Why W&L’s Dudley Must Go

Republished from The Generals Redoubt newsletter.

The Generals Redoubt is calling for Will Dudley to resign or be terminated as President of Washington and Lee University and for a new president to be recruited who better reflects the historical values of the school and the majority of its alumni. Unfortunately, there are too many reasons to justify his dismissal for one newsletter, so this is the first of several editions explaining why #DudleyMustGo.

In the broadest sense, Dudley should be terminated as his words and deeds indicate that he sees Washington and Lee as deeply flawed. Both he and Rector McAlevey want to reimagine Washington and Lee in a worldview not shared by the vast majority of W&L alumni, parents, and students.

So, Dudley needs to be removed before he irreparably harms what has heretofore been a prestigious and distinguished institution of higher learning that produces graduates of honor, the highest character and of professional and civic distinction.

Yes, like all people and any institution in pursuit of excellence, Washington and Lee can and should continuously be improved. That is an essential element of the meaning of non incautus futuri after all. But Dudley doesn’t see the school in need of fine tuning; he sees the school as culturally flawed and in need of a major makeover and he is successfully pursuing that with fellow traveler McAlevey’s full support. Never mind that there’s no evidence that either Dudley, McAlevey or the Board of Trustees (BOT) have bothered to share that indicates that W&L is, in fact and not just in sentiment, deeply flawed and in peril.

When the school examined going co-ed in the mid-1980s, the President at that time, John D. Wilson, and the BOT shared information with the Washington and Lee community about the current and projected declines in both the size and the quality of the all-male applicant pool. The information they shared made a compelling case that the long-term prospects for W&L were dire and the school needed to be co-educational to thrive sustainably. The decision was extremely controversial given that it changed 236 years of tradition, but the BOT and President Wilson had the data, as well as the sense and the respect, to educate their stakeholders about the issues and what was at risk. That’s never been done in relation to the proposed name change and other recent changes to the school such as removing Lee’s name from his chapel and removing the images of the school’s two namesakes from its diplomas. We’ve simply been told that “some people are offended.” Who? How many? Is it a statistically relevant percentage of our alumni? What are the present and projected long-term effects on the school? Is it affecting application rates? Is that projected to continue? Et cetera.

Dudley’s Commission on Institutional History and Community was supposed to get to the bottom of these HUGE problems W&L allegedly faced regarding Lee and other aspects of the school’s history, but it didn’t. That report was essentially a history report ad nauseum on various Washington and Lee buildings and figures. It was also entirely qualitative with no supporting data, unless you call citing the number of conversations had and the number of emails received meaningful statistics. It does make many super-powerful observations, though, like, “Lee Chapel is not a comfortable place for many.” With “many” defined as… well, it’s never defined. Is that four people? Four thousand? One percent of respondents? Five percent of respondents? A third of the respondents? The majority of respondents? Those of you in the business world would be canned for presenting such drivel, but this was earthshakingly conclusive stuff in Lexington. (What’s “flawed” is that report. You can read it here if you’re an insomniac.)

But from that high-minded codswallop came 31 recommendations that essentially boiled down to keep the name; give it context; and do 29 other things of varying degrees of need and worth. And that was to be the end of it. So, why did we just go through all this name change rigmarole again?

Well, in May 2020, George Floyd was murdered and the resulting national social and political crisis gave Dudley, his faculty and McAlevey the perfect opportunity and cover to advance their agenda. On June 23rd, less than a month after Floyd’s murder and in a letter of almost nonpareil virtue signaling, Dudley announces the “George Floyd Endowment” for programming in W&L’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement. [Really? Not a single African American in the country’s history to name a diversity and inclusion endowment for, at a school that values honor and civility, than a man who served nine jail terms including one for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon? Not one?]. Big Brother then closes the letter with an all-time great display of subtle condescension and coded warnings [Quotes on left and implied message on the right]:

(* Ed. – This is in the works. Please see McAlevey’s announcement on the Formation of Residential and Social Life Working Group.)

Then on July 6th, 80% of the faculty voted to remove Lee’s name from the school (80%? Now there’s diversity!).

Lastly, not to be outdone by his President and his faculty, on July 7th, despite the fact that Lee’s relationship with the school was examined barely two years before, Rector McAlevey announced that the BOT would look at removing Lee’s name yet again. (“C’mon. That was waaayyy back in 2018.”) Then McAlevey’s BOT took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to go through the same issue that Dudley’s commission had already examined only to come to the same conclusion to retain the name. (They aren’t completely daft: The BOT knew it would be economic suicide to change the name when the majority of donors were against it). But, importantly, they removed Lee’s name from his chapel and erased both Washington and Lee from the diplomas. Why? Well, yet again because “some people are offended.” No debate. No explicit community discussion. It was just… announced. The normal facts and evidence you’d expect thoughtful, intelligent leaders to offer their important stakeholders and benefactors over something as controversial as these issues was not offered. Why? Well, it’s not hard to figure out why: The BOT needed to throw the other side and their aligned press some bones, and some big ones at that, since they had offended them by keeping Lee’s name on the school.

Oddly, though, and certainly intentionally, Dudley, McAlevey and the BOT ignored Dudley’s own Commission’s Recommendation #28 (page 105).

So, let’s go through some of those guidelines:

  • Recommended Standard/Process: Was the retention of Lee’s name on the chapel “Indisputably in conflict with the university’s values?”
  • Response: If so, then why keep his name at all? (They want your money is the answer to that).
  • Recommended Standard/Process: “Examination of the standards of the namesake’s time and place is relevant.”
  • Response: Please explain the relevancy now versus the relevancy only two years prior as stated by Dudley’s own Commission.
  • Recommended Standard/Process: “Removing the name should not have the effect of erasing/distorting history.”
  • Response: Seriously? It’s pretty obvious what the answer to this one is.
  • Recommended Standard/Process: Community engagement to ensure that students, faculty, staff and alumni have opportunities to participate in the process.
  • Response: The process was arbitrary and the decision was political. There was no formal, solicited engagement of the community on this specific subject.
  • Recommended Standard/Process: Discussion and deliberation by the committee to synthesize research and outreach.
  • Response: The decision was made by the BOT and the committee was not involved. The process was arbitrary and the decision was political.

It’s a bit head-scratching, isn’t it? Why on earth wouldn’t you follow your own brand-new rules? Unless maybe they were inconvenient.

Dudley and McAlevey haven’t bothered to engage our community in sincere, factual debates. They’ve engaged us in ideological discussions with sentimental opinions that they either agree with or will tolerate (like not changing the school’s name for now). This is an amazingly anti-intellectual approach for a university of all places to be taking. And the facts that have been shared by the University and Dudley with the community for years (mainly when they were trying to get you to contribute to their annual fund drives and capital campaigns) were that W&L has never been in better shape! So, you should keep giving and give even more so W&L can continue to be the amazing place that it is! (And to pay for our ever- expanding number of faculty and their very generous compensation packages!)

How many letters, speeches and articles have Dudley, the Development Office and the Alumni Office shared describing ever-increasing numbers of applicants, increased competitiveness of admissions, increased average board scores of incoming students, higher rankings of the school by organizations like US News and World Report, higher annual fund donations, higher endowment levels, etc., etc., etc.?

But hold on: Isn’t the school deeply flawed? Isn’t Lee’s association with the school hugely problematic; hence the need for these bi-annual commissions and BOT reviews of Lee’s name? Shouldn’t that show up in declining numbers of applications as who would want to come to a school so flawed? Shouldn’t that affect the quality of the applicant pool via declining board scores? Wouldn’t we as members of the W&L community and important stakeholders be respected enough by the school’s leadership to be so informed like President Wilson and his BOT did when co-education was being considered? Shouldn’t our rankings be plummeting? Shouldn’t donations be down? If we’re really that tragically flawed and in need of such massive change, then surely all of this, or at least some of this, would be reflected in some metrics, right?

We hope by now you get what is going on: You’re being punked!

There is no factual, statistical, or objective evidence that Washington and Lee has grave problems or that Lee’s name or the school’s culture is or was somehow imperiling the school or would do so in the future. W&L is now the Will Dudley-Mike McAlevey-WLU Faculty social justice experiment and the Dudley-McAlevey case for the need for great change has been based on opportunistically capitalizing on moments of national social and political crisis. That subjective case is further based on the feelings and opinions of an undefined share of our community that happens to align with the social and political values of Dudley, McAlevey and the faculty themselves. Facts aren’t offered because they don’t really have them and this is ideological not factual. It’s time to build their Utopia U and you – the majority of parents, alumni, and other supporters who don’t share their worldview – will, of course, need to finance this and pay their fat salaries. So, they kept Lee’s name for now, so you’ll keep giving. Then, once Utopia U has been built, they can erase Lee’s name as they have thoroughly and completely erased it elsewhere.

You’re Being Punked!

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One response to “Why W&L’s Dudley Must Go”

  1. Jake Spivey Avatar
    Jake Spivey

    Substitute Thomas J. Jackson for R.E. Lee and replace the Will Dudley-Mike McAlevey-WLU Faculty-BOT crowd with the Board of Visitors and a quisling faculty and a similar situation is occuring at VMI (adjoining W&L’s campus).

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