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Washington and Lee University professors discuss name change and removal of all references to the Confederacy

RICHMOND — Washington and Lee University faculty discussed a resolution to remove all references to the Confederacy from the campus of the small liberal arts college in Lexington as well as to the school’s name.

No action was taken during the virtual meeting Wednesday evening. But the more than 100 undergraduate and law school professors who attended the meeting plan to send a formal request to the school’s president and its Board of Trustees by the end of the month.

“Tonight there was a conversation that started with the name Lee and where faculty stand on the decision to dissociate ourselves from Lee,” said Jim Casey, an alum and an associate professor of economics who organized the meeting.

“We feel like we’re going to end up on the wrong side of this as an institution and that it will harm us.”

The school was named for George Washington, an early benefactor, and Robert E. Lee., the former Confederate general and president of the university who is buried in a chapel at the heart of campus.

“Everyone who was in that conversation feels that the best thing for our institution is to drop our affiliation with Lee,” Casey said. “Of course there were people who did not participate in the conversation, but for those who did, there was not one voice suggesting that this was not the right thing to do.”

Dominica Radulescu, a professor of comparative literature, plans to support the resolution.

“I will support it because it is an issue of moral responsibility and urgency to put to rest the university’s uncritical association with the Confederacy,” said Radulescu, who has been a professor at W&L for more than 20 years. “It is anachronistic and it contradicts the very core values that the university is trying to uphold.”

A petition to W&L President Will Dudley and to the board will be created by the end of the month, Casey said.

“We are aware that there are faculty members discussing a resolution, but nothing has been presented to the administration,” university spokeswoman Drewry Sackett said.

In an email sent to students, faculty and alumni on Tuesday, Dudley acknowledged the challenges posed by Washington and Lee’s institutional history.

He outlined the school’s recent actions and ongoing commitments to advance diversity and inclusion.

An online petition demanding accountability from Washington and Lee received more than 3,000 signatures earlier this month after some students expressed disappointment with the school’s response to national unrest after the killing of George Floyd.

“Some of you have expressed the conflict you feel between your love of W&L and your concern about our prominent association with Robert E. Lee, whose presidency transformed the university, but who also led the Confederate army in defending slavery and has come to symbolize the defense of racial oppression that we unequivocally reject,” said Dudley’s email on Tuesday.

The incoming undergraduate class, which includes 20% domestic students of color, is the most diverse in Washington and Lee history, he said.

The school will enroll 33% more students through QuestBridge, a nonprofit that matches high achieving, low income students with top colleges. An admissions counselor will be hired to recruit first generation college students and underrepresented minorities.

Washington and Lee will establish a George Floyd Endowment for programming in the office of inclusion and engagement with board members raising $100,000.

In 2018, a commission examining how history shaped Washington and Lee suggested numerous changes but stopped short of recommending renaming the school. W&L did make changes to the names of some campus buildings after concerns from students and faculty.

The trustees agreed to reconsider a petition started by law students in November asking the university to give graduates the option of receiving a diploma without the portraits of Washington and Lee. The board originally rejected the petition in February.

“The board is also eager to hear your perspectives on the university, recent national events, and issues of race and their implications for W&L,” Dudley said.


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