Keep Lee at Washington & Lee University

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
The link below connects to a truly brief form that Washington & Lee University asks interested persons to complete in order to give their opinion to the administration about a proposal to drop Lee's name and minimize his history with the school.

https://tinyurl.com/y79umnt8
Those who would like to send a note to members of the W & L Board of Trustees may email me and I will send you their addresses:

My email address: phil_leigh(at)me.com*

* (at) = @
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Shown below is the comment I sent to the Washington & Lee Administration on the form provided. I also emailed the comment to each member of the Board of Trustees.

Many colleges have an honor code but few will let anyone enter the student bookstore without first checking their backpacks and other bags that might be used to steal textbooks. That's not true at W & L because the honor code is taken seriously. Without respecting Lee, W & L's honor code will become devalued and ineffective. Nothing could be more damaging to the leadership potential of future W & L graduates.​
 

Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Interesting point. I am not sure how implementing the honor code should be affected by removing Lee's name from the title of the University. The curent honor code system at W&L can easily be retained, or altered, without regard to whether 'Lee' is retained as part of the University's official name.

The honor code is an outdated concept anyway, and is a remnant of Lee's experience as a student at West Point in the 1820s.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Interesting point. I am not sure how implementing the honor code should be affected by removing Lee's name from the title of the University. The curent honor code system at W&L can easily be retained, or altered, without regard to whether 'Lee' is retained as part of the University's official name.

I don't think that's true. I think the integrity of the honor code at W & L is very much influenced by tradition. I don't know if its still true, but W & L students have been permitted to even take their "in class" exams back to their dorm and return them at the close of the class session so long as they affix the honor code pledge to the blue book. Television reporter Roger Mudd, who was a W & L grad, once said that the professors would sometimes pass-out the exams and then leave the classroom while students took the test.

The honor code is an outdated concept anyway, and is a remnant of Lee's experience as a student at West Point in the 1820s.

The W & L alumni I know would strongly disagree.

I may be paraphrasing, but I understand that Lee told incoming students: "We have only one rule at Washington College: everyone must be a gentleman."
 
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Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
(July 5, 2020) Two days ago I posted a form that enables interested persons to submit their opinions about a proposal at Washington & Lee University to remove the name “Lee” and minimize his connections to the school. Here’s what I wrote:

Many colleges have an honor code but few will let anyone enter the student bookstore without first checking their backpacks and other bags that might be used to steal textbooks. That’s not true at W & L because the honor code is taken seriously. Without respecting Lee, W & L’s honor code will become devalued and ineffective. Nothing could be more damaging to the leadership potential of future W & L graduates.​

Ninety-two-year-old former NBC News Anchor and W & L alumnus, Roger Mudd, once wrote that the honor code was taken so strictly that professors could pass out exams, leave the classroom and return to pick up the blue books. Other alumni 20-to-30 years younger have provided me similar testimonies. So long as they affixed the Honor Pledge the work was graded with the understanding that the student neither received nor gave help.

Lee.jpg

Based upon my visit to the school in January to request a (denied) opportunity to speak in defense of Confederate memorials, I met others who told me the honor code was still taken earnestly. One told me that the students are more strict with enforcement than are the professors. I think the Robert E. Lee tradition has a great deal to do with the code’s success. He greeted each new incoming class with a remark I may be paraphrasing: “We have only one rule at Washington College: All our students must be gentlemen.”

I do, however, feel compelled to add that I got indications from Lexington residents that many resent the W & L “brats” who swoop into town for four years, change community traditions such as the Lee-Jackson Parade and then leave forever. Since the town's population is only 7,000 and includes VMI, I hope the present W & L Administration will consider that as well. They may be treating the non-academic residents like peons, if not slaves. If true, they are not following Lee's instruction to be gentlemen, and ladies.
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
"I do, however, feel compelled to add that I got indications from Lexington residents that many resent the W & L “brats” who swoop into town for four years, change community traditions such as the Lee-Jackson Parade and then leave forever. Since the town's population is only 7,000 and includes VMI, I hope the present W & L Administration will consider that as well. They may be treating the non-academic residents like peons, if not slaves. If true, they are not following Lee's instruction to be gentlemen, and ladies."

Of course "town-gown" tensions exist in just about every college town in America and in Lexington have nothing whatever to do with the name of the University, but rather with the behaviour of the students and administrators in their day-to-day relations with local residents.

Unwise, I think, to talk about anyone being treated like slaves in a discussion of a University best known for glorifying the Confederacy.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
"I do, however, feel compelled to add that I got indications from Lexington residents that many resent the W & L “brats” who swoop into town for four years, change community traditions such as the Lee-Jackson Parade and then leave forever. Since the town's population is only 7,000 and includes VMI, I hope the present W & L Administration will consider that as well. They may be treating the non-academic residents like peons, if not slaves. If true, they are not following Lee's instruction to be gentlemen, and ladies."

Of course "town-gown" tensions exist in just about every college town in America and in Lexington have nothing whatever to do with the name of the University, but rather with the behaviour of the students and administrators in their day-to-day relations with local residents.

The combined student bodies of VMI and W & L are equal to half the population of Lexington, Virginia. The faculty and administrators would add to that number. In contrast, the student body at the University of Virginia is only 34% the size of Charlottesville.

Unwise, I think, to talk about anyone being treated like slaves in a discussion of a University best known for glorifying the Confederacy.

I don't think those wanting to show respect for Lee do so to "glorify" the Confederacy but instead to pay tribute to Lee's leadership. He did not join the Confederacy until his home state of Virginia seceded. Americans of that era commonly put their loyalty first to their state and second to the Central Government.

As noted, I got indications that non-academic residents felt W & L students were acting like brats who looked down their noses at the town's working class and forced them to be censored for expressing values in conflict with the faculty and administrators. That looks like tyranny, which tends to produce metaphorical master-slave mentality w/o being a literal slave-based society.
 
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Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 8, 2015
Well, Phil, like it or not, W&L's style of veneration for Lee is widely understood to also be glorification of the Confederacy. The challenge for the University is to continue to honor Lee for his contributions to the institution without being seen to endorse slavery and the other anti-democratic features of ante-bellum southern culture. Hard to do, I know.
 

Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
Well, Phil, like it or not, W&L's style of veneration for Lee is widely understood to also be glorification of the Confederacy. The challenge for the University is to continue to honor Lee for his contributions to the institution without being seen to endorse slavery and the other anti-democratic features of ante-bellum southern culture. Hard to do, I know.

Actually, I don't see much evidence of such veneration from the W & L faculty, students and administration, while the communications that I've seen from alumni is respectful of Lee and not a veneration of the Confederacy.

Meanwhile, the remarks below by Professor Robert George of Princeton might help Lee critics associated with W & L question their interpretations.

Professor George reveals that whenever he asks students to state what position they would have taken on slavery had lived in the antebellum South, nearly all of them claim that they would have been abolitionists.

"Of course their answer is nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of the students, or any of us, would have spoken out against slavery, or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefitted from it.” So he tells the students he will credit their claims if they can show that in leading their lives today they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice and where they have done so knowing:
  1. They would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful individuals and institutions and;
  2. That they would be abandoned by many of their friends and;
  3. That they would be called nasty names and;
  4. That they would be denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of their moral witnessing and;
  5. That they would might well lose their jobs for such witnessing.
In short, Professor George challenged the students to show where they have—at risk to themselves and their futures—stood up for a cause that is unpopular among today's elite. I wonder if today's W & L faculty and students would be less confident of a claim that they would have been abolitionists if they had pondered Dr. George's five questions before answering.
 
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John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
If they're going to remove "Lee" from the name then they'll have to also remove "Washington." Washington owned slaves and statues of both are being torn down as we digit. I suppose they could choose something neutral like 'Lexington University' and avoid naming it for somebody who, in the future, might also be seen as faulty ("oooh ... Dr. X once said there's only two sexes; that's not acceptable today").

I have a very small connection to the school (and VMI) because the husband of a direct Winn relative was one of the founders of the town, was good friends with the Superintendent of VMI, and built several buildings that are still in use on both campuses. His house still stands right next to campus and his sword is in the museum at VMI. I'd very much hate to see the school bend to pressure to comply with the demands of the cancel culture.

As to the honor system, I went to a school where we had one and it was, indeed, taken seriously as a measure of one's integrity. As we used to say, in the end all you really have is your word. Perhaps in today's world such things have been lost but I'd like to believe that's not true everywhere (although I'm beginning to doubt a lot of things these days).
 
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Philip Leigh

formerly Harvey Johnson
Joined
Oct 22, 2014
If they're going to remove "Lee" from the name then they'll have to also remove "Washington." Washington owned slaves and statues of both are being torn down as we digit. I suppose they could choose something neutral like 'Lexington University' and avoid naming it for somebody who, in the future, might also be seen as faulty ("oooh ... Dr. X once said there's only two sexes; that's not acceptable today").

I have a very small connection to the school (and VMI) because the husband of a direct Winn relative was one of the founders of the town, was good friends with the Superintendent of VMI, and built several buildings that are still in use on both campuses. His house still stands right next to campus and his sword is in the museum at VMI. I'd very much hate to see the school bend to pressure to comply with the demands of the cancel culture.

As to the honor system, I went to a school where we had one and it was, indeed, taken seriously as a measure of one's integrity. As we used to say, in the end all you really have is your word. Perhaps in today's world such things have been lost but I'd like to believe that's not true everywhere (although I'm beginning to doubt a lot of things these days).

As of a few years ago, and perhaps it still continues, incoming freshmen would sign the "white book" to register for the honor code in the Lee Chapel. A student could look at the long list of names that stretched back to the 1860s. It created a sense of tradition that made compliance more likely because each student knew he was in a long chain of others who took the pledge.

They may have recently switched the sign-in process from the Lee Chapel to someplace else and it may have impacted the tradition. As I was giving a speech for Lee-Jackson Day, a W&L video journalist team of a boy and a girl took me aside for an interview. As the boy was setting up the camera I chatted with the girl and asked her about the honor code. She was a little flippant about it. I was disappointed but attribute her attitude, at least in part, to the change in the deep tradition of the sign-in ceremony.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
As of a few years ago, and perhaps it still continues, incoming freshmen would sign the "white book" to register for the honor code in the Lee Chapel. A student could look at the long list of names that stretched back to the 1860s. It created a sense of tradition that made compliance more likely because each student knew he was in a long chain of others who took the pledge.

They may have recently switched the sign-in process from the Lee Chapel to someplace else and it may have impacted the tradition. As I was giving a speech for Lee-Jackson Day, a W&L video journalist team of a boy and a girl took me aside for an interview. As the boy was setting up the camera I chatted with the girl and asked her about the honor code. She was a little flippant about it. I was disappointed but attribute her attitude, at least in part, to the change in the deep tradition of the sign-in ceremony.

Perhaps it's become something like written thank-you cards (or wedding invitations); just an antique from the past we no longer need. Maybe they'll just 'sign' on line now (so they won't be inconvenienced or traumatized by having to physically go to the Lee Chapel). Ceremony and tradition are so outdated.
 

Irishtom29

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 21, 2008
Location
Kent, Washington
If they're going to remove "Lee" from the name then they'll have to also remove "Washington." Washington owned slaves and statues of both are being torn down as we digit.

Washington was a traitor to Britain, Lee was a traitor to the United States. For many people, including me, this brouhaha is about rebellion and treason against the United States, not slavery. But as the school in question is a private one what they do is their business.

However if in some place the citizenry decides they want Washington's statue removed from public property, well, that's their business.
 

DanSBHawk

Captain
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Wisconsin
I've seen that some at the university are calling for both names to be removed. The name has already changed like three times, so it shouldn't be that big of a deal. Name it after the city, or some other innocuous thing. Students don't need the distraction.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Washington was a traitor to Britain, Lee was a traitor to the United States. For many people, including me, this brouhaha is about rebellion and treason against the United States, not slavery. But as the school in question is a private one what they do is their business.

However if in some place the citizenry decides they want Washington's statue removed from public property, well, that's their business.

From what I've heard the brouhaha over such persons is that they owned slaves, not that they were treasonous. If that's that case - and I think it is - then their logic will require them to remove both names.

As you note, it's a private school and they may do as they wish. I don't have to agree or like it and I am free to criticize them publicly. You are free not to like that.

As to removing statues from public property you are correct that the citizens may decide to remove such. However, there's a process and just allowing mobs to tear things down isn't part of that process. That denies other citizens their right to have a say. In the case of re-naming things at universities I'd think alumni should also get a say rather than just doing what some students demand. I'd expect that of my schools but the social politics might not go my way. If not, then I'm free to take whatever legal action available to me to make my unhappiness known.
 
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Viper21

Brigadier General
Moderator
Silver Patron
Joined
Jul 4, 2016
Location
Rockbridge County, Virginia
The honor code is an outdated concept anyway, and is a remnant of Lee's experience as a student at West Point in the 1820s.
:eek: Sadly, I confess you're probably right.

The word Honor, has become, just a word. Honor as a personal trait, or characteristic, doesn't seem to resonate with many folks today. :frown:
 

donna

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
May 12, 2010
Location
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
I am sorry but honor is very important. I would really be lost if I did not have honor. Once I give my word I will always abide by that. It is like when someone tells you something and asks that you not tell anyone. When I give my word, I have never broken it.

I wish there was honor in the world today. We need for people to have respect and follow the law not act as a mob.
 
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