June 4 Decision from Board of Trustees
and
The Generals Redoubt's Response

The Decision 

To: The W&L Community

From: The Board of Trustees

Date: June 4, 2021

Re: The Future of Washington and Lee University

 

As explained below, Washington and Lee University will continue under its current

name following a 22-6 decision by the Board of Trustees. The board also decided to

expand diversity and inclusion initiatives and make changes to campus buildings,

practices, and governance.

 

*****

 

Last summer, in the midst of the nationwide protests and search for racial justice,

the Board of Trustees received requests from students, faculty and alumni calling for

changes in the university, including renaming the institution itself and altering the

design of its diploma.

Over the past year, we have engaged in deliberations over these requests and other

important issues relating to diversity and inclusion on campus. We have been guided

by our responsibility to ensure the university's future success in a complex and

changing world.

 

We approached this process with open minds and a commitment to thoroughness.

More than 15,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents shared their

perspectives in surveys, letters, and listening sessions. We have listened carefully

and are grateful for the thoughtful manner in which you have shared your views and

experiences with us.

The feedback and insights we have received confirm what Washington and Lee

stands for and what unites our community:

 

 We are committed to free and critical inquiry, civil discourse, developing

students with honor and integrity, and preparing graduates for responsible

leadership, engaged citizenship, and service to others.

 We recognize that our graduates must be prepared to contribute to an

increasingly diverse society, and that respect for others, no matter their

differences, is a moral imperative.

 We are encouraged by our progress toward becoming a more inclusive

community, but also aware that much work remains.

 We take pride in our school, in the faculty and staff who educate our students,

and in the alumni who support us and represent us in the world.

 

We commit to advancing these values and goals. And at the same time, we must be

equally clear about what we repudiate and regret:

 

 We repudiate racism, racial injustice, and the denial of fundamental dignity to

any individual in our society.

 We regret the university's past veneration of the Confederacy and its role in

perpetuating "The Lost Cause" myths that sustained racism.

 We regret the fact that the university itself owned human beings and

benefited from their forced labor and sale.

 

While we heard broad support for advancing our commitments to diversity, equity

and inclusion on campus, we found no consensus about whether changing the name

of our university is consistent with our shared values. Nor is there consensus on

whether changing the name will position the university to be the most successful it

can be in the future. Sharp disagreements among people who love the university

demonstrate the difficulty of the issue before the board.

In approaching the name issue, it is important to understand when and why the

university acquired its name. Our association with George Washington and Robert

E. Lee is specific: those names were chosen to acknowledge direct actions by each

of them for the benefit of the school. In 1796, George Washington made a gift to

Liberty Hall Academy that ensured its survival, in recognition of which the trustees

named the school Washington Academy. In 1870, immediately following his death in

office as President of Washington College, the trustees added Lee's name in

recognition of his leadership in saving and transforming the school after the

devastation of the Civil War.

Our community holds passionate and divergent opinions about our name. The

association with our namesakes can be painful to those who continue to experience

racism, especially to African Americans, and is seen by some as an impediment to

our efforts to attract and support a diverse community. For others, our name is an

appropriate recognition of the specific and significant contributions each man made

directly to our institution.

 

Although our name recognizes the connections of our namesakes to the institution, it

also has broader significance, representing common experiences and values that

are independent of the personal histories of the two men. The university today is not

a memorial to our namesakes, but a place that provides an exceptional liberal arts

and legal education and fosters relationships that bind generations of students,

faculty, staff, and alumni to each other.

Washington and Lee is one of the most highly regarded universities in America, with

a national reputation for academic excellence, for our honor system, and for the

character and success of our graduates. Our school increasingly attracts diverse

students, faculty and staff and enjoys the devotion of our alumni. The name we have

had for 151 years, and upon which our reputation is built, provides strength and

resources critical to advancing our mission and ensuring that we can do good work

long into the future. Therefore, we will continue as Washington and Lee University,

building on our success and focusing on the actions that have the greatest potential

to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.

We have been moved by listening to members of our community recount painful

experiences at Washington and Lee. You have made a difference. Your stories have

deepened our appreciation of the urgency of taking meaningful, substantive action.

*****

As we focus on the future, our goal is to build a more diverse community, enhance

inclusion for everyone at W&L, and support the professional success of our students

and employees. We have reviewed campus symbols, names and practices, and we

are making changes to remove doubt about our separation from the Confederacy

and the Lost Cause.

$225 Million for Strategic Plan priorities: Scholarships, Curriculum, and

Student Support

 We will raise $160 million to achieve need-blind admissions, giving us the

resources to admit the strongest applicants, regardless of family financial

circumstances. We have already raised $30 million, which has enabled

significant increases in our financial aid budget.

 We will raise $25 million to guarantee funding for an internship or equivalent

experience for every W&L student.

 We will dedicate the earnings on $40 million of our endowment over the next

five years to accelerate enhancements to the curriculum and enrichment of

the experience for all students at W&L. This funding will provide summer

opportunities and make pre-orientation trips and the popular first-year

experience course available to all students, in order to foster early and deep

engagement on the part of all students in the life of the university. It will also

support a new academic center for the study of Southern race relations,

culture, and politics.

Changes to Campus Symbols, Buildings and Practices

 

 We will adopt a new design for the university diploma without images.

 Lee Chapel will be renamed "University Chapel," in keeping with its original

19th-century name of "College Chapel." The board will oversee and approve

interior changes to restore its unadorned design and physically separate the

auditorium from the Lee family crypt and Lee memorial sculpture.

 Founders Day, traditionally held on the birthday of Robert E. Lee, will be

discontinued.

 

Strengthen the Board's work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

 We will continue to expand board representation of women and people of

color.

 We will form a Board committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which will

bring additional perspective to our work and help us oversee, direct and

support the administration's initiatives.

 We will lead an examination of campus residential and social institutions to

increase accessibility, inclusivity, and choice for all students.

 

These actions are in addition to significant steps already taken by the University to

improve the on-campus experience of our students, faculty and staff.

*****

At W&L we enthusiastically embrace our future of diversity, equity and inclusion. We

do this not in spite of the complexity of our history and our namesakes but precisely

because of that complexity. We will continue to conduct rigorous and nuanced

explorations of our history, with the humility and honesty to acknowledge both our

successes and those moments when the university failed to live up to its ideals.

Once completed, the modern campus museum, which is part of our Strategic Plan,

will help us preserve and present our history comprehensively and accurately.

The events of the last year have divided our community. The global pandemic and

the national reckoning on issues of racism and social justice, combined with our own

consideration of critical matters at W&L have challenged us all. These divides will

take time to heal, and we ask everyone to respect the opinions and perspectives of

others. We are confident that W&L will emerge stronger as a result of our active

engagement on these issues, the work we have done together, and the actions and

commitments we are taking. We look forward to continuing to engage our community

on these critical issues as we execute on our Strategic Plan in support of our

mission.

Washington and Lee University

204 W. Washington St.

Lexington, Virginia 24450

540-458-8400

The Generals Redoubt's Response

4 June 2021

To the Trustees of Washington and Lee University: The Washington and Lee University’s Board of Trustees reaffirmation of the name of the university, announced today, was the correct and responsible decision. The Generals Redoubt applauds the strong support of the Trustees for this action, and we are hopeful that it will permanently remove this issue from future consideration. Washington and Lee University is nationally recognized as one of the preeminent small liberal arts colleges in the United States. Its well established and iconic brand is one of its most highly prized assets. We are pleased the Board of Trustees recognized the potential harm that could result from a name change. We understand our namesakes may be controversial when viewed by today’s standards, but we believe it is important to view them both within their historical context – acknowledge their flaws but also recognize their contributions to the ongoing life and excellence of the university. Any attempt to erase history in the name of ‘political correctness’ is simply wrong. The goal of the university should be to educate students to learn and critically challenge issues both past and present through a free exchange of ideas without fear or intimidation. 

We believe it is time to put the matter of changing the name behind us, once and for all, and look ahead to the future and the continued success of Washington and Lee University. The Generals Redoubt is prepared to contribute to that effort. In that regard, there are parts of the Board of Trustee announcement with which we disagree, particularly the statement that the university has in the past promoted or supported the “veneration of the Confederacy and its role in perpetuating ‘The Lost Cause’ myths which sustain racism.”

 

The Board offers no evidence for this statement, and we believe it is fundamentally untrue. We also disagree with the proposed changes to campus symbols, buildings, and practices: We believe that the portraits of our two namesakes should have been maintained on the diplomas, particularly in light of the fact that the Board itself, in an earlier part of their statement, explained the notable contributions of these two men and why we should honor and respect them.  The Lee Chapel is named after Robert E. Lee because he conceived of the idea of a school wide chapel, built it, and he and his family are buried there. In honoring Robert E. Lee’s memory through the naming of the chapel, we do not believe the university is, in any way, promoting the Confederacy, “The Lost Cause”, or racism. 

 

Founders’ Day is an effort to honor not only our namesakes, but also all of our founders. Within the last three years the university itself has suggested that Founders’ Day should be expanded to focus, not just on George Washington and Robert E. Lee, but on all of our founders and prominent figures. The university has described this as an educational opportunity for students and for the entire Washington and Lee community. There may be an argument to move the date of Founders’ Day, but there is absolutely no need to remove it. 

 

All of the proposed changes to campus symbols, buildings, and practices are, in our opinion, further manifestations of the “erase history” and “cancel culture” movements which have proliferated at Washington and Lee and in the broader culture in the last few years. At W&L, this has consisted of removing portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from the Lee Chapel which were considered too “martial” in nature, walling off the recumbent statue of Lee during university events, and, perhaps most egregiously, removing the name of one of the university’s most important and positive figures, John Robinson, from a front campus building. 

 

We have opposed all of the above decisions, just as we oppose the current ones listed above, and we will continue to do so. At the same time, we recognize that the Board has the authority to make such decisions just as they have the authority to make the decision to retain the name of the university. Again, we applaud that decision, and support the Board, not only in their decision, but also in their effort to chart the best path forward for Washington and Lee. With the name-change issue now settled, The Generals Redoubt will continue its focus on preserving and honoring the traditions, history, culture and educational excellence of the University. 

 

Respectfully,

Thomas P. Rideout ‘63 

President

The Generals Redoubt

Links to pdf versions of above documents:

The Future of Washington and Lee University  June 4 2021 Letter from Board of Trustees 

The Generals Redoubt's Response