A group of concerned alumni began the process of founding The Generals Redoubt in the fall of 2018 following the report of the Washington and Lee Commission on Institutional History and Community and the decisions of the Board of Trustees in the early fall of 2018.
The founders of The Generals Redoubt were concerned that many of the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional History and Community and some of the Trustees’ decisions, including the closing off of the Recumbent Statue of Robert E. Lee during University functions and the removal of John Robinson's name from the Colonnade building, reflected an effort to de-emphasize important parts of the history of the University and undermine its values and traditions. Subsequently, The Generals Redoubt founders discovered other recent decisions, such as the ending of public prayer, the temporary removal of interior tours of Lee Chapel for prospective students, the brief banning of a children's book on Lee's horse, Traveller, and the proliferation of courses related to identity driven political agendas having to do with race, class, sex, and gender, etc., were signs of a worrisome trend. Simultaneously, we discovered public statements by faculty and administration members attacking the core values of the University, including not-so-veiled attacks on the legacy and contributions of Robert E. Lee. Taken altogether, these actions indicated a tendency toward blind conformity with the nationally prevailing political and university culture which emphasizes victimhood, identity politics, the de-emphasis of important parts of history, and the decline or disappearance of spiritual and moral education.
To ensure that the history of the University is fully told in a balanced manner which 1) does not impose the values and/or prejudices of the present on the past and 2) places historical events in context of the prevalent societal norms of the time. Additionally, The Generals Redoubt seeks to reverse certain decisions which are damaging to the history, values, and traditions of the University and to work for the preservation of positive values and traditions which may be under threat now or soon will be.
At present, the legacy of Robert E. Lee, arguably the most important person in the University's history, seems to be under threat. If this is the case, then the values which Lee enunciated and epitomized are also under threat. The most important of these are the Honor System; a dedication to duty and service; and a commitment to civility, including the speaking tradition. These elements constitute the "special sauce" which distinguishes Washington and Lee and its alumni from other schools.
During the late 50’s and very early 60’s of the last century, Professor Thomas P. Hughes taught Washington and Lee University students of the rewriting of Russian history by Lenin and Stalin, both true authoritarians to their core. Today, this dubious academic practice is known as Presentism. Essentially it seeks to apply today’s cultural and moral values on the people and events of prior periods. If it finds the two in conflict, the modern view prevails and the well established history of that era is at risk of significant modification. The actions recommended by the administration and adopted by the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2018 are clear signs that Presentism is alive and well at Washington and Lee. The Report of the Commission on Institutional History and Community clearly left open the option to remove the names of George Washington and Robert E. Lee from that of the University, which would be the ultimate triumph of Presentism.
If these unfortunate trends continue, the harm to Washington and Lee University will be irreparable. The University will lose its unique place in American higher education; students of all walks of life will be deprived of the Washington and Lee University experience as students have known it for generations; and alumni loyalty will decline. The Generals Redoubt hopes that it can reverse some of these harmful trends and serve as a constructive voice of reason for countless alumni whose views are not being heard or valued by the University.
The Honor System is of utmost importance for three reasons:
First, it is the central organizing theme of the educational mission at Washington and Lee University, one that intersects all aspects of the program. For Honor to play its role perfectly, all three players in the process- students, faculty and administrators- must pledge to respect and uphold its systemic design and operating principles.
Second, the emergence of today’s Honor System began when Robert E. Lee became president of Washington College in 1865. His admonition that its students should all aspire to be gentlemen (this meaning they not Lie, Cheat or Steal) in their conduct of daily life laid the foundation for today’s renowned system. President Lee’s sponsorship assured that Honor would become the central theme of the history, values and traditions of today’s University.
Third, and of equal importance, administration of the Honor System is the most important responsibility of student self-governance at Washington and Lee. Having students oversee the single most important aspect of campus life teaches life long lessons for all students, as well as committed faculty and administrators, about both the concept of Honor and its critical role in the personal embrace of individual and corporate responsibility and accountability.
The Generals Redoubt values diversity and believes it plays a critical role in higher education both in the classroom and the broader campus community. Diversity takes many forms including, but not limited to, ideology, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, and geography. Each of these characteristics greatly informs an individual's worldview, which means that a diverse community enriches the student experience by both challenging a student's views and exposing that same student to viewpoints he or she may never have considered. Therefore, The Generals Redoubt views diversity as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The end which diversity serves is the creation of an enriched campus experience where students who are truly excited to attend Washington and Lee interact with and learn from one another in an environment in which collaboration is encouraged and separation is discouraged. The Generals Redoubt wants the University to enroll a diverse student body with one common theme uniting students from all walks of life: A strong desire to attend Washington and Lee and immerse themselves in a honorable, historic, and unique community.
The University has embraced the University of Chicago’s Statement on Free Expression. The statement instructs any institution adopting this standard that free speech is an overarching value of campus life and that no one may seek shelter from speech they may find disagreeable, though they may choose not to confront it. Put another way, if someone else’s viewpoint makes you uncomfortable, you just have to be uncomfortable. One may well argue that the decision made at Washington and Lee to wall off the view of the Recumbent Statue of Lee during University events held in Lee Chapel is contrary to the Chicago Statement. On this issue, President Dudley wrote the following in March 2019: “The doors to the statue chamber are closed by decision of the Board of Trustees, only during University events, so that all members of our community feel fully welcome and the focus is squarely on the speakers and programs in progress.” One must ask if members of the community do not feel welcome and comfortable in the presence of the image of a named founder, why are they members of the community? Arguably this action converts Lee Chapel into a “safe space” during University events, an action not in alignment with the Chicago Statement on Free Expression.
- Sharing our Vision/Mission and Goals/Objectives with over 8,500 alums, students, parents, faculty, administrators, Trustees, and other friends of Washington and Lee.
- Establishing a line of communication with the Director of Alumni Engagement and the Alumni Board.
- Consulting with Emeriti Trustees to develop a more representative and transparent nomination and selection process for the Board of Trustees.
- Seeking information on issues like admissions statistics, free speech, and fund raising, among others.
- Drafting and circulating position papers on recent issues of concern, publishing a periodic newsletter and establishing a website.
- Incorporating The Generals Redoubt as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt, non-profit corporation in Virginia and establishing a Board of Directors and Board of Advisors.
- Encourage the Alumni Board to be more active in seeking alumni opinions and representing its interests to the Washington and Lee University community.
- Develop programs to financially support a variety of The Generals Redoubt’s Goals/Objectives.
- Establish a dialogue with student representatives and with other University community members as appropriate.
- Promote admissions and orientation training to familiarize potential and admitted students with the history, values, and traditions of Washington and Lee University.
- Promote a broad discussion regarding curricular matters among elements of the W&L community.
- Promote hiring procedures that will ensure that faculty members are familiar and comfortable with the history, values, and traditions of Washington and Lee University.
- Develop a working relationship between alumni representatives and the Director of Institutional History to assure the planned University Museum presents a balanced view of W&L’s institutional history.
- Utilize the tradition of student self-governance and the Greek system to promote integrated diversity of community life.
- Mobilize alums and other friends of the University to strongly advocate the re-opening of the doors to the Recumbent Statue of Lee during University events, the return of the Peale portrait of Washington to the University, and the restoration of John Robinson's name to the front campus building.
- Re-establish public prayer at the University.
Although it is important to recognize, understand, and empathize with such reactions, it is also critical to remember and share our collective historical perspectives with the complainants. In the case of Robert E. Lee, one might begin by explaining how Lee reluctantly, and conflictedly, resigned his commission in the U.S. Army to defend his home state when Lincoln planned to raise an army of volunteers, many of whom would have come from Virginia, to invade the South. While we can debate the merits of Lee's decision, a University embracing freedom of thought and expression should welcome such debate and add to the already robust history of the school without erasing important aspects of that same history. More broadly, the University should welcome and respect the views of all individuals, but should also promote those values and traditions which unite the community rather than divide or segregate it. Among those unifying factors are honor, duty, and civility, all of which were espoused and epitomized by Robert E. Lee. These broadly shared values contrast strongly with those who espouse blood, ethnicity, or race as shared values. In caring about the overarching themes that unite us, we come to understand and care about each other more.