Dudley’s Dubyuhnell

“So long as there is a need for freedom, there will be a need for liberal arts education.”

Rachel Hicks

The September sun beat down on inauguration-attendees between the Colonnade and Lee Chapel as William C. Dudley was sworn in as Washington and Lee’s twenty-seventh president on Saturday morning of Young Alumni Weekend.

Dudley most recently served as provost of Williams College and succeeded former university president Kenneth P. Ruscio in January.

Since embracing life as a General nine months ago, Dudley has hiked to watch a sunrise with members of the Outing Club, addressed the Class of 2017 on their graduation day, and just a few weeks ago, experienced his first Gaines and Graham-Lees move-in day.

The weekend’s events formalized his new title as his first full year at the helm gets underway.

Following welcomes from representatives of the faculty and staff, student body, alumni, and the Lexington community, Dudley was introduced by past colleagues and friends before Rector of the Board of Trustees J. Donald Childress, ‘70, administered the oath of the office of president.

Dudley then took the podium in his dark cap and gown and ultimately likened Washington and Lee to an incubator, noting that the school is equipped with all the amenities needed to grow this generation’s movers and shakers.

“We are not raising chickens,” he said. “But we are helping young people raise themselves. We are helping them welcome their potential.”

The new president strongly encouraged students to be stewards of the honor system, emphasizing that W&L’s culture asks each individual to take personal responsibility for being worthy of the community’s trust.

“The students run their own incubator,” he said. “They gain significant experience with the messiness and difficulty of self-governance.”

Dudley noted that among all of his new responsibilities at W&L, his favorite time of the week is conducting a seminar with 12 first-year students on the philosophy of higher education, alongside Professor of Politics Bob Strong.

He reaffirmed the university’s commitment to ideals verbalized by the late John W. Elrod, former university president.

“It does not matter if your skin is white or if you’re a person of color, whether you are male or female, rich or poor, or whether you are a domestic or foreign student,” he said, quoting Elrod. “The only thing that matters is the respect of the personhood and the autonomy of each person in our community.”

Dudley said that despite some modern resistance to the liberal arts education, he firmly stands by the value of studying math and science alongside art and, his personal favorite, philosophy.

By achieving an education that explores a range of fields of thought, students can help liberate the thoughts that have been shut down for ages, he said. There is a battle for freedom and equality of thought, and it’s up to students like those at Washington and Lee to fight for that.

In a world where trust in institutions has been degraded and facts have grown ambiguous, Dudley challenged W&L students to test all ideas; to view the gathering, interpretation, and evaluation of facts as an everyday responsibility, routine, and calling.

Dudley highlighted the importance of asking ourselves how we can remain “who we are” while not growing complacent in W&L’s successes, and how the university can continuously adapt its model to better prepare students for the world they’ll be living in.

One area that Dudley identified as needing improvement is student recruitment, noting that Washington and Lee is among the least racially-diverse liberal arts schools in the country. He added that increasing access to affordable liberal arts education is a challenge faced by most universities – and one in which Washington and Lee should be leading the way.

Dudley said that ultimately, even though there are many skeptics of the liberal arts education who say it should not be an end nor a means, Washington and Lee can and will prove them wrong with open minds and ever-evolving ideas.

“This incubator never sleeps,” Dudley said.