1 April 2021
Rector Michael McAlevey
Washington and Lee University
204 W. Washington Street
Lexington, VA 24450-2116
With the passing weeks since the Trustees decision to postpone the final naming and related issues decisions, the alternate name W&L University has continued to pop up in various venues. Underscoring these events are the changes the University’s website team has wrought over time, where one now has to search closely to find the name Washington and Lee University. W&L or W&L University now seems to be the dominant usage. Accident or design? Nuanced weighing in, while study team and other Trustees consider these existential matters? These are questions the Trustees, who we are copying on this letter, may wish to probe.
The Generals Redoubt has presented its case to the Board constructively via letters, videos and other communications. We strongly urge that our alma mater’s namesakes remain in place. Both men contributed significantly to creating the iconic and highly respected University it has become over the past roughly 225 years. It makes very little sense to us to blow up a brand that still continues to stand for honor, integrity, civility and creating graduates with the power to think both critically and independently as they help create a better world. If the suggested alternate is used, we wonder what our community and the public at large will make of it. What will the new “W&L” represent? Likely, confusion will result. On The Generals Redoubt website home page, we have posted the following: There is No W&L Without Washington and Lee. Our namesakes value infused legacy, if leveraged, can help deflect the current Cancel Culture mania gripping higher education.
We have attached two brief appendices. The first is a piece on Robert E. Lee that appeared recently in the Roanoke Times by Virginia author and military historian Gregg Clemmer. The second is an excerpt from another recent article, this printed in The Washington Post. It speaks to the threat of higher education’s PC culture to the high standards of honor hoisted so strongly over time on the shoulders of our giant namesakes. We ask you and your fellow Trustees to reflect on these thoughtful pieces.
Thomas P. Rideout ’63 & P’91
President, The Generals Redoubt
Robert E. Lee and the History You Were Never Taught
Gregg S. Clemmer
The Roanoke Times
March 13, 2021
Vandalized with paint and foul language by those who seek to remove it, Lee’s statue is walled from all, pending a court decision. Seeing this, I have to shake my head at those who do not know our history. Yes, Lee, in his modesty, requested no such remembrance. Yet 20 years after his death, Virginia dedicated this statue to his memory for future generations to learn from and as a way for the South to heal. The victorious North had no objections, realizing this was a solid way to continue “binding up the nation’s wounds.”
Yet, there is one aspect in this dissension that has not been addressed. And I would suggest it is the single most important legacy bequeathed to us by Robert Edward Lee.
On April 9, 1865, as Grant’s army encircled Lee’s battered army around Appomattox, Gen. Edward Porter Alexander urged Lee to exploit “any chance to cut our way through...” and if that didn’t work, “scatter in the woods & bushes...”
“What would you hope to accomplish by that?” Lee asked.
“If the Army of Northern Va. surrenders, every other army will surrender as fast as the news reaches it. For it is the morale of this army which has supported the whole Confederacy.”
Looking back years later, Alexander noted, “Usually I stood very much in awe of Gen. Lee but now I was wrought up & words came to me as never before. . . I believed firmly that I had him, & he would do it.”
Lee’s response to Alexander would change the history of America.
Suppose two thirds, say 10,000, got away. Divided among the States their numbers would be too insignificant to accomplish the least good. Yes! The surrender of this army is the end of the Confederacy...And as Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs. We must consider only the effect which our action will have upon the country at large. Suppose I should take your suggestion & order the army to disperse & make their way to their homes...They would have to plunder & rob to procure subsistence. The Country would be full of lawless bands in every part, & a state of society would ensue from which it would take the country years to recover. Then the enemy’s cavalry would pursue in the hopes of catching the principal officers, & wherever they went there would be fresh rapine & destruction.
Alexander was stunned!
I was so ashamed of having proposed to him such a foolish and wildcat scheme. I felt like begging him to forget that he had ever heard it.
Fellow Americans, any appraisal of Lee’s legacy must recognize this epic, yet nearly forgotten moment in our nation’s history. Avoidance of a guerrilla war after Appomattox prevented years of horror, facilitated reunion, and steered America to its 20th century world leadership role that endures to this day. Indeed, avoidance of guerrilla wars after civil wars is almost unprecedented. And Lee’s act at Appomattox was instrumental in forming the re-Union we know today.
Indeed, one President kept Lee’s picture in the Oval Office. A dentist from New York wrote him, voicing his dismay: I do not understand how any American can include Robert E. Lee as a person to be emulated...The most outstanding thing that Lee did, was to devote his best efforts to the destruction of the United States Government. . .Will you please tell me just why you hold him in such high esteem?
With images of Lee, Franklin, Washington, and Lincoln overlooking his desk—our President replied:
Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation...Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained. Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
So save Lee’s monument. History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from. And if it offends you, all the better. Because then you’ll be less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase. It belongs to all of us.
Gregg Clemmer is an author and military historian from Afton.
VMI Waters Down Drum-Out Ceremony
James A Bacon
The Washington Post
March 17, 2021
The following is an excerpt from the column:
The Post is oblivious to the purpose of the drum out ceremony. The whole point is to humiliate the transgressor, instill the fear of god in the other cadets, and reinforce the sanctity of the honor code. The message: the Institute will not tolerate any lying, cheating or stealing. Ever. And no mercy will be shown to those who do.
As America has become a more compassionate society, it has become a more permissive society, and more indulgent of lying, cheating and stealing. VMI has changed with the times, although it has not abandoned its traditional practices fast enough to satisfy some. Wins’ decision wasn’t the first step in watering down the honor code, and it won’t be the last. We live in a society in which violators of traditional codes of behavior are regarded as victims. Those who enforce traditional standards are seen as oppressors. The pressure to compromise standards of integrity is unrelenting.
Indeed, the assault on honor at VMI is just one skirmish in the watering down of honor codes everywhere, including other Virginia institutions such as the University of Virginia and Washington & Lee. After decades of moral relativism and situational ethics taught in our schools, the erosion of honor codes should come as no surprise. The latest bludgeon is the claim that the expulsion of a disproportionate percentage of minorities is evidence of racism in the honor courts. It won’t be long before we start hearing that the very concept of honor is a vestige of a racist era originating with slaveholders and duels at fifty paces.
Meanwhile, our country reaps what it sows. Never in my lifetime has dishonesty been so rampant, never have the cultural arbiters of right and wrong been so partisan, never have public figures been so blatant about accusing their enemies of deceit while so assiduously overlooking dishonest among their friends.
VMI is one of the last holdouts against this corruption. Therefore, its ethos must be extinguished. America’s cultural elites want to reserve exclusively for themselves the power to distinguish lies from truth.
Dear President Dudley,
I hope you are doing well this semester. I know this past year has brought challenges that none of us were expecting, but I am grateful for your commitment to allowing us the privilege of attending classes in person. A virtual W&L is simply not the same.
Because the full W&L experience is valuable to me, not just as a student but also as an athlete, I have been extremely diligent in following every guideline set forth by the university intended to keep us healthy and on campus. Looking back on my entire life, I’ve always been a rule follower. I never received detention, and I was rarely reprimanded at home. I believe this stems from my parents’ instillation of respect for authority, even authority with which I disagree, in me.
Yesterday’s event, on the other hand, showed a blatant disregard for the rules intended to keep us safe. As what was undeniably a social gathering, this demonstration certainly exceeded its allowed maximum of 10 participants, which is against the guidelines. It is my understanding that these individuals were socially
distanced, except on Cannan Green and when they were walking, but there is no provision in place for organized gatherings of 150+ people despite apparent social distancing.
As an American, I recognize the importance of our first amendment right to assemble, but during trying pandemic times, many assemblies have been foregone for the supposed benefit of the masses. Unfortunately, we have learned that not all gatherings are treated the same. Over the summer, we saw countless protests and riots that broke Covid-19 restrictions encouraged by state officials while small businesses were forced to close their doors without any promise of ever opening them again. I am disturbed by the fact that this same hypocrisy has found its way onto our campus: some sports cannot compete, and clubs cannot meet, but groups with the correct social, political, and “moral” agenda are allowed to congregate with the protection of our public safety officers. Furthermore, spectators were explicitly not allowed to attend our athletic events over the weekend, yet reporters came yesterday to document the demonstration. I walk around this campus every day terrified that one wrong move could get me quarantined or sent home.
I would like to close by reaffirming how disappointed I am in the event that took place yesterday. As I walked to class, I noticed they had left their stickers all over school property, which shows such a high level of disrespect for what’s left of our university. I want to emphasize that this sort of group will never be satiated.
If the name is abandoned, there will only be the next thing that’s not correct enough, not
equitable enough, or not changed enough. This is the very definition of progressivism: its mission can never be accomplished or else the movement would cease to exist.
Every student at this school willingly matriculated into Washington and Lee University.
I thank you for your time spent reading this. I did not take writing it lightly.
Mr. McAlevy and Board of Trustees,
I am the father of James Andrew Gadiel, a 2000 graduate of W&L. Because he was murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I write in his place to express what I know would be his sentiments regarding the proposed name change and abandonment of standards and traditions at his cherished school.
It is proposed that General Lee’s name be eliminated from W&L. James recognized, as others have, that in matters of race the General was a man of his times and that to hold him accountable for views not in accord with those of our day is unjust, irrational, and reprehensible. Jettisoning the name of General Lee would be cowardly surrender to a hatred that will never be satisfied and lead only to ever more radical demands. (“Ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go;” speech codes, mandatory “anti-racist” re-education.) The end result will be just another politically correct college no different from dozens of other formerly respected universities; the uniqueness of W&L gone and irretrievable.
James was very proud of the fact that a small portion of his tuition was paid for by an endowment from George Washington. Not surprisingly, I read that one professor has called for removal of Pres. Washington’s name also on the pretext that after the name “Lee” is erased the name “Washington University” would leave the school as one of many with that title. He thus admits the real goal of the complainers: total destruction of the school’s historical connections, with Lee just the first step. (That professor suggests “Rockbridge” as the new name. That is appropriate. . . for a community college.)
That same group claims W&L is “on the wrong side of history.” Be aware that, although not using the identical words, radicals of the extreme right and left have historically used the same rationale to eliminate opposing ideas and dissenters. In Germany the phrase used was “The New Order,” in Russia “the ashcan of history.”
It is said that some students and faculty do not feel comfortable at W&L, but no one is forced to attend or to teach at a school with traditions and high standards. Such people have nearly unlimited alternatives because the vast majority of schools have already caved to demands to lower academic standards and get on the “right side” of history. The invariable result has been the end of ideological diversity and the end of free speech.
Should the Board decide to preserve the W&L that so many of us love, there will be some who leave for any of the large number of lesser institutions available such as those in New Haven, Cambridge, Princeton, Hanover, etc. Surely, some disaffected W&L faculty and students will choose to depart for more comfortable surroundings. However, the result will not be a lesser pool of talent for students or staff for W&L, for while there remain very few schools that have resisted the “woke” madness, there are many applicants of the highest ability longing for an institution such as W&L has been.
I was a student in college in the mid 1960's. I have been witness to the beginnings of the radical assault on our education system in the student revolts of that era. The success of that movement has been facilitated by weak college presidents and administrators who have consistently surrendered to radical demands. The faculty members of that time admitted to their ranks leftist professors in the name of free speech and thought. Once tenured, those same leftists have used their authority to deny employment to any but fellow leftists. Thus, the continuing leftward lurch and the suppression of diversity of thought.
Parent of James, W&L 2000
WTC Tower 1, 9/11/01
26 February 2021
The Generals Redoubt
P. O. Box 1097 Lexington, VA 24450-1097
Rector Michael McAlevey
Washington and Lee University
204 W. Washington Street Lexington, VA 24450-2116
Dear Rector McAlevey:
The members of The Generals Redoubt would like to thank the Board of Trustees for its reaffirmation of the principle of student self-governance through its recent modification of the University’s Bylaws. The tradition of self-governance goes back to the administration of President Robert E. Lee, who initiated a student run Honor System.
As champions of the University’s embrace of the Chicago Principles on Free Speech and Expression, we feel the faculty through its teaching role can have a significant impact on the intellectual and moral development of the student body. We are less sanguine about its role in seeking to influence or even dictate other aspects of student life. So we are pleased to see the Board of Trustees take a major step in the elimination of faculty influence in this regard.
As you well know, this past summer was filled with the expression of strong opinions on issues such as systemic racism, social justice and the continued role of its namesakes in the life of the University. Among the key reported events was an Executive Committee finding of the Student Body that strongly favored a name change contemporaneous with a recently adopted faculty resolution. Along with a number of students stunned by this news, members of our team have been looking into that action and have useful research to share with the Trustees and some questions for the Board to consider. These findings are captured in the attached Appendix.
As you look these over, we believe many students felt cheated and surprised by the student Executive Committee action. The EC sought student feedback on June 30, 2020, then notified students by email on July 2, 2020 of the EC approval to remove R. E. Lee’s name---a 3-day rush job.
Compare this to The Spectator’s positive reaction to how the Board of Trustees was conducting its survey.
“In contrast to the horrific handling of this matter by the EC, we [The Spectator] think the Board handled it quite well. In fact, the Board’s statement that not only had a committee been created to look into the matter of changing the name, but also that: “There will be opportunities for the community to express their opinions to the Board, including focus groups with students, faculty and staff and outreach to alumni. More information on these opportunities will be forthcoming soon. We have not established a timeline for completion of this process but know that it will be a primary focus of the Board in the coming months alongside our focus on the health and safety of our community in light of COVID-19.”
“We found that statement to be reassuring. It shows that unlike our own student representatives, Washington & Lee’s Board of Trustees actually cares about what the community thinks, is committed to making a well thought out decision, and is in no rush to betray our namesakes. Perhaps our student representatives could learn a thing or two from that by reviewing the contrast in approach and learning some life-long lessons in the process.”
For the Trustees, we are hopeful this work will lead to some questions such as what and who were the driving forces to conduct the “Listening Group” session; were the results of this experiment a useful contribution to its process; and are there lessons to be learned that will make student participation in the evolving life of the university more measured, thoughtful and ultimately to the benefit of the Washington and Lee community.
Thomas P. Rideout ’63 & P’91 President
The Generals Redoubt
Cc: Board of Trustees
Student reporting and testimony indicate a litany of abuses occurred during this process. No EC member or student vote counts were revealed. The W&L Spectator reported “Those statements were issued without the prior knowledge or consent of the student body. Additionally, they …appear as unanimous. …Our student body constitution [requires] an open business meeting announced to students,…[before closure] with a 2/3 vote of the EC… An EC member even admitted favoring those ‘oppressed’ voices over those choosing to keep the Lee as part of the university name.”
The Spectator article of July 14, 2020 called out the EC’s deceptive unconstitutional actions leading to the EC’s ‘unanimous’ support for changing the name of Washington and Lee.
a. “Those statements [the EC name change/diploma statement] were issued without the prior knowledge or consent of the student body. Additionally, they were made, as you can see from the text of the email, to appear as unanimous.”
b. “EC email was sent out stating that the EC would be meeting with the Board to discuss “recent developments across the country on the issue of race, including the focus on Confederate monuments and symbols, and the impact these events are having on Washington and Lee University.” A form was also included so that students could comment on those aforementioned issues. Does that email make it sound like a few short days later the EC would be issuing a statement stating that it unambiguously and unanimously supports changing the name? No, because the name change issue wasn’t mentioned a single time in this first EC email nor were students informed that the EC was considering crafting such a statement.”
c. “Our student body constitution states that for an EC business meeting to be closed, which this one was, it should have started as an open business meeting that was open to and announced to students, and can then become closed with a 2/3 vote of the EC. Doing so creates some level of transparency and allows students to comment on relevant issues. We were not granted that opportunity, and, as far as I can tell, there never was an open EC business meeting that took place before the closed one. So, if the business meeting was closed, but students were not allowed to weigh in, how were the EC’s procedures constitutional?”
d. “Those statements were issued without the prior knowledge or consent of the student body. Additionally, they were made, as you can see from the text of the email, to appear as unanimous.”
e. “This entire operation was, in my opinion, suspicious and dishonorable. I feel that my trust in the EC to do its due diligence and respect and represent the views of all students was betrayed.”
f. “This EC decision to unambiguously support changing the name and attacking W&L’s culture in other ways was a dangerous grasp of power. No EC members ran on a platform of purging our university’s namesakes. The EC had not brought this issue up beforehand. We weren’t even granted the privilege of receiving the relevant EC minutes on the subject so we might understand how they reached and justified such a radical decision. Moreover, in the subsequent town hall to discuss changing the name, the EC refused to state which members voted for the statement and which voted against it. Such important and radical measures should not be cloaked in secrecy. This issue is one that calls for transparency and open conversations, not surprise announcements and top-secret meetings.”
II-A Concerned Senior Student
Soon after the EC proclamation, a senior student, outraged at the EC’s actions, examined the EC’s practices and criticized the EC’s gross manipulation of circumstances and disregard for their own procedures to force their prejudiced outcome.
a. “The EC notified us on June 30, 2020 at 2:03pm that they were invited by the Board of Trustees to participate in a “Listening Group” to investigate our vast and complex institutional history. At 11:37am on July 2, 2020, we received an email indicating that the EC finished their meeting with the Board of Trustees and had already presented their formal decision.”
b. “The distinction of this meeting as Business or Emergency was not made. If it was a Business Meeting, the EC Constitution requires that the meeting must begin as an open meeting to receive comments and input from the Student Body. The Meeting should only have become closed after two-thirds vote of a present quorum or at the discretion of the President. The language of the Student Body Constitution does not authorize starting any EC meeting in closed session.”
c. “Though the power to call a meeting of the EC when necessary, resides within the office of the President of the Student Body, no Standing Committee was appointed to investigate matters of student interest or concern regarding the items listed above.”
d. “The form for feedback was sent by the EC at 2:03pm on June 30, 2020. We were notified at 11:37am on July 2, 2020 that the EC finished the meeting with the Board of Trustees and had already presented their formal decisions supposedly based on the feedback form. However, the form for comments closed at 5:00pm on July 2, 2020, which means any comments received after 11:37 were neither discussed with the Board nor discussed prior to the determination of the position of the EC. Although the claim has been made that all submissions through this form were thoroughly considered, it is difficult to believe that a period of less than forty-eight hours in the middle of summer would have been sufficient to do so in addition to having a formal meeting to determine a decision.”
e. “The EC did indicate that minutes from the meeting with the Board of Trustees would not be released. The EC has no constitutional authority to vote without quorum and in an open business meeting or to then close it by EC member vote; further, it cannot vote in secret during a Trustee meeting. Unless the EC took their constitutional vote during this meeting, minutes of the meeting when the vote was taken should exist and are subject to release if not explicitly indicated otherwise.”
Plainly the EC either mishandled or deliberately disregarded its own rules and disregarded reasonable notice, rights of comment and full disclosure of the EC’s actions to its constituent body. The EC acted beyond its authority and scope of fiduciary duty, and its pronouncement lacked informed student participation and consent. In a corporate setting, these people would be fired for negligence. Formalities of group organizations universally recognized in business as best practices under Roberts Rules were flaunted with prejudicial intent.
By contrast, The Spectator commended the Board of Trustees for its measured, deliberate manner of conducting its survey and its open communications to the W&L community. The Generals Redoubt agrees with this sentiment.
February 2, 2021
To the Board of Trustees of Washington and Lee University:
We are a group of current and past Washington and Lee parents who wish to retain the
University’s name. We appreciate the Washington and Lee experience, and would like to preserve
its unique character and history for future generations of students and families. There are ways for
the school to evolve without destroying all that has come before.
We feel that the Board of Trustees should neither sanitize the multi-faceted truths of the
school; nor erase the incredible contributions of its founders. The current effort to remove Lee’s
name is based on the false notion somehow connecting the school to the Confederacy and the “Lost
Cause” myth. We see this as a dangerous position because, not only is it historically incorrect, but
it means that an individual’s flaws of judgement preempt all other attributes of one’s life.
In the case of the board’s current decision, removing Lee’s name is to deny the uniquely
American value of redemption. It is well known that Lee was instrumental in reviving the school
after the Civil War. Many of the most honored traditions of the school were initiated by President
Lee. His prior actions, though historically relevant, are not why the school was renamed in his
honor. The school became Washington and Lee University to recognize Lee’s contributions to the
school while he was President of Washington College. There is so much history on the campus,
and while we don’t have to agree with it all, we should appreciate our past, protect it and seek to
learn from it.
We realize that many institutions are feeling enormous pressure to sanitize their histories,
but they do so at the peril of erasing what makes their character unique. Don’t let this happen to
Washington and Lee. Stop the deleterious name change movement now, and don’t allow it to gain
further traction as other universities and institutions might look to your decision as a model. It is
notable that other prestigious schools like Yale and Brown are not seeking a name change because
they realize that the consequences of a name change would be severe and injurious to their schools.
Please consider the impact on future recruitment. There are so many colleges that students
and their parents can select when the time comes. Many of these colleges have adopted a
philosophy that discourages open dialogue and shuts down opposing points of view. Consequently,
there is often nothing that makes one college especially distinctive. What makes Washington and
Lee special and different is its combination of traditions, values, and history. It truly is “a place
like no other.” We would like to see it remain that way. Let us continue to make that true by
rejecting the prevailing trend of the last few years to erase history.
Enormous numbers of alumni are proud to say they graduated from Washington and Lee,
and they know it as a name that will be met with recognition and great respect. Changing the name
threatens to undermine the reputation and identity or brand of the University. Changing the name is a threat to current financial support and to untold future contributions. Show the world that alumni contributions, if accepted by the university, will always be honored.
Alumni should never fear that some future aspect of their lives then deemed inappropriate would
cancel out the good they do for the school. As parents, we are well aware that there are many current students who do not wish the school to change its name. Many students are forced into silence and afraid to share their opinions. Other students have been coerced into expressing their support for the name change to avoid being ostracized. Make no mistake about it; they are there. Such is the prevailing culture. Colleges are
supposed to be places for the free and open exchange of ideas and not places where selected
viewpoints can be dismissed through shaming tactics.
Many parents of Washington and Lee students are also alumni of the school. Continue to
seek and honor these alumni, whose contributions have made Washington and Lee a more inclusive
place. Without them, the school would have fewer resources to admit students with financial need
and thus be able to offer merit and need based scholarships. Another way of saying this is that
alumni are helping make the school more diverse, always with merit as the core value for admission.
Changing the name risks alienating many parents and alumni from making further contributions,
resulting in a student population less reflective of the fabric of our world.
At a time when the school is dealing with controversy surrounding the COVID pandemic
as well as issues involving Rush Week, spring break scheduling, and student and parent
dissatisfaction, perhaps a decision this momentous should not be added to the mix. Students and
others who are in favor of the name change are planning to protest whatever the Board of Trustees
decides. They will not stop until they have taken away everything that makes Washington and Lee
We believe the Board of Trustees needs to make a bold and courageous stand to retain the
name and reputation of our beloved Washington and Lee University.
We ask that the Board keep the identities of those who have endorsed this letter
Concerned Parents of Washington and Lee University
Judith Conlon: follow up to 2 February 2021 Parents Want to Retain the Name
Open Letter to the Washington and Lee Board and Community
As the Washington and Lee Board of Trustees considers changing the name of the university, The Generals Redoubt (TGR) wishes to share statistical information and other research findings to aid them in their decision-making.
In August 2020, The Generals Redoubt commissioned a poll of our email list of c. 9,300 followers. Approximately 2,000 individuals or 22% of those contacted responded. Our email list consists largely of alums, but it also includes current students, parents, faculty, administration, and other friends of the university. The majority of those on our email list support TGR’s general goals and objectives. We refer to this survey below as “TGR Poll.” In June 2020, the vast majority of emeritus trustees sent a letter to the W&L Board in support of maintaining the name of the university. We refer to this letter below as “ETL.” Our conclusions are drawn from the emeritus trustee letter, the survey, various published rankings of colleges and universities, and other research we reviewed.
II. Findings Supporting the Retention of the Name Washington and Lee University – It Conveys a High Quality Educational Experience
Over the last several years, Washington and Lee has continued to attract an ever larger and diverse number of qualified applicants and enrollees. Applications to the undergraduate school have increased each of the last three years. And it has been reported that current applications to the law school are up about 40% over the same time last year.
College Consensus, which brings together data from reputable college ranking sites and student review sites, ranked Washington and Lee #4 among national liberal arts colleges and universities in 2020. Only two colleges on this list have a higher student consensus review ranking than W&L.
Forbes magazine ranked W&L 13th for return on investment among all private colleges and universities and 12th among liberal arts colleges based on student outcomes.
Pay Scale ranks Washington and Lee at 21st among all private and public colleges with the highest paid graduates and 17th among private schools. Forbes notes similar results.
Significant majorities of students and alums (78% or greater) believe W&L provides leadership in the community, is principled, and lives up to its honor code (TGR Poll). Washington Monthly ranked W&L 7th among liberal arts colleges and universities in its "Contribution to the Common Good.”
In 2019, Kiplinger magazine ranked W&L 6th among all private and public colleges on its "Best Value" list and 5th on its list of private colleges and universities. In arriving at this ranking, Kiplinger notes Washington and Lee's abundant financial aid and low graduate debt. Money magazine ranked W&L 12th in its "Best College" ranking. Money included both the quality of education and various financial factors. The magazine reported that about 2/3rds of undergraduates graduated without any debt. College Choice, which ranked W&L 9th overall among private colleges and universities in 2020, noted that among this top tier of colleges Washington and Lee had the 5th lowest tuition and fees.
Endowment provides for a great deal of financial health of any college or university and helps support scholarships and financial aid. For 2021, College Raptor ranked W&L at 15th in endowment per student among colleges and universities. Among national liberal arts colleges, it was 6th in endowment per student. The vast majority of the W&L endowment has came from the gifts of alumni and other individual donors to the school.
Washington and Lee consistently ranks in the top ten of liberal arts colleges and universities overall. U.S. News and World Report ranked W&L 9th among private colleges and universities in 2020. College Factual ranked W&L as the #1 college or university in Virginia and #3 in the Southeast in that same year. Kiplinger notes that Washington and Lee is highly selective and accepted 21% of its applicants in 2019. In 2020, Niche listed W&L at 16th among national liberal arts college and universities for its low acceptance rate.
Washington and Lee enjoys an excellent relationship with graduate schools and a high acceptance rate among them.
Over the last several years, Washington and Lee has attracted a more diverse applicant pool, and the percentage of minority students has increased significantly. Domestic students of color increased by 50% from June, 2016-June, 2020. In the fall of 2020, 20% of the incoming undergraduate classes were domestic students of color (W&L statistics and ETL). College Factual, which uses not only ethnicity but also gender balance and geographic location of origin in determining diversity, rates W&L very high with on overall diversity of 94.2% out of 100%.
Minority students decide to attend a college or university based on a variety of factors- academic, athletic, financial, social, etc. - not because of a person or persons for whom a college is named (ETL). There is no empirical evidence that the name of Washington and Lee has inhibited minority students from applying to the university. The rural location of the school, the lack of a local diverse community population, and costs are likely more important factors.
Robust fund raising to support need-blind admissions will do more to attract a diverse student body than will a name change. The money for such a program would come largely from alumni who, for the most part, are in favor of retaining the name of the university. In remarks President Dudley made to alumni in the fall of 2020, he reported that 57% of incoming correspondence was opposed to a name change, while 43% favored it. Adding this finding to the TGR Poll, we estimate that c. 60% or more of all alums are in favor of maintaining the name while c. 40% or less support a name change or are undecided. Other internal sources indicate that a significant majority of major donors to the university are in favor of retaining the name - Washington and Lee University.
Washington and Lee is rapidly diversifying its faculty. 45% of the tenure track hires over the last four years are faculty of color and 20% are African-Americans (ETL).
Washington and Lee has created a longstanding, powerful alumni network which not only supports the school financially, but also assists with admissions, job placement, etc. In 2017, Forbes listed W&L at 12th nationally among all colleges and universities in its “Grateful Grad" index, which tracks 10 year median donation per student and three year average alumni participation rate. In 2017, W&L was 8th among national liberal arts colleges in 10-year median donation per student. In 2019, U.S. News and World Report ranked W&L 8th for the prior two year years with an average participation percentage of 47.5% of alums.
Over the last three years, the percentage of alums that have donated and the amount they have donated has declined as a result of the various controversies surrounding the university and the negative publicity associated with these issues. But there is every indication that donations will rebound in short order if the name of the university is strongly reaffirmed.
The Alumni Factor, which bases its college rankings on surveys and interviews of 42,000 alums from 450 colleges, rated W&L #2 behind only Princeton University among all colleges and universities in 2014. Washington and Lee ranked #1 among national liberal arts colleges that year. This is the only college ranking system that is based totally on alumni satisfaction and success.
The brand of Washington and Lee has proven very durable over the last 150 years. A valuable brand should not be abandoned. Rather, it should be enhanced. There are no examples in the 20th or 21st century
of an institution of Washington and Lee's caliber that has changed its name and flourished afterward (ETL).
In 2019 and again in February 2020, the Board of Trustees considered and rejected calls for the university to distance itself from Lee, stating its "abiding conviction that the university is rightly named for two men who made transformative contributions to this institution and to education in the United States." Nothing has changed in the intervening period to support a contrary opinion. (ETL).
Maintaining the name of the school will allow Washington and Lee to refresh the legacy of its namesakes and also to present them in the historical context of the times in which they lived.
III. Findings Related to a Name Change of the University
A significant majority of alumni donors are less likely to donate to the school if the name is changed. This includes many major donors to the school. In the TGR survey of 2,000 alums and friends of the school, c 70% indicated that they would not contribute to the university if the name were changed. Some alumni may seek refunds of prior gifts, contending that their gifts were intended to benefit an institution named Washington and Lee. (ETL). The TGR Poll also indicates that if the name is changed, many alums will cease to support the university in other ways such as sending their own children to the school, supporting admissions recruitment, and helping with career advice and job placement.
There is a possible loss of income from foundations, such as the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, which controls a large endowment from which it dispenses c. $22-23 million a year to Washington and Lee.
The costs of rebranding the university are significant, with no certain outcome. Money spent on rebranding could be better deployed in need-blind admissions and in making Washington and Lee a
welcoming community for all. In the near term, the university would lose brand identification as it sought to establish a new brand to replace a historically successful one. (TGR Poll). All of the above potential losses of revenue and increased costs would harm economically disadvantaged students and undermine diversity efforts (ETL).
Changing the name will really do nothing to solve the challenges of diversity and race. It would be simply an empty and symbolic gesture, one that prevents leveraging the university's strong, national reputation.
By removing the name of Lee, you strike the name of the man who was responsible for the school's academic and financial success after the Civil War and laid the foundation for its flourishing national reputation today. Robert E. Lee essentially turned a destitute and struggling college into a modern university.
By removing Lee, you erase the name of the man who was most responsible for our honor code and our values of duty, service, and civility. The practice of civility is already under attack from some students, faculty, and alums. Can the honor code be far behind?
By removing the name of Lee, you would tarnish the Judeo-Christian belief in the concept of personal redemption. Lee was one of the nation's leading advocates for reconciliation between North and South after the Civil War and helped to create the conditions for the "New South" movement that flourishes 150 years later.
Removing the name of Lee from the university is an attempt to protect students from considering "uncomfortable" ideas, rather than letting them confront the complexities of history and make sense of them for themselves. This would tarnish the university’s endorsement of The Chicago Principles on Free Expression and help restrict the development of students’ critical thinking skills, balanced judgment and resilience. Today’s cultural movement is not education, but indoctrination in a new orthodoxy that allows only one interpretation of history, that being a diatribe against American ideals.
The Generals Redoubt strongly supports all forms of diversity. Not only ethnic diversity, but also socio-economic diversity and greater ideological diversity among its students, faculty and administrators. It is clear that Washington and Lee has further work to do to increase ethnic diversity. However, no conclusive evidence has been presented to demonstrate that changing the name of the university will further this goal.
The idea that changing the name will increase diversity is based on some vague notion that a name change will cause the interested public to feel more "comfortable" and less "threatened.” If the name is changed, alumni, who provide the vast majority of financial support to the school, may withhold or withdraw funds. It is the financial support of alums that provides for the endowment and many other forms of financial and career oriented aid. Re- branding the university will also be costly. It poses a significant risk of diverting money from scholarships and other forms of student financial support and may restrict faculty hiring and compensation options.
In all other areas, both students and alumni indicate that they are very satisfied with the Washington and Lee experience and with the opportunities that it affords them after graduation. The stellar brand of Washington and Lee clearly conveys this level of satisfaction. There is no indication that any other brand will be as successful. This strength is also due to the robust alumni donor network, which will be significantly weakened if the name of the university is changed.
Washington and Lee has been very successful in the last few years in attracting more student and faculty ethnic diversity. We are hopeful that this trend will continue. Greater ethnic diversity can best be achieved through better recruitment and strong fund raising directed toward a totally need- blind admission policy and more resources for salaries, student scholarships and loans. Much of this money will necessarily come from alumni, who indicate by a significant majority that they wish to retain the name of our university and continue to honor our namesakes (TGR Poll).
Tom Rideout, President, The Generals Redoubt
Neely Young, Vice President, The Generals Redoubt
Distributed January 7, 2021
Letters to the Editor through December 2020
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: firstname.lastname@example.org