Board of Trustees’ Update

To: The W&L Community
From: Mike McAlevey '86, Rector
Date: Oct. 22, 2020
Re: Board of Trustees' Update

I hope you and your loved ones are faring well in these challenging times. Earlier this month, Washington and Lee's Board of Trustees convened virtually for our annual fall meeting. We had the opportunity to hear an update on the campus response to COVID-19. And we wish to express our support and appreciation for our students and faculty who are adapting to new methods of living, learning, and teaching. No less is true of our staff and administration, who are working to provide the best possible experience for our students under difficult circumstances. We recognize that this is a challenging time for everyone as we seek the right balance between campus openness, for which W&L is renowned, and the precautions required to keep our entire community safe and healthy during this global pandemic.

We also heard an update from the Special Committee charged with assisting the full board in its examination of the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. These considerations also encompass the issue of the university's name and the design of its diploma. The committee has compiled a great deal of information thus far. In our meeting, we focused our discussion on its findings as they bear on institutional history and the present cultural environment: the national focus on racial justice with its impact on higher education. Moreover, we reviewed W&L's actions to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in light of actions at our peer institutions.

As I have said in my previous messages, the board will consider a mix of factors in reaching our decisions. We are making progress, but our process is not yet complete. We continue to gather data from our community. We heard from over 14,000 of you through our official survey, which closed on Friday, for an overall response rate of 44%. Each of our constituencies was well-represented, with responses from 46% of alumni, 47% of undergraduate students, 61% of law students, 51% of faculty and staff, and 35% of parents. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

In addition to the survey, we have scheduled 13 listening sessions with students, faculty, staff, and alumni and have read thousands of individual communications. While it is still early, it is evident that these issues evoke strong emotions, particularly in this historical moment, and that our community is deeply divided about the university's name. But other common themes are also emerging: among them, the dedication and affection that our constituencies feel for this institution, the commitment to our core values, and the expectation that the university fulfill its enormous potential. At the same time, there is widespread recognition that there is still much work to be done on diversity, equity, and inclusion and clear support for expanding our efforts in those areas, including elements of the university's strategic plan.

I wish to reiterate that the Board is committed to a thorough, thoughtful, and inclusive process and urge you to approach these questions with respect for one another and with minds that are open to views and experiences that differ from your own. We have seen W&L's values of civility and open discourse in action in your letters and in our listening calls, where people with divergent views have listened and found common ground in their dedication to the university. We must continue in that spirit over the coming months if we are to emerge from this process a stronger institution.

Thank you for your support of W&L and your cooperation and patience as we continue with this critical work.