To: W&L Students, Faculty, and Staff
From: President Will Dudley
Date: Jan. 19, 2021
Re: Winter Term

We typically return from break reinvigorated and enthusiastic about the coming weeks.  This term is no different in some respects:  Faculty are excited to teach, and students are excited to learn.  And yet, precious little is normal.

Our opportunities continue to be constrained by the ongoing pandemic.  We remain shaken by the recent storming of the nation’s capital, and especially by images of the Confederate flag – long a symbol of white supremacy, racial oppression, and sedition – being carried through the halls of Congress.  And this past weekend in Lexington, we were subjected yet again to those hateful images by those who annually parade through our town in Confederate regalia.

I was proud to stand yesterday morning with so many of our students, faculty, and staff who – inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and organized by CARE – joined together to call for justice, love, and equality.  You powerfully represent the values of our community.

When Dr. King was a junior at Morehouse College in 1947, he published an article on “The Purpose of Education” in the student newspaper.  King wrote:  “A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically.  Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths.  To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education.  Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”  And he wisely continued:  “We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.  The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King this week, I take pride in the fact that our university takes seriously the goal of educating for character.  Our mission charges us to teach our students to think freely, critically, and humanely and to conduct themselves with honor, integrity, and civility.  It charges us to prepare our graduates for lifelong learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society.

I refer to our mission frequently because I believe in it deeply.  Investing ourselves in education is how we can make the greatest impact in a world that sorely needs what we have to offer.  In these unusual times, it can be difficult to focus on the business at hand, but it is more urgent than ever that we do so.  There is no quick fix to our nation’s problems.  Our sustained pursuit of education makes a long-term difference — while offering us a source of joy in the present — and I welcome you back to it.

Education and Opportunities

Our faculty and students have adapted remarkably well to this extended pandemic, creatively employing all available tools and techniques to teach and learn in a wide variety of formats.  That work is again underway, with classes beginning last week at the law school and resuming today for undergraduates.

The opening weeks of the term also offer numerous opportunities for intellectual engagement outside the classroom.  April Ryan, White House correspondent and political analyst, kicked off Martin Luther King Jr. Week with a fireside chat last night.  Michael Barsanti, director of the Library Company of Philadelphia, will offer a timely address this evening on “Friendship, Franklin, and the Future of Democracy.”  Eddie Glaude, chair of African American Studies at Princeton and political commentator, will speak on Jan. 24.  Our faculty will present a panel discussion on “Legislative Leverage: Democratic Processes as Activism,” as part of the ongoing Activism and Black Life series on Jan. 27.  Jonathan Wortham ’04 will contribute to the Mudd Center’s year-long series on Global Ethics in the 21st Century with his talk on “Ethical Problems in Public Health Practice” on Jan. 28.  Our MLK programming also includes film screenings and discussions every night this week.

Our music, theater, film, and art departments have developed a variety of virtual programs that will air in the coming weeks.  Leigh Ann Beavers will give an artist’s talk on “Reconciliation,” her post-sabbatical exhibition currently on display in the Staniar Gallery, on Jan 27.  There will be a screening and discussion of “Intimate Violence,” an original documentary film produced and directed by Stephanie Sandberg and Nolan Zunk '22, on Feb 4.  And we can look forward to the Winter Choral Concert on March 16 and the Repertory Dance Company Concert on March 25-28.

Students will continue to engage with the local community through community-based learning projects.  And the Campus Kitchen has creatively adapted its annual Souper Bowl by partnering with local restaurants the weekend of Jan. 29-31 to offer soup specials, with proceeds supporting their Backpack Program for area children.

The new Richard A. Duchossois Indoor Athletic and Recreation Center is open and active, as physical education classes and intramural sports get underway and W&L athletes prepare to resume competition this winter. Home basketball, swimming, and wrestling events will be streamed live for the campus community to support our varsity athletes. 

Our Student Affairs staff also has a full slate of activities planned for the term, including Career and Professional Development programs, Outing Club excursions, Communi-TEAs, and movie nights.  I encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities to connect and enjoy time with each other.

Celebrating Success

Pandemic or no, members of the W&L community continue to be recognized for outstanding achievement.  I want to share and celebrate their good news.

Extending W&L’s track record of success with national fellowships:  Oyumaa Daichinkhuu ’16 won a Schwarzman Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  And Zach Baldridge ’22, Bri Mondesir ’22, and Blake Sanchez ’23 were awarded Gilman Scholarships to study abroad this summer.

The University Singers were selected as one of 11 choirs worldwide to compete in the European Grand Prix of Choral Music qualifier competition in Maribor, Slovenia, on April 16-18, 2021.

Leah Naomi Green's “The More Extravagant Feast” has been chosen by The Boston Globe as one of the best books of 2020, and as the 2021 recipient of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Doug Rendleman and Carliss Chatman were honored by the American Association of Law Schools with the 2021 Lifetime Scholarly Achievement award and the 2021 Derrick A. Bell, Jr. Award, respectively.

Maggie Shapiro Haskett, director of Jewish life, was named a Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence at Hillel International’s annual global assembly on Dec. 14.

Finally, 50 students and three honorary members will be inducted into W&L’s chapter of the national leadership fraternity, Omicron Delta Kappa, this evening.  I hope you will support them by tuning into the virtual convocation at 5 p.m.

Looking Ahead

There is no getting around the fact that we are living in exceptionally difficult circumstances, which threaten physical and mental health, and deprive us of much that we treasure.  Individuals respond differently to these risks and losses, and each of us tries to strike a sensible balance between personal and communal safety, professional responsibility, and the need for human interaction.  Please be empathetic and generous to one another.  We are all doing our best to manage through this period.  Let us be grateful for what we are able to do, and hopeful about the distribution of vaccines and the coming of spring.  I have confidence that the resilience and kindness of the W&L community will make this a successful term.