Aug 26 Letter from Rector Mike McAlevey, '86
To: The W&L Community
From: Rector Mike McAlevey '86
Date: August 26, 2021
As we look forward to the start of the new academic year, I write to update you on the progress made this summer by the university and the Board of Trustees in furtherance of the board's decisions announced in June.
In the June announcement, we confirmed what W&L has always stood for, including free and critical inquiry, civil discourse, developing students with honor and integrity and preparing graduates for responsible leadership, engaged citizenship and service to others. In keeping with these values, we committed to continue building a more diverse community, enhancing inclusion for everyone at W&L, supporting the professional success of our students and employees, and strengthening the board's composition and work. We have taken important actions already to advance these commitments.
On July 14, we announced the addition of Betsy Pakenas '94 and Jonathan Wortham '04 to the Board of Trustees.
On July 27, the university announced the creation of the DeLaney Center, a new interdisciplinary academic hub for teaching and research on Southern race relations, culture and politics.
Today I am pleased to share that trustee William Toles '92, '95L has agreed to chair our new board committee on diversity, equity and inclusion. We expect to constitute the committee at our October meeting.
Additionally, we are considering options for the new design of the university diploma, which we expect to finalize in October.
At the time of the June announcement, we amended the University Bylaws to change the name of Lee Chapel to University Chapel. The board is in the process of selecting an architectural firm that specializes in historic restoration projects to propose a plan for separating the 1868 auditorium and 1883 annex containing the Lee memorial sculpture into two distinct spaces. Burt Pinnock, a Richmond, Virginia-based architect who specializes in design solutions for spaces with historical and cultural significance, will consult with the firm on the project. We anticipate that this renovation will be completed by the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year. Although the renovation work will take some time to complete, we nonetheless expect the chapel auditorium to reopen to the campus community in early September 2021 for orientation events, and to the public in mid-September 2021.
In keeping with our commitment to restore the chapel auditorium's original, unadorned design, we have begun relocating portraits, plaques and artifacts. Portraits and some plaques will be moved to the Chapel Galleries located beneath the chapel auditorium, where we already present the history of the building, the university and the relationship to our namesakes. We plan to improve the galleries with a new exhibit to display prominently the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and the 1866 J. Reid portrait of Robert E. Lee. We expect that new exhibit to open later this fall. Once the new University Museum is completed, it will be home to all of our most important portraits, plaques and artifacts and tell the many stories of the university's history more completely.
The board will continue to update you as we implement the commitments that we announced in June. In the meantime, I wish you all a healthy and successful start to the academic year.
Kamron Spivey Response to the Rector's Letter
My conversations with alumni about Lee Chapel always end with shock and disbelief. How is it that a university once guided by an emphasis on “tradition” and “honor” could denigrate the legacy of their namesakes without concern or legitimate consideration of how the community feels? The Board’s decision to “separate” Lee from the Chapel (physically and ideologically) reveals their abandonment of Washington and Lee University’s heritage—the defining trait of this 272-year-old school. This abandonment attacks more than Lee Chapel; it divides our community.
Over the past year, the W&L administration has successfully disassociated Lee and Lee Chapel from students. Rather than learning about President Lee’s positive accomplishments at a war-ravaged college, students are told only that Lee owned slaves and did not create the Honor System (both true, though that lack of nuance elicits unfair criticism). The Chapel remained closed because of “COVID-19”, even after other campus museums reopened. This closure prevented students from learning about the Lee-Custis family and their role in Southern education. And now, with a new name and new purpose, “University Chapel” no longer sells items branded with Lee Chapel or Robert E. Lee. These policies prevent students from associating with Lee in typical campus life. Students must independently research Robert E. Lee to see why he deserves praise, but even this is punishable (such as when the school charged me with Unbecoming Conduct for making educational pamphlets on President Lee). These policies have fomented a dislike of W&L’s namesake among most social circles.
This dislike will only intensify with the Board’s announcement to “separate” the Recumbent Statue and Lee Family Crypt from the rest of the Chapel. Hiding him behind a wall (wrongfully) signals that the W&L community should be ashamed of Lee. The Board of Trustees justifies this decision under a pseudohistorical claim to “restore... [the Chapel’s] unadorneddesign” to before Lee’s death. Before Lee died, the College Chapel (as it was called) hosted religious services six days a week. Lee himself declared that the Chapel “should be...devoted exclusively to religious worship & instruction.”1 Unless the Board of Trustees intends to hold religious services six days a week and host classes in “University Chapel”, they fail to “restore” the Chapel to its original nineteenth-century purpose.2
But those few years in which the Chapel operated under Lee’s direction constitute very little in the building’s grand scheme. From October 1870 until today, Lee has been integral to the Chapel’s identity. The numerous descendants entombed there intensify the Lee-family association with the Chapel. Lee’s personal connection to the structure is the definitive reason as to why President Henry L. Smith’s 1921 proposal to expand the Chapel lost support.3 In 1961,President Fred Cole promised that the building’s appearance would not change
1 David Cox, “Lee Chapel at 150” (Buena Vista: Mariner Publishing, 2018), 19.
2 Notable secular functions of the Chapel during Lee’s Presidency included literary society meetings, meetings with the President, and graduation ceremonies. The YMCA also meets in the basement of the Chapel.
3 Cox, 120-121.
from the Motor Company Fund’s renovation, as the goal was “to restore and protect...a building constructed under the supervision...of Lee”.4
Lee Chapel’s greatest honor, its status as a National Historic Landmark, exclaims why the building is nationally significant:
Lee Chapel is the resting place of Robert E. Lee, Confederate general and southern educator. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia for nearly the entire course of the American Civil War. Following the final Confederate collapse Lee became president of what was then called Washington College in 1866; Lee Chapel is a monument to that later period. Lee's ceaseless efforts to erase the bitter feelings engendered by the Civil War, and to provide the best education possible for the South's young men, are memorialized here.5
Lee Chapel should be a place to learn about the Civil War and how Lexington and the South recovered through Lee’s guidance. Instead, W&L’s current administration wants to abandon that history and any effort to educate students about Lee. If they get their way, the structure that symbolizes over 150 years of growth and reconciliation will be little more than an empty auditorium; Lee’s attempt to unify the community will ironically be ignored as people separate themselves over Lee.
I hope that those who read this paper understand that denigrating Lee Chapel’s historical significance affects more than the W&L Community. Lee Chapel, although a privately owned site, brings in approximately 40,000 tourists each year.6 But what is there to see now that everything is walled off? What is there to learn now that teaching on him is discouraged? How will students of history ever understand the nuance of Robert E. Lee when the scholarship on him is cast aside and pictures of him “relocated”? In abandoning Robert E. Lee, we divide our campus and our nation.
The task we face is to save this heritage and history. Founder’s Day is abolished. The diplomas no longer depict our namesakes. Since the administration no longer appreciates this school’s past, incoming students won’t either. If we do not take pride in our school and those men and women who developed it over 272 years, we will lose the distinctive qualities that made W&L flourish. We cannot abandon our history and heritage.
Kamron M. Spivey
Washington and Lee University ‘24
President – Students for Historical Preservation
4 Cox, 191.
5 U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, “National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form, Lee Chapel,” August 1862, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/41679071.
6 Cox, 238. This approximation does not account for the decline in national tourism in 2020 and 2021.
To: The Generals Redoubt
Thank you for your work. Some time ago, I sent a private letter to President Dudley expressing some of the same concerns you’ve expressed so eloquently. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve copied it below. Please keep up the good fight. You have my support.
Keith Duet ‘90L
22 July 2021
I respectfully submit that W&L should not discriminate against anyone based on race. It is self-evident that all men are created equal. As history and current events make plain, deviation from this ideal is dangerous.
After rallying the W&L community “to do everything in our collective power to eradicate racism in all its forms, wherever it is found,” your letter details, at great length and without irony, W&L’s efforts under your leadership to discriminate in favor of “people of color” (whatever that means). We will never reach the objective of a colorblind society if prestigious institutions like ours insist on discrimination as the means to that end.
W&L should do its utmost to treat every person as a unique individual possessing a divine spark and unlimited potential. Period. That truly would distinguish our community.
How refreshing it would have been to receive a letter from you stating that W&L will strive to promote this ideal. Instead, your letter strikes me as a capitulation to Mob demands that the institution “do something.” It is a slippery slope, and under your leadership W&L already is so far down this slope that, among other things, it actually is considering removing the pictures of our namesakes from diplomas. Anyone embarrassed by our namesakes’ pictures is attending the wrong institution. It is unbelievably ungrateful. Why should W&L employ its limited resources attempting to mollify ungrateful and sensitive snowflakes, unwilling to harden themselves to the reality that not everything will go their way?
Your other suggestions fall short as well. They will sow resentment between “people of color” and others; pitting individuals against one another. The cure is worse than the disease. I am left wondering when the struggle sessions will start, comrade.
Keith Duet ‘90L
24 June 2021
Re: Your Support?
To the Law School Development Office of Washington and Lee,
Thank you for your e-mail concerning the Annual Fund and the upcoming June 30, 2021 end of the fiscal year. I have been consistent in my support of our law school, but I do not understand why our law school tolerates faculty members who seem to have a purposeful desire to trash and diminish our law school.
Here are two examples:
W&L Law Professor Carliss Chatman
“When I first got here I thought, it’s just a name, it’s not a big deal. But it permeates the culture. We are like a mecca for white supremacists,” Chatman said. “If the name is Washington and Lee, and you’re not going to change the culture, it’s just surface.”
W&L Law Professor Brandon Hasbrouck
“That vote, however, did more. It signaled that Washington and Lee University will continue to shine as a beacon of racism, hate, and privilege.”
To this W&L Law School alumnus, Professor Chatman and Professor Hasbrouck are like officers on a United States Navy submarine who decide to drill through the hull in their spare time from the inside while the ship is at sea, on mission, and at depth.
I do not dispute their First Amendment right to trash our law school as faculty members, but I do have difficulty supporting an institution where my charitable contributions are used to pay their salaries.
I would welcome any response you or our Dean may have.
J. Randall Minchew
16 July 2021
To: The Generals Redoubt
I sent this last week to the Trustees. This video is exactly what is taking place at W&L.
Steve Van Amburgh
Re: This school and student reminds me of the current state at Washington and Lee. Well spoken.
To the Washington and Lee Board of Trustees,
Hope this finds you well. I wanted to share this with each of you, in the event that you had not seen it over the last couple of weeks.
Please know that this is the same message that I have been hearing from the Kids that I know who are current students at W&L. They are afraid to express or share their views, as they feel shamed by the faculty and administration. Sad day for sure for our great school. Personally, I never thought that our school would be divisive and overly liberal leaning. The current students (10 that I know) see it and as a result they are uncomfortable. It is not the HONORABLE way to manage any institution. There should be NO place allowed for fear and shaming…especially from W&L faculty and staff. Shouldn’t they put the students FIRST? This sort of atmosphere…coupled with the Quilt Lady and her expressions and statements on social media along with her radical views is more than enough to drive a loyal W&L person away. My hope is that our Board is being honest and facing the real truth of the matter at hand. Good luck…. we are all pulling for you to steer the boat to calm waters for everyone’s benefit going forward.
Steve Van Amburgh
Letter from Rector Mike McAlevey, '86, addressed to Tom Rideout of TGR
Dear Mr. Rideout,
The Board of Trustees of Washington and Lee University acknowledges your group's July 4 message.
We strongly support President Will Dudley, who continues to lead the University effectively through one of the most challenging periods in its history. Your characterization of his leadership is rife with misinformation.
We take exception to your claim that your views and those of your group have not been heard. The trustees and senior administrators hear regularly from many different alumni, and your group has frequently expressed its views in writing. Moreover, as you know, the board just concluded an extensive examination of the University’s name and related issues, providing numerous opportunities for all community members to share their views. We listened carefully to every voice.
It is your right to disagree, but we stand by all of our decisions and look forward to working with the administration to advance them.
Mike McAlevey '86
On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Washington and Lee University
Response from Tom Rideout of TGR to Rector Mike McAlevey
The Generals Redoubt
Post Office Box 1097
Lexington, VA 24450-1097
July 11, 2021
Dear Rector McAlevey:
Thank you for your email note of July 8th in response to The Generals Redoubt (TGR) message to the Board of Trustees dated July 4, 2021.
To begin, you state that our “characterization of his (President Dudley’s) leadership is rife with misinformation.” Our group has been at this for 4+ years. We have extensive archives. A key overseer of this information is a Phi Beta Kappa alumnus of the University, a published Ph.D. historian who spent his career in education, and someone deeply steeped in the moral teachings of the University’s namesakes. The details of your broadside would be very helpful to our shared purposes, if you would take the time to elucidate where you feel we are mistaken. Such a cataloging could then be the basis for conversations with you and your trustee colleagues about your concerns. We would be more than happy to apologize, if we find we are mistaken.
Such occasions might also be useful for your group to reveal the sources of regret you announced about “the university’s past veneration of the Confederacy and its role in perpetuating ‘The Lost Cause’ myths that sustained racism.” TGR joins you in your statement to “repudiate racism, racial injustice and the denial of fundamental dignity to any individual in our society.” But did what you describe really go on? We were here collectively over the years when the namesakes and accumulated lessons were taught or reaffirmed. And many of us were taken at various stages of our individual lives with the character-focused work of Dr. Martin Luther King and his brilliant colleagues. No one we have asked, including faculty and former staff, can recall such practices as described in your quote. As a result, we believe it is time for the apology tour to come to an end, allowing all of us to celebrate the history and achievements of our university and its alumni.
We believe such conversations with both trustees and key administrators could well begin to put our institutional communications on a mutually beneficial basis. For we all share the stated values in the first of your paper’s bullet points: “We are committed to free and critical inquiry, civil discourse, developing students with honor and integrity, and preparing students for responsible leadership, engaged citizenship, and service to others.” And TGR has a mission to seeing this done at a university that has not abandoned its history, values and traditions. This legacy seems at great risk, unless some reasonable adjustments are made to the recently announced decisions. A suggested start is outlined at the end of this letter.
As to your assertion that we have been heard, we admit to having sent numerous communications to the Board of Trustees. Frankly, we believe our group has not been heard simply because there have rarely been responses to our written outreach other than a few from President Dudley or yourself. Neither of them ever offered an invitation to have a conversation about a particular issue. We happen to think it a good idea to talk to alumni, particularly those with reasonable thoughts and community equity, as a highly useful way to strengthen the institution.
More specifically, the only conversational invitation TGR has ever received resulted in a Zoom meeting hosted by University Advancement on June 15, 2021, during which six representatives spoke with trustees Chris Williams and Craig Owens. This was post your June 4th announcement. Twice during that meeting our members asked about the possibility of future formal conversations with the trustees, a query that has been made previously a number of times and formally rejected. And twice during this meeting we were politely turned down, as it would require too much work to provide similar privileges to 8-9 organizations. Yet, you selected only three advocacy organizations for the extensive post June 4th programming with trustees. Don’t get us wrong. We were pleased, finally, to have an invitation, to speak with members of this board. It was a real breakthrough, after years of trying.
We want these conversations to continue.
In reference to the extensive listening tour plans you announced last summer, we recall hoping this would lead to a TGR conversation or two. But, alas, it did not. Was this deliberate or an accidental oversight? This is unknown to us. We will also acknowledge that we were invited several months ago, along with perhaps three other organizations, to a listening session hosted by Alumni Engagement. No trustees were involved. Our participants recall asking the staff host for feedback, such as notes of the collective findings. There was no response. We hardly think this session qualified as outreach, but rather was convened to research the state of alumni thinking at this later stage of the naming decision study.
In closing, there are some short-term items where engagement between TGR representatives and those of both the administration and trustees might be very useful. They fall under the shared educational objectives discussed above. These are:
The recently announced required vaccination policy for this coming semester harbors potential health risks for Washington and Lee students. These risks also represent potential legal exposure for the university. We are hearing very serious concerns from members of our parents' group, in particular those who have sons or daughters who have had Covid-19 and should not need vaccination. There are apparent health risks associated with administering the vaccine to this age group. Time is of the essence to resolve this conundrum by considering some flexibility.
The diploma decision eliminating the namesakes’ images entirely. The original request from law school students was simply to have the option. In the spring of 2020, some undergraduate students joined that request. Many students currently enrolled, matriculating this fall and coming in the future would like to have the option of a diploma with the images, perhaps to match that of a sibling, parent, or grandparent. Such an accommodation should be easily achieved. This current decision seems draconian, almost like a punctuation mark on the campaign to eliminate the legacy of our alma mater’s namesakes. It is hard to understand how those who voted 22-6 to keep the name would eliminate student choice on a likely emotional matter for a number of students.
We presented to Messrs. Williams and Owens in our June 15th session the suggestion to use anonymous grading in the undergraduate program along the lines of the system used in the Law School. We understand it has been in use there now for 50 years or more. This should be easily done and would provide major relief from the existing ideological indoctrination and grading penalty situation.
In closing, thank you for sending us your brief acknowledgement note and keeping the lines of communications open. We are offering a variety of ways whereby our members might work with the trustees and administration to develop policies and processes that can enable Washington and Lee to become a place that produces students well fit to lead lives of great impact for their families, communities, professions and the nation.
We do look forward to your response and the opportunity to converse about these and other issues.
Thomas P. Rideout
The Generals Redoubt
Recent Letters Regarding Name Change and More:
Conservative student, Kamron Spivey has recently been treated unfairly by students and faculty at W&L and written letters to William Dudley and to the Board of Trustees to complain of the treatment and the lack of response to his original letter. Following up on the situation, TGR has communicated displeasure with the treatment Mr. Spivey has experienced with a letter to President Dudley.
Letters to the Editor through April 2021:
Judith Conlon: follow up to 2 February 2021 Parents Want to Retain the Name
Allen R. Gillespie: June 28. 2020 Response to President Dudley's Letter of June 23, 2020.
Kazimierz J. Herchold: Letter to Washington and Lee President Dudley and Board of Trustees.
Chris Dalton: Letter to Washington and Lee President Dudley, June 29, 2020.
William Rasmussen: June 28, 2020 Letter to Washington and Lee University President William Dudley, The Rector and Board of Trustees.
Bill Becker: January 29, 2020 letter to Rector Mike McAlevey
To submit a letter, email for consideration to: [email protected]