by Kenneth G. Everett
One of my ’64 classmates, and a good friend throughout our four years at Washington and Lee University, grew up in a Chicago suburb and graduated from a top high school there. Once during an idle moment while we were studying for a Charlie Turner exam in European history, I asked him why he, a big-city Illinois boy, chose to attend a small southern college like W&L. He answered, “Because my dad thought it was a good conservative school.”
Indeed, W&L was “a good conservative school” back then — and one in the best and most authentic sense, despite some faults it has long since shed. Long gone are such perishable appendages to W&L’s conservatism as “conventional dress” (the requirement to wear a coat and tie to class and in public), the all-male student body, and the racial segregation that still lingered at the school in those days and was associated with the conservative element of society.
But for a long time thereafter, the more fundamental, rightly imperishable portion of W&L’s conservatism remained intact: the rigorous Honor System, the code of personal honor and gentlemanly conduct, the correspondingly pervasive ambience of civility and respect of persons, along with instructional and curricular adherence to the enduring truths bequeathed to us by Western Thought and Tradition.
Those imperishables were deeply rooted in W&L’s long history, ingrained in its traditions, and illumined by the inspiring examples of the lives and characters of our venerated namesakes, George Washington and Robert E. Lee. I think no one during my W&L years could have imagined that these W&L values and traditions, so fundamental to civilization itself, would ever come under full assault by educated people.
But it has happened before our very eyes — in a savage fashion and at a pace that shocks the sensibilities. The woke administration and faculty now firmly ensconced at W&L have taken this place that was like no other and transmogrified it into a place hardly recognizable. I need not enumerate here the long series of actions taken by the administration and the Board of Trustees to erase the school’s history and its unique identity in order to level it into the growing herd of Woke institutions. In doing so, they have cavalierly dispensed with that precious transformative magic that former university president Francis Pendleton Gaines so felicitously described for all time as W&L’s “power to deposit in the life of a boy something a little finer than culture, a little rarer than competence, a little nobler than success….” That vision of W&L’s sublime greatness was clear to us back then, and cherished.
The article “American Colleges Are Committing Suicide” by Richard K. Vedder thoroughly and comprehensively describes the woke disease rampant in virtually all of American higher education — all the symptoms which you will easily recognize as present at today’s W&L.
A few beams of hope, however, are now piercing the darkness. At UNC-Chapel Hill, the school’s Board of Trustees has recently acted to topple a major pillar of wokism by severely curtailing the activity of the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) apparatus on that campus for its excesses in hiring and admissions practices.
Those DEI practices have become destructive of the traditional reign of meritocracy in American higher education that was responsible for its outstanding success in the past, is essential to its future, and necessary for national prosperity, competitiveness, and security.
The University of Texas system has also adopted tough DEI constraints similar to those at UNC. And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida legislature are moving not only to defund and dismantle the heavy-handed DEI bureaucracies that have proliferated throughout the Florida state university system, they are also attacking its front line supporters — university faculties themselves — by subjecting tenured faculty members to five-year reviews. Those reviews can result in dismissal if faculty members are found guilty of intolerance in political or social discourse, racial bias of any sort, or other egregiously inappropriate woke-inspired conduct. Gov. DeSantis clearly recognizes that the greatest obstacle to de-woking the universities is the overwhelmingly woke faculty members and the college administrators who timorously kowtow to them.
It says much about W&L’s current faculty to remember that about 80 percent of them voted to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the university. And, there can be little doubt that W&L’s Board of Trustees renamed Lee Chapel only to appease faculty anger at not changing the university’s name. The W&L Board of Trustees should feel ashamed that the governing authorities of large, cumbersome, usually lethargic state university systems like those in North Carolina, Texas, and Florida have shown more courage, more wisdom, more love for their respective institutions and their students — and more real concern for saving American higher education — than they have.
The W&L Board should wake up, or we will see W&L disappear forever into the woke morass described so well in Dr. Vedder’s article.
Kenneth G. Everett is a 1964 graduate of Washington and Lee and a writer for The General’s Redoubt. This article is republished with permission.