TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Washington & Lee University Keeps Its Name

W&L University LogoFollowing up on my previous post, Should Washington & Lee University Change Its Name?:

President's Response to the Report of the Commission on Institutional History and Community (Aug. 28, 2018):

We are Washington and Lee University. The explanation of how George Washington, in 1796, and Robert E. Lee, in 1870, came to be the namesakes of our university is straightforward and remains compelling. Washington and Lee were figures of national significance whose direct impact on this institution was pivotal to its survival and success.

I did not ask the Commission to consider the name of the university, or the names of our buildings, but it is understandable that these issues arose in the course of its examination of the ways that the presentation of our history affects the community.

The Commission recommended that we continue to be Washington and Lee University, and that our nickname continue to be the Generals. The Board of Trustees, which has authority with respect to naming, and of which I am a member, agrees.

The legacies of Washington and Lee, along with those of many prominent Americans from the Revolutionary and Civil War eras, are discussed and debated by every generation of citizens and scholars. Attempting to settle these debates was not the Commission's assignment, nor is it the university's role.

As an educational institution, W&L is committed to fostering and conducting meticulous scholarship that carefully assesses the individuals and events that have shaped our university and our nation. Intellectually honest consideration of our namesakes cannot separate the generous benefactor from the slaveholder, or the forward-thinking college president from the Civil War commander. Our aim is neither to deify nor to demonize, but to understand on the basis of well-considered evidence, and to render praise and criticism on the basis of well-justified argument. These are the core practices of liberal arts education. Applying them to our own history advances our mission by developing the intellectual capacities of our students, improves our institution by encouraging constructive self-criticism, and serves the public by contributing to conversations of contemporary importance.

The Board of Trustees has also confirmed that Lee Chapel and Lee House will retain their names. Many university buildings are named for the presidents with whom they are most strongly associated. Robert E. Lee conceived the chapel, raised the funds for its construction, presided over its opening, and attended daily services within it. Lee Chapel appropriately bears his name. It is also common custom on campus and in Lexington for houses to be named for the families who lived in them first or longest. The home occupied by all university presidents since 1869 was built by Washington College for the Lee family, which lived in it for nearly 30 years. Lee House appropriately bears their name.

The Board will continue to discuss, at its October meeting, other issues raised by the Commission's report, including the naming of campus buildings.

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I think that's a good decision, although one can see how African-Americans would be less than comfortable with it. It's a hard call.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Sep 5, 2018 12:13:14 PM

The legacy of the Democratic Party is the starting of war to preserve slavery, its members founding the KKK, and its elected officials instituting Jim Crow laws, restricting voting rights with literacy tests, vowing to keep segregation forever, allowing the beatings of Freedom Riders, and attacking peaceful black demonstrators with fire hoses and police dogs. The very name of the Democratic Party should be a trigger, and today's party leaders should not only apologize for its past but also change its name so that it no longer serves as a reminder of their abuses against minorities. Let scholars and commissions take that up.

Posted by: Woody | Sep 6, 2018 9:23:17 AM