Board of Trustees' Response to the Diploma Petition

On February 11, 2020, Washington and Lee's Board of Trustees received a petition requesting that the university provide students with the option of removing the portraits of namesakes George Washington and Robert E. Lee from their diplomas. The trustees, who have the sole authority to confer degrees on graduates, discussed the petition at their meeting on campus on Feb. 14-15 and issued the following response to the petitioners:

To: Petitioners Regarding the Washington and Lee Diploma
From: Don Childress, Rector, and Will Dudley, President
Date: February 18, 2020

Thank you for your petition asking the university to offer graduates of Washington and Lee an alternate diploma design, without portraits of our namesakes. We appreciate the manner in which you raised this issue with us, commend you for upholding the spirit of civil discourse that is a hallmark of our community, and recognize that you offered your proposal with the best interests of the university sincerely in mind.

We share your commitment to making Washington and Lee the best it can be. In 2018, the Board of Trustees took significant action, in keeping with our educational mission, to expand on the stories we tell about our history. We also expressed our abiding conviction that the university is rightly named for two men who made transformative contributions to this institution and to education in the United States. In light of this view, and after careful consideration of the arguments you presented, the Board has decided that Washington and Lee will retain the single diploma design that has been used by the university since the 1870s.

W&L is a single community, and all graduates receive the same diploma. It includes images of George Washington and Robert E. Lee portrayed in the context of their respective associations with the university — Washington as President of the United States, whose gift saved the institution from financial ruin, and Lee as President of Washington College, who bolstered enrollment, raised funds, and added the law school, among other significant academic innovations. The images on the diploma are consistent with the portraits now on display in Lee Chapel.

While the Board’s decision regarding our diploma design is final, the exploration of our history is ongoing, and we encourage everyone at Washington and Lee to engage with this important educational work. Our commitment to W&L being an inclusive community is steadfast, rooted in the university’s mission statement, and expressed in the Strategic Plan adopted by the Board in 2018. We will not waver in our efforts to implement these strategic initiatives, which support the thriving of all present and future members of the Washington and Lee community. Thank you for joining us in pursuit of this shared goal.