Fall 2022 Update

To: The Washington and Lee Community
From: The Board of Trustees
Date: September 9, 2022
Re: Fall 2022 Update

The beginning of this academic year provides an opportunity for the Board of Trustees to share a few thoughts and update the W&L community on several key initiatives.

This fall we welcomed another outstanding incoming class to our campus. 478 undergraduate students and 125 law students arrived in Lexington with superlative academic credentials and the potential to make great contributions to the university.

They join an accomplished student body: a record number of students won undergraduate and post-graduate fellowships last year. Student-athletes brought home ODAC championships in 11 sports and earned 12th place in the national Division III Directors' Cup, W&L's all-time highest finish. Students performed in musical and theatrical productions and took on leadership roles in clubs and Greek organizations.

Our graduates continue to enjoy outstanding outcomes, with 97% of the undergraduate Class of 2021 employed or in graduate school six months after graduation. Our law graduates have similar success, with 96% of the Class of 2021 employed or continuing their education 10 months after graduation.

We are grateful to President Dudley, our administration, faculty, and staff for the dedication and professionalism they bring to their work for the benefit of our students.

And we are inspired by the generosity of our alumni and parents, over 1500 of whom gave their time and expertise as volunteers this year, serving as class agents, chapter leaders, alumni admissions representatives, career mentors and members of university advisory boards. They also contributed over $42 million in new gifts and pledges -- a 55% increase over last year and more than 16% higher than our already strong five-year average.

As trustees we occupy a unique position, working with the university's faculty and administration to advance the mission of the institution by upholding its core values -- free and critical inquiry, civil discourse, honor and integrity -- and preparing graduates for responsible leadership, engaged citizenship, and service to society.

In 2018, the Board approved a comprehensive Strategic Plan, and the university has made significant progress since then on its ambitious goals. Many of these are outlined in "A View from the Hill," a report issued by President Dudley this spring. Some key accomplishments include:

  • Raising over $55M to endow additional undergraduate and law scholarships
  • Adding new minors in Data Science, Entrepreneurship, and Law, Justice and Society
  • Expanding funding to make summer experiences, spring term travel, and pre-orientation programs more accessible to all students
  • Investing in a partnership to match 100% of our campus electricity use with solar energy

In June 2021, the Board concluded its year-long review of our symbols and our name and communicated a number of additional decisions and commitments, which were guided by several key objectives:

  • Helping all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, included, and able to thrive on our campus
  • Recognizing George Washington and Robert E. Lee for their important contributions to the institution
  • Reaffirming the university's rejection of Confederate ideology
  • Presenting the university's entire history fully and honestly.

Since the June announcement, we have made notable progress on all of our commitments. One of our decisions about which we continue to receive questions is University Chapel and the changes we are making there.

The chapel and the annex were conceived as two separate spaces with two separate purposes. The original 1868 chapel structure was envisioned by then-President Lee as a gathering place for the college community. The 1883 annex, including the Valentine statue of Lee, was conceived by members of the Lee Memorial Association, in consultation with Lee's widow, as a memorial to the former Confederate commander after his death. Originally known as "College Chapel," after Lee's death the building was variously referred to as "University Chapel," "Lee Memorial Chapel," "Memorial Chapel," and simply "Chapel" until 1918, when the Board of Trustees formally adopted the name "Lee Memorial Chapel."

The Board's plan restores the building to its original name and recreates two separate, publicly accessible spaces: one for university events and the other for the study of history. A more visible, physical separation between the chapel and the annex helps signify this distinction. We also approved a plan to construct a new museum on campus where the university's history may be told in its fullness. The administration continues to work with its architects and the City of Lexington to implement the Board's plans.

We acknowledge the differing views within our community about the Board's decisions as well as the tensions inherent in attempting to reconcile the complicated histories of the chapel, the university, and our namesakes with our desire for clarity about all that we stand for. In keeping with our unwavering commitment to freedom of expression, we recognize the rights of members of our community to express viewpoints with which we may disagree. We hope that all members of our community will express themselves with civility and respect for those with whom they do disagree.

The Board is composed of W&L alumni with deep connections to the university and a stake in its success. We visit campus several times a year and engage directly with students and our faculty, staff, and administrators. We also engage extensively with our alumni. Our decisions are informed by all these interactions and perspectives.

Trustees seek to make the university the best it can be for today's students, and for future generations, while always acting consistently with our values. We will be steadfast in implementing our commitments and the priorities outlined in our Strategic Plan. We are confident in President Dudley and the leadership that will advance that work, proud of our university, and optimistic about the future of Washington and Lee.

We look forward to the year ahead and hope to see each of you on campus.