Will Washington & Lee’s Response Satisfy The Committee?

It should be no surprise that not everyone approves of the decision made at Washington & Lee University to deal with concerns expressed by a group of students, who call themselves The Committee, over the school’s Confederate past. A good deal of this first wave of outrage comes from the usual suspects, who believe that they alone hold a monopoly on what it means to properly commemorate Robert E. Lee and the Confederate past.

Charges of political correctness and an administration that caved into the demands of a select few abound. Not surprisingly, the decision to remove reproduction flags from the chapel has caused the most outrage among those who are best described as reproduction Confederate heritage advocates. No mention of the fact that the school is going to display the original Confederate flags that once hung in the chapel in the museum section of the building below. Does this really reflect caving into demands? One Virginia blogger worries about a slippery slope: Will the Recumbent Statue of Lee be next?

In fact, if anyone bothered to compare President Kenneth Ruscio’s statement with the list of  demands made by The Committee you will see that the students will not be getting everything they requested.

The decision regarding the flags is a case in point.

3. We demand that the University immediately remove all confederate flags from its property and premises, including those flags located within Lee Chapel.

As already noted above, this is clearly not going to happen. And what about the demand that “neo-Confederate” groups be barred from using Lee Chapel?

2. We demand that the University stop allowing neo-confederates to march on campus with confederate flags on Lee-Jackson Day and to stop allowing these groups to hold programs in Lee Chapel.

From the president’s statement.

4. Groups not affiliated with the University may continue to use Lee Chapel for events so long as they do so in accordance with our established policies and guidelines. This includes such non-University events as the annual lecture sponsored by an outside group as part of the statewide Lee-Jackson Day observance in Lexington.

Finally, there is the call for an “official apology for the school’s participation in chattell slavery and a denunciation of Robert E. Lee’s participation in slavery.”

Here is the president’s response.

I personally take pride in his significant accomplishments here and will not apologize for the crucial role he played in shaping this institution… Lee was an imperfect individual living in imperfect times. Lee deserves, and his record can withstand, an honest appraisal by those who understand the complexities of history. His considerable contributions to this institution are part of that record.

Taken together this hardly reflects what many are describing as a politically correct response. In fact, I am very curious to see whether the students in question accept this position as satisfactory.

None of their demands were accepted outright and that is as it should be. While these students had every right to voice their concerns, they are still members of a much larger community with a wide range of opinion. These are complex issues and I believe the school did an admirable job of trying to move the school forward.

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18 comments… add one
  • Donna Fanning Jul 22, 2015 @ 19:40

    Not every school has to have diversity as an agenda. A lot of students prefer to be in an environment with people similar to themselves. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that ! I resent this committee and their “demands”. Go elsewhere if you feel slighted. Washington and Lee will be just fine without you. At least the academic bar will remain high and not compromised by filling quotas with less qualified students who are most likely there on a free ride. The truth of the matter is the committee won’t change the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the students and the alum. They’re an unwelcome presence on campus

    • Kevin Levin Jul 23, 2015 @ 2:03

      I just love the not so subtle racism in this comment. The truth of the matter is that this is their campus as much as anyone else.

  • Julian Aug 2, 2014 @ 6:50

    related to this is another university the University of Mississippi has just announced is setting in place a new policy around diversity and race issues which includes renaming its Confederate Avenue


  • Schpenauers Hundt Jul 18, 2014 @ 6:53

    The Chapel is a tomb.it is a bit unseemly to allow people to lecture there that speak against the memory of those entombed(for example Spike Lee). W and L needs a full size auditorium both for speaking purposes and for graduation. It would be better to let the Civil war trust handle Lees Chapel. As for the students they were well aware of who the school was named after.

  • Wanda Case Jul 12, 2014 @ 5:45

    Washington and Lee By Laws reference to the Lee Chapel are as follows:

    2. The Lee Memorial Chapel
    The chapel on the University grounds, erected during the presidency of General Robert E. Lee and under his direction, shall be known as “The Lee Memorial Chapel.”
    This chapel may be used for the commencement and other University exercises and meetings, but it shall not be used for any meetings or purposes not in keeping with its consecrated character and the memorial and sacred purposes to which it is dedicated.


    Virginia Code:

    § 15.2-1812. Memorials for war veterans.

    A locality may, within the geographical limits of the locality, authorize and permit the erection of monuments or memorials for any war or conflict, or for any engagement of such war or conflict, to include the following monuments or memorials: Algonquin (1622), French and Indian (1754-1763), Revolutionary (1775-1783), War of 1812 (1812-1815), Mexican (1846-1848), Confederate or Union monuments or memorials of the War Between the States (1861-1865), Spanish-American (1898), World War I (1917-1918), World War II (1941-1945), Korean (1950-1953), Vietnam (1965-1973), Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm (1990-1991), Global War on Terrorism (2000-), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-). If such are erected, it shall be unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected, or to prevent its citizens from taking proper measures and exercising proper means for the protection, preservation and care of same. For purposes of this section, “disturb or interfere with” includes removal of, damaging or defacing monuments or memorials, or, in the case of the War Between the States, the placement of Union markings or monuments on previously designated Confederate memorials or the placement of Confederate markings or monuments on previously designated Union memorials.

    The governing body may appropriate a sufficient sum of money out of its funds to complete or aid in the erection of monuments or memorials to the veterans of such wars. The governing body may also make a special levy to raise the money necessary for the erection or completion of any such monuments or memorials, or to supplement the funds already raised or that may be raised by private persons, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion or other organizations. It may also appropriate, out of any funds of such locality, a sufficient sum of money to permanently care for, protect and preserve such monuments or memorials and may expend the same thereafter as other funds are expended.

    (Code 1950, § 15-696; 1962, c. 623, § 15.1-270; 1982, c. 19; 1988, c. 284; 1997, c. 587; 1998, c. 752; 2005, c. 390; 2010, c. 860.)

    I’m no law expert, but this is pretty simple to understand. W & L’s decision to remove the flags from the “Lee Memorial Chapel” is against the law.

    • Andy Hall Jul 13, 2014 @ 14:06

      No, it’s not. The mausoleum at Washington and Lee University is private property. The code you cite above applies to local governmental bodies (“a locality”), not private organizations.

      Another part of the same code section allows for action for civil damages in the case of privately-maintained memorials, but specifies that it is the owner of the memorial that has standing to sue. It seems very unlikely to me that W&L is going to sue itself.

    • Jimmy Dick Jul 13, 2014 @ 16:09

      How? The group that created the memorial is defunct. They also never put any flags there when they did create the shrine. If anything, the decision of the university returns the place as close to the way that defunct group originally created as possible.

      You do realize it is a law school, don’t you? I think they know the laws on this matter far better than you do.

    • Pat Young Jul 14, 2014 @ 1:28

      § 15.2-1812.1. Action for damage to memorials for war veterans.

      A. If any monument, marker or memorial for war veterans as designated in §§ 15.2-1812 and 18.2-137 is violated or encroached upon, an action for the recovery of damages may be commenced by the following:

      …2. For a privately owned monument, marker or memorial, by the private organization, society or museum that owns it or any member of such organization, society or museum.

      Damages may be awarded in such amounts as necessary for the purposes of rebuilding, repairing, preserving and restoring such memorials or monuments to preencroachment condition. Damages other than those litigation costs recovered from any such action shall be used exclusively for said purposes.

      Seems clear that it is the University that has standing to bring the action, not the Virginia Flaggers.

  • Dave Short Jul 9, 2014 @ 15:27

    They have made themselves heard and I think the president’s response was well reasoned, instructive about the mission of education, how the past informs not only our present but our future, and entirely appropriate. Time to move on.

  • Andy Hall Jul 9, 2014 @ 8:16

    The university’s response probably will not satisfy “the Committee,” but by having looked at their issues in a serious way, and making a measured and balanced response, the W&L administration has probably defused the situation and effectively marginalized further “demands” from them. Telling “the Committee” to stuff it, as some would have had W&L do, would have made the situation *much* worse. If those students want to continue making demands, they will probably look increasingly like they’re the ones, not W&L, being unreasonable.

    In the meantime, President Ruscio can get back to running a university.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 9, 2014 @ 8:22

      If those students want to continue making demands, they will probably look increasingly like they’re the ones, not W&L, being unreasonable.

      I agree, which is why I think it is incumbent on the students to continue to think about what they can do in a constructive way to encourage meaningful dialog about these matters on campus.

      • Goad Gatsby Jul 9, 2014 @ 10:05

        After reading comments from VA flaggers, They will make their point look awful when they resort to name calling to the students and insulting the school.

    • Pat Young Jul 9, 2014 @ 11:02

      Until recently the school never had to listen to black students because it excluded them. Blacks still only make up 3.5% of the student body at what is one of the least diverse non-denominational universities in the country. I hope the students of The Committee continue to develop an agenda and make their voices heard. If they have to shout, it because blacks have rarely been listened to at W&L before.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Jul 9, 2014 @ 11:52

        True enough … but there is a difference between being heard and making sure people listen to you. People hear the Virginia Flaggers, but they do not listen to them. I wager that the members of The Committee are smarter than that. Still, they have had an impact: this doesn’t happen without them.

        • Pat Young Jul 9, 2014 @ 13:59

          Exactly Brooks. The university was not about to do anything until The Committee began its civic engagement activity.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Jul 9, 2014 @ 6:24

    Based on some of the posts I have read on FB and a few blogs I suspect most never even took the time to read the President’s response. I guess they’d rather keep up the replicas instead of having originals back in rotation. Of course, it is the usual suspects stirring up the charges of political correctness, etc.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 9, 2014 @ 7:07

      I suspect most never even took the time to read the President’s response.


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