Is Washington and Lee Committing Suicide?

One of my ’64 classmates, and a good friend throughout our four years together at W&L, grew up in a Chicago suburb and graduated from a top high school there — so once, in an idle moment, while we were studying together for a Charlie Turner exam in European History, I asked him why he, a big-city Illinois boy, chose to attend a small Southern college like W&L.  He answered, “Because my dad thought it was a good conservative school.”

Indeed, it was “a good conservative school” back then, and in the best and most authentic sense, despite some faults it has long since shed.  Long gone are such perishable appendages to W&L’s conservatism as “conventional dress” (the requirement to wear a coat and tie to class and in public), an all-male student body, and the racial segregation still lingering at the school in those days and, to be sure, associated with the conservative element of society then.  But for a long time thereafter the more fundamental, rightly imperishable portion of W&L’s conservatism remained intact:  the rigorous Honor System, the code of personal honor and gentlemanly conduct, the correspondingly pervasive ambience of civility and respect of persons, along with instructional and curricular adherence to the enduring truths bequeathed to us by Western Thought and Tradition — these imperishables being deeply rooted in W&L’s long history, ingrained in its traditions, and illumined by the inspiring examples of the lives and characters of our uniformly venerated namesakes, George Washington and Robert E. Lee.  I think no one during my W&L years could have imagined that these W&L values and traditions, so fundamental to civilization itself, would ever come under full assault by educated people.

But it has happened before our eyes, in savage fashion and at a pace that shocks the sensibilities still.  The Woke administration and faculty now firmly ensconced at W&L have taken “a place like no other” and transmogrified it into a place now hardly recognizable as what it once was.  I need not enumerate here the long series of actions taken by the Administration and Board of Trustees to erase the school’s history, and thus its unique identity, in order to level it into the growing herd of Woke institutions, thereby cavalierly dispensing with that precious transformative magic that Dr. Francis Pendleton Gaines so felicitously described for all time as W&L’s “power to deposit in the life of a boy something a little finer than culture, a little rarer than competence, a little nobler than success . . . .”  That vision of W&L’s sublime greatness was clear to us back then, and cherished.

The article herewith attached quite thoroughly and comprehensively describes the Woke disease now rampant in virtually all of American higher education, all the symptoms of which you will easily recognize as present in today’s W&L.  A few beams of hope, however, are now piercing the darkness.  The Board of Trustees of UNC-Chapel Hill has recently acted to topple a major pillar of Wokism by severely curtailing the activity of the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) apparatus on that campus for its excesses in hiring and admissions practices — practices destructive of the traditional reign of meritocracy in American higher education that has been responsible for its outstanding success in the past, is essential to its future, and is necessary for national prosperity, competitiveness, and security.   Moreover, the University of Texas system has also adopted tough DEI constraints similar to those at UNC.  And Gov. DeSantis and the Florida legislature are moving not only to defund and dismantle the heavy-handed DEI bureaucracies that have proliferated throughout the Florida state university system, but are attacking its frontline supporters, the university faculties themselves, by subjecting tenured faculty members to five-year reviews, which can result in dismissal if guilt of intolerance in political or social discourse, racial bias of any sort, or other egregiously inappropriate Woke-inspired conduct is found — DeSantis clearly recognizing that the greatest obstacle to de-Woking the universities consists of their faculties, who are now overwhelmingly Woke, and to whom most college administrators timorously kowtow.  

It says enough about W&L’s current faculty to call to mind once again that about 80% of them voted to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from that of the university, and there can be little doubt that W&L’s Board of Trustees renamed Lee Chapel to appease faculty anger at not changing the university’s name.  The W&L Board of Trustees should feel shamed that the governing authorities of large, cumbersome, usually lethargic state university systems like those in North Carolina, Texas, and Florida have shown more courage, more wisdom, more love for their respective institutions and their students, and more real concern for saving American higher education, than they have.  The W&L Board should wake up, or we will see W&L disappear forever into the Woke morass described so well in the article accessible through the link immediately below.

Kenneth G. Everett 
Kenneth G. Everett ‘64, TGR Writer 
The Generals Redoubt  
Preserving Our History, Assuring the Future