and Lee, as they are in this forum – not because they are Revealed Truth, but exactly because their content and underlying concerns should be debated.

 

Respectfully,

Bill Noell ‘64A

Lee Chapel - Fact or Fiction Part Two

Of the numerous actions announced June 4, 2021 by Washington and Lee University’s Trustees beyond the apparent temporary retention of its institutional name, none has drawn more interest to TGR’s subscribers than the renaming of Lee Chapel and the University’s plans for interior renovations.  The stated aim is returning the chapel to a close approximation of its original state, when first made available to the Washington College and Lexington communities in the late 1860’s.  

Among important aspects of the chapel’s evolution over time are the addition of Edward Valentine’s Recumbent Lee in the 1880’s and the Trustees 1918 naming redesignation as Lee Memorial Chapel.  As reported last week in John Lane’s “Fact or Fiction,” the Administration’s current major focus is constructing an internal wall that will separate both visibility of and direct access to the Statue Chamber from Lee Chapel’s auditorium or sanctuary as it was originally known. 

The practical consequences are twofold.  The first is that there is no intention to use it as a place of worship as was its original purpose, arguably an historic sleight of hand. The second is to remove it as the #1 Campus Museum, stripping in the process its critical historic standing, even if left in place by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark. This should lead to a significant downgrading of it as a tourist attraction for the Lexington area and to its demise as a historical destination burnishing the reputation and brand of the University.  This is “Cancel Culture” and the distorted academic concept of “Presentism” in full roar. 

Our offering this week is an additional summary update by John Lane of insightful material gleaned from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made this summer by Washington and Lee rising junior Kamron Spivey.  The bottom line is building the wall that Washington and Lee desires has led City officials to conclude that the 500+ person auditorium, which is already far beyond modern life safety code standards, becomes even more dangerous in case of fire or mass shooter events.

We commend its review to our followers and its circulation by them to others who may have an interest in this current chapter of the desecration of Robert E. Lee’s legacy and by namesake association for that of his educational pioneer companion, George Washington.  Supporting documents for John Lane’s FOIA Notes Summary will be posted on this website in the near future for those wishing to make a closer examination of the issues in play.  Click HERE for a summary of FOIA emails and HERE for actual copies of the emails behind the summary.

To this end, please donate to The Generals Redoubt to pay for professional research related to defending Lee Chapel as a National Historic Landmark, for future funding to educate students about the rich history and legacy of Robert E. Lee, and to help bring back diversity of thought.  We need your help if we are to save Lee Chapel as a campus and national treasure.  Thank you in advance for your support.  Information on how to contribute is found below. 

Thomas P. Rideout ‘63 

President, The Generals Redoubt 

 
FACT OR FICTION - (Part 1)
THE FUTURE OF LEE CHAPEL

 

Not long after Commencement 2022, notice was publicly posted that Lee Chapel was “Closed for the Summer.”  Per a recent posting in Columns, access was reopened to the public on July 13th with an accompanying announcement stating firmly the planned interior wall would be completed in late fall. 

This action will permanently screen the view of Valentine’s Recumbent Lee and the statue chamber from the auditorium and block physical access via the chapel stage steps.  Visitors wishing to access that part of the chapel will have to make the trek around the building and down to the museum before climbing steps to reach this historic venue.  The completion of this planned construction will be the final dagger thrust into the heart of the legacy of Robert E. Lee in the year 2022.  No doubt others are planned for the future, with final victory achieved when the University’s name is changed at a future date. 

None of this is necessary, as has been explained in these pages during the past several years. John Lane, Vice President of The Generals Redoubt, has written a helpful piece about the fact and fiction of this latest move on the administration’s part. And he updates our readers on a simple solution that would allow Lee Chapel to continue to fulfill its role as envisioned nearly 60 years ago when named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.  Click HERE to read John's piece.

To this end, please donate to The Generals Redoubt to pay for professional research related to defending Lee Chapel as a National Historic Landmark, for future funding to educate students about the rich history and legacy of Robert E. Lee, and to help bring back diversity of thought.  We need your help if we are to save Lee Chapel as a campus and national treasure.  Thank you for any contribution you can give us. 

Thomas P. Rideout ‘63 

President, The Generals Redoubt 

WHY WASHINGTON AND LEE NEEDS
VIEWPOINT DIVERSITY
An essay by Neely Young, Director Emeritus of TGR, on the need for viewpoint diversity on the W&L campus
Click HERE to read

The Generals Redoubt (TGR) agrees with Neely that more viewpoint diversity is called for. I have worked with alumni from many other nationally known academic institutions to form a group called the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA). TGR and AFSA support academic freedom, viewpoint diversity and free expression across all of higher education.

 

Neely has requested that President Dudley respond either to him, personally, to TGR and/or to the broader W&L community regarding the basic proposition of this essay. So far, President Dudley has been reluctant to address this issue. But we hope he will do so now, at this critical juncture in the University’s history. 

 

Respectfully submitted, 

 

Thomas P. Rideout ‘63 

The Generals Redoubt, President 

Alumni Free Speech Alliance, Co-Chair 

STOLEN PRIDE
A message to the current and recent leadership at Washington & Lee University
18 July 2022 
 
Pride: A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.  – Google’s English dictionary, provided by Oxford Languages 
 

I have lost pride in my earned diploma from my college. 

I have lost pride in the recognition by my college as a “Distinguished Alumni”. 

I have lost pride as one of the founding members of the Institute for Honor. 

I have lost pride in my Class of 1960 and the body of alumni in general. 

 

General Robert E. Lee, President of my college, remains a source of pride and accomplishment to me and scores of others, from kings, queens, and presidents to those of no rank.  You have thrust a sword in Robert E. Lee’s heart, where he lies beneath a marble carving in Lee Chapel, named in his honor. The sword has punctured his soul…and mine.  There are few people in world history who have earned the adulation of so many.  He led a full life of honor, respect, dignity, and selflessness.  He was (is) loved by peoples and cultures from throughout the world.  And broadly recognized for his achievements.

 

In their last breaths of life, both, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln could be equally assigned the early success in the acceptance of all people into:

 

“We the people of the United States of America”… 

 
I beg you, in the interest of history and morality to remove the sword you have so carelessly placed into the heart and soul of our college. Thus, returning my stolen pride. 

 

Billy Schaefer, Class of 1960

 
 
A Note from Alfred Eckes to The Generals Redoubt

I enthusiastically commend your efforts to remind the Washington and Lee University community of the university’s unique history and traditions. 

President Robert E. Lee played an important and critical role in the development of Washington College after the Civil War. He expanded enrollment, enhanced the endowment, transformed the curriculum, and established a code of honor and conduct for students. Without President Lee’s unique personal contributions, Washington College would never have become the prosperous and highly-regarded Washington and Lee University of modern times. 

Indeed, leaders of the North and South hailed President Lee’s contributions to higher education and national reconciliation on the occasion of the centennial of his birth in 1907.

 

So that those less familiar with President Lee’s efforts can appreciate the full significance of his tenure as president of Washington College, and understand why so many regard him as the greatest president in the long history of this educational institution, I have prepared the attached article: “Revisiting President Lee’s Accomplishments at Washington College.” 

Sincerely yours, 

Alfred E. Eckes, PhD 

Class of 1964 

Revisiting President Robert E. Lee’s Accomplishments
at Washington College

By Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., PhD, W&L Class of 1964

29 June, 2022

In 1907, the centennial of Robert E. Lee’s birth, public figures in America praised the general for promoting national harmony after the Civil War.   They lauded his innovative contributions to college education in his native war-ravaged Virginia.  “Once the war was over,” President Theodore Roosevelt said, “he instantly undertook the task of healing and binding up the wounds of his countrymen, in the true spirit of those who feel malice toward none and charity toward all . . . . “ Roosevelt added that General Lee devoted all of his power “to the reconciliation of all his countrymen with one another, and to fitting the youth of the South for the duties of a lofty and broad-minded citizenship.”  

Another supporter was Charles Francis Adams, Jr., the grandson of one president and the great grandson of another.  He served as a colonel in the Union army and fought against Lee’s forces at Gettysburg and elsewhere.  In 1907 he travelled to Lexington, Va., and offered a superb tribute at the centennial.  He applauded Lee’s service during the Reconstruction period for helping to heal the Union.  He said that “to overestimate it would be difficult.”

 

During the Reconstruction era prominent Northerners, who had led the opposition to slavery, endorsed Lee’s efforts to promote education in the South and good will between North and South.  One articulate backer was the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher.  His sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, had written Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the anti-slavery book that President Lincoln said: “Started this great war!”  Beecher, himself an ardent abolitionist, reportedly hailed General Lee as “the very man to take charge of a great educational institution in the South.”  Beecher urged generous financial assistance for Washington College under Lee’s leadership “in behalf of the common education of the whole people, for the sake of reconstruction, reunion, peace and love. . . .”

 

In light of the praise General Lee received from contemporaries who were anything but die-hard Southern sympathizers, it is surprising that some present-day writers overlook Lee’s many positive contributions as president of Washington College.  For example, Ty Seidule largely ignored Lee’s efforts to promote national reconciliation and improved education after the Civil War ended.   But, Elizabeth Brown Pryor did acknowledge that while educational reform was not Lee’s specialty, he performed it conscientiously and “developed an innovative approach with far-reaching applications.”   He raised funds for the college from donors in the North and the South, constructed new buildings, expanded enrollment, and revitalized the curriculum.   By personal example he taught students honor, ethics, and tolerance.

 

One way to evaluate Lee’s performance is to compare his stewardship of Washington College with another troubled private college in the Old Dominion in the same period, the College of William and Mary (W&M).  It was the second-oldest college in the country, one attended by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Marshall.

 
At the end of the Civil War both colleges were nearly bankrupt, and both selected graduates of West Point as their presidents.  W&M chose Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, who had held the position before the war, and during the conflict served as a colonel in the Confederate Army.    At W&M the college struggled to find students. Enrollment fell from 65 in 1865-66 to 20 in 1867-68 before the college shut down in 1869-70.  During Ewell’s presidency, W&M never recruited more than 20 percent of its student body from outside Virginia.

 

Meanwhile, Washington College flourished under President Lee, who had pre-war experience as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.   Enrollment had averaged 88 students in the five years before the war.  It quadrupled under Lee’s leadership reaching 410 in 1867-68. And nearly 80 percent of the students came from out-of-state in 1870-71.  These 24 states included California, Idaho, New York, and Texas.  There also were international students from Canada, France, and Mexico during President Lee’s tenure.

 

Where buildings and finances were concerned the story was similar.  The W&M campus had been devastated by the war and the school was broke.  The college was resurrected but closed again in 1881.  President Ewell turned to the state for aid, and in 1888 W&M resumed operations with a state charter as a normal school.    
In Lexington the charismatic Lee proved a successful fundraiser. According to two mod-ern-day William and Mary historians, L. Neal Holly and Jeremy P. Martin, President Lee presided over a  “fundraising juggernaut.”

In two years, Lee doubled the endowment.   His fundraising attracted significant benefactors from among Northern cultural and business leaders, including international financier George Peabody; Tom Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; Peter Cooper, the industrialist and inventor; newspaper editor Horace Greeley; Warren Newcomb, the sugar merchant; banker W. W. Corcoran; and Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1876.  As a result of Lee’s efforts Virginia-born inventor Cyrus Hall McCormick and his family would contribute $360,000.

Successful fundraising enabled President Lee to construct new buildings and repair war damage.  One of his priorities was a new college chapel, begun in 1867, which would become the final resting place of President Lee.   It was built of brick and limestone in a Victorian pattern.

   
Whereas President Ewell sought to attract interest in William and Mary’s traditional classical curriculum, Lee transformed instruction at Washington College.   When Lee arrived in Lexington in 1865, the curriculum focused heavily on a classical education.  Each student was required to study four years of Latin and Greek.  He perceived the need to teach practical subjects that would prepare leaders for the new South.  Under Lee’s guidance the curriculum expanded to include electives, and established five new chairs – three in Applied Science, one of Modern Languages, and one of History and Literature.  Students could study French, German, and Spanish.

 

In 1866 Washington College assimilated a Law School and organized a School of Civil and Mining Engineering. Soon Lee’s college offered professional programs in engineering in-tended to meet the South’s need for high-grade scientific instruction.  There were programs in civil and mining engineering, and the college announced plans to teach mechanical engineering, applied chemistry, agriculture, and commerce. 
 

Lee added other programs intended to meet the needs of the South.  In 1867 a Student’s Business School was established, which would evolve into the Commerce School in the early 20th century.   And in 1869 Washington College added a program in journalism intended to attract college graduates into the newspaper business.   These programs were the first of their kind at colleges in the United States.   
 

To staff these programs, Lee recruited some faculty with teaching experience at major colleges.   One was Richard McCulloch, who had taught previously at Columbia and Princeton.   
 

No wonder Holly and Martin regard President Lee an “innovative college leader” and observe that the “curricular advances and exposure during Lee’s administration secured the college’s future . . . .”  They say that “Washington College gambled on Lee’s celebrity . . .  and was greatly rewarded.” He mobilized institutional resources to modernize the physical plant as well as the curriculum.  He attracted out-of-state students and significantly increased enrollments.  “Washington College under Lee’s leadership was progressive, embodying a vision of a new South."

 

This thoughtful assessment of Lee’s leadership, published in 2012, comports with earlier positive assessments of Lee’s presidency, including comments of the general’s contemporaries.  Virginia historian Marshall Fishwick wrote in glowing terms in 1950 about Lee’s contributions to higher education.   “Lee is the college president whose innovations gave new life to Southern education.” Writing in 1981, Charles Bracelen Flood concluded that “Lee used his new position to create a model educational institution and to exemplify for a deeply wounded nation the healing powers of compassion, generosity, and conciliation.”   Perhaps the most enthusiastic of Lee’s performance after the Civil War was offered by a biographer Philip Van Doren Stern.  "What Lee did on the field," Stern concludes, "made him famous, but what he did afterwards in civilian life made him great."

 

Lee brought with him elements of the West Point Honor System which he had known as a cadet and as Superintendent. This included the single sanction and a student run system which was fully in place at Washington College before his death.  Most important, Lee also epitomized the honor system in his own life and character. This is demonstrated through his maxim that "every student should behave as a gentleman." Thus, there can be no doubt that the honor system of today is the direct legacy of Robert E. Lee. 
 

Lee also impressed his students, many of whom were the sons of those who had served with him in the military.  Sidney Dyer McCormick, a Kentucky student who enrolled at Washington College in 1866, recalled that no student could forget his first meeting with President Lee, the “feeling of awe in his presence” that was soon replaced by one of confidence.  Lee projected dignity, grace, and courtly manners.  “His face was an index of the nobility of character . . . .”  What particularly impressed young McCormick was Lee’s memory.  He never forgot a name or a face.   Lee said that he had never been introduced to a soldier of the Army of Virginia whose face and name he could not instantly recall.  
 

In reflecting on Robert E. Lee’s contributions as an educator and leader in the post-Civil War period, it is worth emphasizing that the Southern economy was in ruins.  The rail system was shattered and agriculture in shambles. Farmers lacked work animals for plowing fields.  Many former soldiers had few marketable skills.  Some needed remedial education.  Under Lee’s direction Washington College provided learning opportunities.  For the benefit of young men who had been prevented by the war from obtaining adequate preparation for college, the college even offered elementary instruction in Latin, Greek, mathematics and English.

 

At Washington College Lee drew on his experiences at West Point and adapted education to the needs of the South as a whole.  By helping to educate a new generation of leaders, Lee did much to facilitate recovery and help the South rejoin the national economy.   Progress was slow. But repair to the transportation network and infrastructure gradually attracted northern investment.  Graduates of programs set up under Robert E. Lee became leaders in the professions of law and medicine, and as businessmen they created jobs and employment opportunities for individuals of all races.   No wonder then that Robert E. Lee was widely admired for his post-Civil War contributions to education.  In November 1870, immediately after his death, the trustees of Washington College honored him by changing the name to Washington and Lee University.

 

Should contemporary concerns about race and slavery in the 19th century tarnish Lee’s post-war contributions to higher education?   Readers should recall that Lee, and George Washington, were products of a different era, when personal property included slaves.  Over time Washington became uneasy with slavery, and provided for the emancipation of his slaves upon his death.  Lee also expressed misgivings about the “peculiar institution,” the term that many white southerners employed for slavery.  Lee deplored the agitation of Northern abolitionists for aggravating tensions between North and South.  But, according to a son, he liberated three or four slaves that he inherited from his mother several years before the Civil War on his own volition.  In 1857, as the executor of George Washington Parke Custis’ estate (his father-in-law), Lee took charge of a more complicated situation involving an indebted estate and a large number of slaves.  Custis’ will stipulated that the slaves were to be manumitted within five years of his death.  Despite the disruption of war, and his commanding Confederate forces, Lee apparently succeeded in emancipating all of the slaves by January 1863.  
 

It is worth remembering that Lee was ahead of his times when it came to the education of Blacks.  The prominent Black leader of the late 19th century, Booker T. Washington who was born into slavery, would later praise Lee for his efforts to educate Negroes, through the medium of the Sunday School.  He said that Lee was one of “the first white people in America, certainly the first in the South, to exhibit . . . interest in . . . reaching . . . the Negro and saving his soul."

 

As president of Washington College, Lee promoted reconciliation and racial tolerance.   When on several occasions students scuffled with Blacks in the Freedmen’s program, Lee promptly investigated and expelled the offending students.  Lee’s contemporaries insisted that he maintained the policy of expelling any students who might participate in attempts to punish Negroes. When Lee heard a report that students might attempt to lynch a Black, involved in a shooting, the general urged students “to abstain from any violation of the law."

 

A student who knew Lee well, because they shared a common interest in good horses, later wrote that Lee did not treat lightly “disorderly orgies” of college students.  The general would caution students who “became remiss, or careless, or dissipated,” and if they did not change their behavior, he would write to the parent.  “And the student would disappear, not to be seen again.” 


In seeking to downgrade Lee for his actions, or inactions, on racial issues while president of Washington College, critics overlook over an important point.  Many colleges and universities across the eastern U.S. have discovered unpleasant ties to slavery and the slave economy among their leaders and benefactors.   Ephraim Williams, the New England businessman, for whom Williams College is named, owned slaves.  Benjamin Bates (Bates College) bought cotton grown by slave labor for his textile mill.  Elihu Yale (Yale University) was a British imperialist and slave-trader.  The family for whom Brown University is named, were slave traders.  John Hancock, the Boston merchant, who helped fund the American Revolution, and signed the Declaration of In-dependence in large letters, owned slaves.   One could compile a long list of educational leaders and benefactors who had ties to slavery, and/or the opium trade in East Asia.   Dartmouth, Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton would be high on that list.  Also, the list would include the Jesuit leaders of Georgetown University who have admitted that their institution owned slaves until 1862. 
 

Nor were some of these colleges quick to admit Black students after the Civil War.   A Black first entered Williams College in 1885.  The first Black graduated from Bates in 1874, from Brown in 1877, and from Princeton in the 1890s.

 

Regrettably, “great” institutions and “great” people show all forms of frailties in their as-cent to eminence. So, do we ignore, and seek to erase, the contributions of our forebears because some actions do not conform to contemporary standards?   That is presentism in its most extreme form.   It flows from a faulty understanding of the past, and it often leads to a feeling of moral superiority over flawed personalities of any given era.

 

A better approach is to learn from history and to encourage greater discussion of previous generations and their times.  Washington and Lee University is uniquely qualified to lead that discussion, having distinctive ties to our country’s first president and to Robert E. Lee, the general and educator who married Washington’s step great-granddaughter.  The Civil War offers a prism through which to view complex issues of race and slavery, war and peace, political compromise and partisanship, gender, disease, education, ethics, law, finance, and economic development.  Such an approach accommodates multiple points of view.  It allows us to move forward without succumbing to the false god of presentism.  And it permits us to explore the strengths and shortcomings of our past in ways that befit a serious college education. 

 

Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., is Ohio Eminent Research Professor of History Emeritus in Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.  He is a former Chairman and Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission.  Eckes graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1964, having studied in the History Department with Prof. Ollinger Crenshaw, author of General Lee’s College:  The Rise and Growth of Washington and Lee University  (1969). 

Downloadable pdf version of this article with footnotes available HERE

 
Covering Letter from Alumni to President Dudley in December 2021 
Neely Young ‘66
15 June 2022

The renaming of the Lee Chapel as "University Chapel" by the Board of Trustees has caused considerable consternation to numerous alums. Last December a number of alumni who were involved in the 2007-2008 "Campaign for Lee Chapel and Museum" wrote a letter to President Dudley stating that the re-naming of the Chapel "constituted a breach of trust and a disavowal of promises" to the alumni who solicited and contributed funds for this $6 million campaign. The alumni further raised the question of what effect this disavowal of a promise will have on future fundraising efforts by the University. View this letter and related material HERE.

More recently, I have pointed out in my piece on "The Importance of Consistency and Transparency in Board Decision Making" (See below) the many times from 2017-2020 when the President and Board stated that the name of the Lee Chapel would not be changed. Further, when the Board of Trustees was considering changing the name of the University in 2020-2021, there was no public mention or discussion of changing the name of the Lee Chapel or making other changes to the Chapel. When the decision to retain the name of the University was made in June 2021, no reason was given for changing the name of the Chapel or for making other changes to the interior of the Chapel other than the anodyne excuse that the Chapel was being returned to its original form.

 

Clearly, the Lee Chapel is no longer considered the "heart and soul of the University" by the Board as it once was, and many alums feel betrayed by the recent Board action to basically undermine and diminish the legacy of Robert E. Lee.  

The Importance of Consistency and Transparency in Board Decision Making at Washington and Lee University

Author: Neely Young, Class of 1966

20 May 2022

I.
OVERVIEW

Over the last four years, the Washington and Lee Board of Trustees has made numerous decisions regarding the naming of buildings and the treatment of historical treasures. I, along with other alumni, have disagreed with many of these decisions. Perhaps more importantly, I have identified inconsistencies and contradictions in the Board’s decision-making process as well as a lack of transparency as to how these decisions were made.

 
I call upon the Board to stand by declared positions and conduct its policies in a transparent manner. Stakeholders such as parents, students, and alumni donors are asked to engage and support the University. All stakeholders rightfully, expect the University to engage and inform them fairly.

 

II.
EVENT TIMELINE AUGUST 2017 TO PRESENT


Rex Wooldridge and I began to observe and engage with the Board of Trustees in the early fall of 2017. Our concern then, as now, was to be “mindful of the future while still preserving the history, values and traditions of the University.


What follows is a timeline of events from August 2017 to the present: 

  • August 2017 - Horrific events take place in Charlottesville, VA. 

 

  • September 2017 - President Dudley announces the appointment of a History Commission to examine the history of Washington and Lee University and to make recommendations. It is not clear from the letter what sort of recommendations will be made and on what subjects. 

  • September 2017 - Letter to Don Childress, Board Rector, from Rex Wooldridge and Neely Young asking that the Board issue a statement confirming that various aspects of Washington and Lee's will be preserved and maintained, specifically: 

    1) That the recumbent statue of Robert E. Lee will not be removed or obscured from view except on                specific occasions. 
   2) That the name of the university will not be changed under any circumstances. 
   3) That the legacy of Robert E. Lee will continue to be honored. 

  • November 2017 - After failing to respond to previous outreach from Rex Wooldridge and Neely Young for almost two months, Don Childress responds to us and says "Simply put, we see no reason to publish a statement along the lines that you suggest because at this time, the Board has no intention to make any of the changes that your letter fears [author’s emphasis]. As we shall see, in the next three and a half years, the Board instituted or considered instituting all of the "changes" which we feared.

  • May 2018 - History Commission issues its report, which contains numerous recommendations with which we and many other alumni disagree. 

 

  • June 2018 - A significant group of Emeritus Trustees write a letter to the Rector, the Board, and the President expressing disagreement with several the conclusions and recommendations of the History Commission. Specifically, they state: 

    1. ​The History Commission Report does not meet "the President's charge to the commission to study the entire history of the university." 

    2. The report focuses in a limited and unbalanced way on Lee and his relationship to enslaved people.

    3. The emeritus trustees are critical of many of the recommendations of the commission including the renaming of many buildings such as Lee Chapel.

    4. "The thought of transforming Lee Chapel (including the apse) into a university museum. . . doesn't make sense culturally or financially."

    5. They question "the reason or need to remove the name of "Jockey" John Robinson from the building named after him." They say such a decision would "demean the man's character and reputation."

    6. The emeritus trustees say that the History Commission recommendation dealing with the name of the university and sports teams should be adopted without the phrase, "at this time." Had this recommendation from the emeritus trustees been adopted in 2018 there would have been no need to reconsider the name of the university in 2020.

    7. In future, any proposal for naming or re-naming a building or other structure should be considered by a joint committee of the Board, administration, and faculty before being presented to the Board for consideration. [author’s emphasis] To my knowledge, such a re-naming committee has still not been established by the Board.

  • August 2018 President Dudley responds to the report of the History Commission and states the following:

    1. Founders Day will be maintained. [This was later eliminated in 2021]​

    2. The upper part of Lee Chapel will not be converted into a museum as suggested by the History Commission.

    3. The name of the school will not be changed; nor will the name of the school's teams, i.e. The Generals. [Both of these decisions would be reconsidered two years later]

    4. The Lee House and the Lee Chapel will not be renamed. [The Lee Chapel was renamed less than three years later]  

At this time, Don Childress states that the Board fully endorses President Dudley's response to the History Commission.

  • October 2018 Board votes to take the following steps:​​

  1. Close the doors to the recumbent statue at all university events in contradiction to Rector Childress's statement of a year earlier.​​

  2. Rename Robinson Hall to Chavis Hall. This is in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the Emeritus Trustees 4 months earlier.

  3. Remove the Pine portrait of Lee and the Peale portrait of Washington from the interior of the Lee Chapel and place the latter on permanent (?) loan to Mt. Vernon. Replace the two portraits with portraits of Washington and Lee in civilian clothing.

Many alumni, though unhappy with these changes, presumed that these were the last changes to be made regarding historical buildings, monuments, etc. The President and Board would shortly reinforce this impression.​

  • December 3, 2018 President Dudley states in a Ring-tum Phi article that the Board does not intend to make other name changes. Rector Childress is quoted as saying, "We're not going to change the name of the university. There is no discussion going on at all about making any other name changes of any sort."

  • February 7, 2019A group of emeritus trustees meet with selected Board members to discuss discontent among alumni and divisiveness among various university stakeholders. They state:​​

  1. The level of discontent and division among alumni is the highest in their collective memory which stretches from the 1950's to the present and that "the university has a serious alumni relations problem." ​

  2. Many alumni feel that the recent Board and administration actions regarding the History Commission recommendations are "flawed and stacked against the consideration of alumni viewpoints." The emeritus trustees criticize the failure of the university to create a formal mechanism for alumni to weigh in on commission recommendations other than a short Q and A session, where discussion was truncated.

  3. "The Board made no attempt to explain the policy underlying its recent decisions. Nor did the Board tell alumni how these decisions would advance the university's mission or are consistent with its values." Here we see the issue of a lack of Board transparency addressed.

  4. John Robinson "appears to have been a convenient sacrifice on the altar of political correctness."

  5. Board needs to amend the by-laws to require 75% vote of trustees to change the name of a physical structure or other important elements of the university, "including the name of the university."

  6. Board should issue a statement that the name of the university will not be changed. Here again was an opportunity for the Board to act decisively and make clear to all constituencies that the name of the university would not be changed.

  • February 2019At its scheduled meeting, the Board resisted calls to distance itself from Lee and to rename the university. However, it did not make a broad, public statement to that effect. The President and various trustees admitted that they dropped the ball in explaining to alumni and others their rationale for making the decisions in fall, 2018.

  • February 22, 2019 - In a letter, President Dudley reiterates his and the Board's decision that the name of the university and the Lee Chapel will not be renamed.

  • 2019 FAQ sheet on W&L website"Are any other building names under consideration for change?" "No. . . Washington Hall, Lee Chapel [author’s emphasis] and Lee House will retain their names and remain among the prominent spaces on campus."

  • November 2019 - Several law students ask for the option of removing portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from their diplomas.

  • February 2020 - Board again rejects calls to distance itself from Lee. 

  • May 2020 -  Board votes not to allow students the option of removing portraits of Washington and Lee from diplomas. The new Board chair, Mike McAlevey, reiterates the position that the university name will remain.

  • Spring-Summer 2020 - A number of unrelated events rock the country, beginning with the covid crisis and lockdown, the murder of George Floyd in late May, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the "Defund the Police" effort. At the time, there is little to indicate a groundswell of support for making major changes at Washington and Lee.

  • July 13, 2020 - Another letter from Emeritus Trustees to Board supporting diversity initiatives but asking them to resist calls for radical change at the university.

  1. No name-change for the university.​

  2. "Naming decisions will not be taken lightly and will be guided by facts, not based on some sense of institutional guilt or desire for historical atonement."

  3. "If the Board acquiesces to the current call to expunge Lee from the university's name, it should be prepared for calls to rename Lee Chapel, Lee House, and to excise every vestige of Lee from the campus, lest someone take offense. . . Erasing parts of the university's history that are uncomfortable is a no-win exercise. Just as renaming Robinson Hall did not quell calls from those favoring historical erasure, removal of Lee from the university's name will not appease this group either."

  4. Emeritus trustees once again call for a specific policy (apparently to be written and publicized) governing naming decisions. They state that the Washington and Lee History Commission recommended specific evaluation criteria for renaming buildings and spaces in their 2018 report. The emeritus trustees recommend a policy adopted by Yale University in 2016.

  • Late July 2020​ - Board announces it will consider the question of a name change for the university along with other issues. This announcement appears to contradict much of what the Board had said since the fall of 2018. 

  • September 20, 2020 - Ring-tum Phi article quotes Rector McAlevey as saying that Board has formed a committee to consider a name change for the university, changes to the form of the diploma, and "other matters that are necessary and directly related to the fulfillment of its purpose." This is a vague statement which does not specify what these "other matters" might be. There is no mention of changing the name of the Lee Chapel or other significant changes within and outside the chapel. 

  • June 4, 2021 - The Board votes not to change the name of the university but hollows out its significance with other changes:

  1.  Board votes to remove the portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from all diplomas. This contradicts the decision of a little over a year earlier. When asked by concerned parents and alums on a subsequent conference call why this decision was made and why students should not be given the option of having the portraits on diplomas, Board representatives do not provide satisfactory answers to either question.

  2. Vote to rename the Lee Chapel as "University" Chapel. This decision is a contradiction of official Board and University policy of just over two years earlier. Rector McAlevey states that there was unanimity or near unanimity within the Board on this 2021 change but does not provide a vote count. Nor is a rationale provided for the renaming of the chapel. In the year leading up to this decision, to this author’s knowledge, the Board sought no broad input on changing the name of the chapel or making other changes to its interior.

  3. Vote to discontinue Founders' Day despite President Dudley's statement of a little less than three years earlier. Again, no rationale seems to have been provided.

  4. Vote for extensive changes to the interior of Lee Chapel including:​​

  • Permanent walling off recumbent statue of Lee. In addition to being a total contradiction of Rector Childress' statement in Fall 2017, this is totally unnecessary in light of the Board's decision in Fall 2018 to close the doors to the recumbent statue during university events.​

  • Removal of the new portraits of Washington and Lee in the chapel. These had been placed in the chapel in Fall 2018. Their removal makes the Board look like it is incapable of making a decision and standing behind it.

  • Removal of all other plaques and historical markers in the chapel. The stated purpose was to restore the chapel to its original form, but this is not the case as the current white walled chapel does not look like the chapel of 1868.

III.
CONCLUSIONS

          The Washington and Lee University Board of Trustees has dramatically changed its position on numerous issues involving the history and traditions of the university over the last four plus years. Their inconsistency and reversal of previous decisions is bewildering. The same can be said of their explanations or non-explanations for many of these decisions. The result is that many alumni have lost confidence in the Board. Clearly greater consistency and transparency will be required in the future if the confidence of the Washington and Lee community is to be retained and strengthened.