W&L Rector says the board needs more time for Lee name change decision

The special committee has fin- ished researching, but the board still hasn’t made a decision.

Grace Mamon

In August, the Washington and Lee University Board of Trustees said it may take six months or more to decide whether the univer- sity will drop Robert E. Lee’s name.

The board formed a special committee in July to review the university’s symbols and name. Now nearing the six-month mark, the special committee has finished its work.

But a Jan. 28 email from Mike McAlevey, rector of the board, said “we need more time.”

Since July, the committee has been solicit- ing widespread input from all campus con- stituencies, analyzing data and consulting relevant experts, the email said.

The full board is considering the committee’s data to “make the decisions we believe are in the best long-term interest of the university.”

But that doesn’t mean a verdict is imminent.

“I’m sure many of you were hoping for an- swers in the near term,” McAlevey said. But the consensus of the board is that they need more time, he said.

“At the outset of this work, we commit- ted to a thorough, thoughtful, and inclusive process, and to taking the time to get things right,” he said.

McAlevey cited the volume of information to consider and the magnitude of the decision as reasons for the extended timeline.

Some students and faculty members have been critical of the lengthy process, saying the board is pushing off real action.

“When [the board] clearly wants something done, it gets done,” Mikah Holcomb, ‘21, said. “And that is not what’s happening.”

The development of the special committee is the board’s biggest commitment to date to the name change conversation. In the past, it decided not to drop Lee’s name, maintaining that the Confederate general should be recog- nized primarily as an educator.

“I understand that this news will be frustrat- ing to those who see these matters as clear and straightforward,” McAlevey wrote.

The university’s faculty members seem to think it is an easy decision.

More than 260 faculty members attended a virtual meeting in July, a day before the board announced the special committee, and passed a motion calling for the removal of Lee from the university’s name. The vote was 188-51 according to Alison Bell, who led the Faculty Affairs Committee at the time.

But many alumni are in favor of keeping Lee, a former university president, in the school’s name.

“I commend to you the special section of the forthcoming W&L alumni magazine that provides a sense of competing views on the questions before us and the passion with which positions are held,” McAlevey said.

And some students think the university’s strong alumni network would be in jeopardy if Lee was dropped from the name.

A July article in the Spectator, a publication that promotes conservatism on campus, said breaking this bond would make it harder for students to find jobs after graduation. It also expressed concerns about fewer alumni do- nations leading to increased tuition.

David Hotze, ‘21, the chief strategist of the Spectator and one of the authors of the arti- cle, said he commends the board’s willing- ness to take its time on this decision.

“Any decision that has such pervasive con- sequences to the future of Washington and Lee University, from its values, admissions, and connections between students and alum- ni, should not be resolved based on the desire to quickly meet an arbitrary deadline or to sa- tiate perceived discontentment,” Hotze said.

But Holcomb said an economic viewpoint is the wrong framework for this decision.

“That is a callous and cold way to take the situation. I would advocate for a more eth- ical perspective,” she said. “Something that moves away from assigning a human capital value to your BIPOC students on campus.”

Holcomb said it would be unfortunate to lose people who are interested in the success of the university, like those associated with the Spectator and the Generals Redoubt, a

“The administration’s incredibly quick, proactive response to top-tier Greek students’ complaints shocked and angered a lot of stu- dents who have complained about bigotry, violence and a toxic culture,” said Katana Evans, ’22.

Students involved in diversity and inclusion efforts on campus are often stonewalled and struggle to see change on campus.

conservative alumni group that has voiced opposition to dropping Lee’s name.

“But not making the right decision because you would lose something is not a valid rea- son to not make the right decision,” Holcomb said.

The board surveyed students, faculty, alum- ni and parents in October and received more than 14,000 responses. The data was divided, McAlevey said, but conveyed a common af- fection for the university.

Holcomb said she thinks the survey makes sense and the board is right to do their re- search.

There is no new target date for any deci- sions. McAlevey asked for patience and will- ingness to appreciate alternate viewpoints.

“As always, W&L’s success depends on our ability to interact with each other respectfully and to trust that while our personal opinions may differ, we are united in our desire to en- sure the future success of our university.”