Frequently Asked Questions

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About the Process

What factors were reviewed by the Board in this process?

The board's work was wide-ranging and included an assessment of the historical, political, moral, financial, operational and reputational considerations related to the university’s name and diploma, as well as broader issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

What was the expected cost or loss of revenue associated with a name change?

Estimates are that it would be substantial. And while costs are important, that was only one factor of many that the board considered with respect to the name.

Did large donors threaten to withhold or stop donations? 

The board heard strong views expressed by many different audiences. We hope our alumni will continue to support the institution as they always have.

How did the opinion research conducted with the W&L community impact the decisions? Which audiences favored a change and which did not?

The opinion research reflected the deep divisions within the W&L community across all audiences, with students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents voicing varying opinions that could not be neatly characterized according to age, gender, race, ethnicity and other factors. While there was no consensus on the issue of the university's name, there was broad support for sustained efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

Will you release the survey results? 

The survey is one of a number of elements that informed the Board of Trustees’ deliberations. The results were considered as one element in a holistic process and there are no plans to release them.

Other institutions, like Yale, Brown, George Mason, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins, have stood by their institutional names despite their namesakes’ actions. Others, like the University of Richmond, Princeton, Clemson and Yale have changed the names of buildings and programs. Is this being taken into account by the board?

The board has looked at a number of case studies from other universities as part of its process.

Did the board debate the moral implications of this decision?

As fiduciaries of the university, the board is both legally and ethically bound to act in the university's best interests. The trustees weighed the moral implications of this decision along with many other factors and ultimately concluded that continuing as Washington and Lee University would enable the university to build on its success and put it in a position to take the actions that have the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.

At the same time, the trustees repudiated racism, racial injustice, and the denial of fundamental dignity to any individual in our society and expressed its regret for the university’s past veneration of the Confederacy, its perpetuation of “The Lost Cause” myths that sustained racism; and the fact that the university itself owned human beings and benefitted from their forced labor and sale. The board recommitted the university to rigorous and nuanced explorations of its history, with humility and honesty to acknowledge those moments when the university failed to live up to its ideals. 

Were consultants engaged to assist with the Board’s analysis and ensure an unbiased review? Do we have a communications or public relations firm helping with the rollout of the decision?

The board has engaged a number of advisors in the course of its work and is bound by confidentiality agreements not to name the firms and individuals involved.

What are the specific requirements for changing the name of the university or altering its diploma?

Virginia law requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the trustees to amend the university’s charter to change the name. A decision to change the form of the diploma requires a majority vote.

What is the best way to communicate with the Board of Trustees?

Send an email to boardoftrustees@wlu.edu

About the Decision

Was the board divided on the question of the name and other decisions announced?

While views within the board differed on the various issues considered, the board is fully united behind implementing the package of decisions announced on June 4 for the benefit of the university.

Was there a recorded vote? What were the results?

The motion to change the name of the university was defeated by a vote of 22-6. 

Will you release the votes of each Board member?

No. The individual votes of the trustees are confidential.

Will there be opportunities for students, employees, alumni and parents to share their reactions to the board's decisions with trustees?

Yes. The university will communicate these opportunities via email in the coming days and weeks.

About the Board of Trustees

What is the current composition of the Board of Trustees by race/ethnicity and gender?

The board is currently composed of 29 trustees, five of whom are female and four of whom are trustees of color.

The board has committed to becoming more diverse. Is there a target percentage and date for that commitment?

There is no target percentage. Efforts to diversify the board's membership are already underway.

What has been the criteria and process for trustee selection to date?

The Trusteeship Committee of the board endeavors to identify strong candidates whose professional expertise, judgment and institutional service will benefit all aspects of the university. The full board elects new trustees. Beginning in Spring 2022, alumni will also have the opportunity to directly elect a trustee at regular intervals.

Will the board expand its membership to add more diverse trustees immediately?

The board will diversify its membership over time, as new trustees are identified and agree to serve. 

What will be the charge of the new DE&I committee?

The new standing committee will work in coordination with other board committees to place issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into its ongoing board agenda and to meet its stewardship obligation on these issues in furtherance of the University’s mission.  Its primary functions will be to examine the diversity of the board's membership, educate the board on DE&I issues, and oversee both the administration's strategic DE&I goals and initiatives and its identification and assessment of institutional structures, policies, norms, and aspects of campus life that may create barriers to a fully inclusive campus experience.

About the Decision: Other Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Symbolic Efforts

ADMISSIONS

What is need-blind admissions and why is it important?

Achieving need-blind admissions status would enable Washington and Lee to admit the strongest applicants, regardless of family financial circumstances. Becoming need-blind would make W&L one of only about a dozen colleges in the country to admit students without regard to their family's ability to pay, while also meeting 100 percent of their demonstrated need without requiring loans.

How will this decision help to further W&L's efforts to diversify the student body?

The university's outstanding academic reputation, breadth of student opportunities and financial strength have proven to be compelling reasons for students of all backgrounds to attend. The board believes this decision will enable the university to build on that success and put it in a position to attract an even more diverse student body while also taking the actions that have the greatest potential to help all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive.

What else are you doing to address W&L’s historical underperformance in recruiting students of color, and specifically Black students?

W&L has instituted a number of practices to increase the percentage of students of color in the student body. In the past six years, we have increased the percentage of undergraduate domestic students of color 77%, from 13% of the entering Class of 2020 to 23% in the Class of 2025. The percentage of Black students, including multi-racial students who identify as Black, entering the university has risen from 3.4% to 7% over the same period. The Class of 2025 includes 23% domestic students of color, of whom over 7% are Black, including multi-racial students who identify as Black. 

STUDENT EXPERIENCE

What is taught in the first-year experience course?

The purpose of the course is to assist new students with their transition from high school to Washington and Lee University. This one-credit course, offered during the fall term, aims to foster a sense of belonging, articulate to students the expectations of the University and its faculty, empower students to solve problems with maturity, make students more likely to utilize resources and opportunities, and guide students as they clarify their purpose, meaning, and direction in college.

How will the new academic center have a positive impact on diversity and inclusion on campus?

The DeLaney Center will be an interdisciplinary academic hub for teaching and research on Southern race relations, culture, and politics, providing opportunities for intellectual diversity while deepening W&L’s investment in exploring diverse cultures across the curriculum.  By connecting colleagues from multiple fields with complementary teaching and scholarly interests, the center will strengthen the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty at W&L.  These new faculty will develop courses that explore racial issues through a variety of disciplinary perspectives, benefitting students of all backgrounds and from many majors and minors.

The center's focus on race within the context of the American South will encourage students to produce original work supported by W&L’s extraordinary Special Collections & Archives, archaeology collections, and surrounding historical sites, and create student opportunities that complement those offered by Institutional History and Community Based Learning. These may include academic courses and co-curricular projects, pre-orientation trips for first-year students, an annual leadership conference for Virginia college students, summer internships for undergraduate and law students and a post-graduate internship program for new W&L graduates

Is the Board or the administration considering doing away with the Greek system?

No. The board has committed to an examination of campus residential and social institutions that current students and alumni have identified as barriers to a fully inclusive campus experience.

CAMPUS HISTORY AND SYMBOLS

Is University Chapel open to the public?

University Chapel and Galleries are temporarily closed to the public in preparation for the renovations previously announced by the Board of Trustees. The chapel and galleries will reopen to the public in mid-July and close again when the renovation work begins. The chapel's hours will be posted to the Museums at W&L's website and social media channels when they are available.

Will the statue of Robert E. Lee in University Chapel be walled over?

In its June 4, 2021 statement, the Board of Trustees announced that it would oversee and approve interior changes to restore the chapel’s unadorned design and physically separate the auditorium from the statue chamber which contains the Lee memorial statue. This will include erecting a wall between the auditorium and the antechamber outside the statue chamber. The antechamber, the statue chamber, and the statue will remain accessible to the public once the renovations are complete.

What has become of the portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee that hung in the chapel?

The most recent portraits to hang in the University Chapel auditorium – the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and the 1866 J. Reid portrait of Robert E. Lee – are currently on display in the new “Setting the Stage” exhibit in the galleries on the lower level of the chapel. The Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington as a Colonel in the Virginia Regiment is on loan to Mount Vernon until spring 2023 and will return to W&L to be displayed in a prominent space on campus prior to moving to its permanent home in the new museum of institutional history. The Pine portrait of Robert E. Lee is part of an exhibit in the lower level of the chapel that will reopen later this year.

Are there still references to George Washington and Robert E. Lee on campus?

In addition to the name of the institution and the exhibits in the galleries on the lower level of the chapel, George Washington’s contributions are acknowledged in the name of Washington Hall, the statue atop that building, the gallery in its lobby, and on the university’s Honored Benefactors Wall. The president’s home, which was built for Robert E. Lee when he was president of Washington College, continues to bear the name “Lee House,” and the Lee memorial statue and Lee family crypt remain open to the public in the Chapel Galleries.

How closely will the restored design resemble the 1868 design of the chapel?

Due to the 1883 addition of the statue chamber and crypt, it is impossible to recreate precisely the original 1868 design of the chapel. The restoration of the auditorium is intended to honor the original vision for the chapel as an elegant but unadorned space suitable for gatherings of the student body.

Is the university closing the chapel museum?

No. The museum consists of several galleries on the lower level of University Chapel. These galleries – which include the new “Setting the Stage” exhibit featuring the 1796 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and the 1866 J. Reid portrait of Robert E. Lee; the Lee office; and Lee family crypt – are currently closed to the public in preparation for the building renovations and while exhibits are refreshed. They will reopen to the public in mid-July and close again when renovations begin. In the meantime, one of those exhibits, “Beneath the Surface of Two Iconic Portraits,” is available to view online.

Which plaques were removed from the chapel?

As stated in the June 4 Board of Trustees announcement, University Chapel is being restored to a simple and unadorned state. Towards that end, all 20 plaques have been removed from the auditorium.

Where did the plaques go and what is their ultimate home?

The plaques are in temporary storage while we finish the renovations to the chapel auditorium. None of them have been destroyed. Most of the plaques will be moved to galleries within the chapel itself or to the new history museum, where they can be displayed with more historical context. The Liberty Hall Volunteers plaque will be contextualized as part of the new exhibit currently being planned for the gallery on the upper level of University Chapel, adjacent to the Recumbent Lee statue. Three plaques, two honoring World War I veterans and one honoring a Vietnam War veteran, will be moved to the Memorial Gate at the Jefferson Street entrance to campus to be displayed with other plaques honoring U.S. veterans.

When will the architectural modifications begin? How long will it take?

Washington and Lee University continues to work with our contractor, architect, and City of Lexington officials on planning and permitting related to the renovations in University Chapel. We do not yet have a firm timeline for beginning or completion of the work.

Will any of these changes impact the inclusion of the building on the register of National Historic Landmarks?

No. The university worked with federal and state agencies to ensure that the proposed architectural modifications will not affect the chapel's national historic landmark status. 

Are events still being held in the University Chapel?

Yes. University Chapel continues to host important annual campus events including the President's welcome to new students, the Executive Committee's Honor Orientation, the President's address on Parents' Weekend, and the Institute for Honor, as well as visiting speakers.

Is the University moving Valentine's statue, Lee's body, or the Lee Family crypt?

No.

Will there be other changes to campus buildings, signage, mascots, etc.?

The board has addressed what the community has identified as the most significant barriers to inclusion on campus. It will evaluate other changes as necessary or appropriate.

Will W&L consider requiring a course on institutional history?

The academic curriculum is the purview of W&L's faculty. There are already a number of courses on campus that focus on or incorporate various aspects of W&L's history.

Is there any commitment to honor the descendants of enslaved individuals sold by W&L?

Upon the recommendation of the Working Group on the History of African Americans at W&L, the university erected a historical marker on campus in 2016 recognizing the enslaved individuals owned by Washington College until the mid-1800s.  The university is currently engaged in historical and genealogical research on African Americans, both enslaved and free, who labored on campus over the course of its history.

DIPLOMA

Can graduates who wish to replace their diplomas with the new design get a new one? When? How?

All future graduates will receive the new diploma. Prior graduates will be given the option to replace their diplomas with the new design. Details will be available on the registrar's website this summer.  

Contact the Board of Trustees

Jessica L. Willett

Secretary of the University

Katherine Brinkley

Assistant Director of Board Operations