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Washington and Lee University won't strip Confederate leader from name

The Virginia school said it regrets a past that includes "veneration of the Confederacy school," but some say that's not enough.
Image: Washington and Lee University
The historic campus of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.Stephanie Gross / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The board of trustees of Washington and Lee University on Friday voted 22-6 not to remove Confederate general Robert E. Lee's name from the Virginia school's moniker. The decision came after months of review and a year of racial justice protests across the nation that questioned the veneration of Confederate figures.

"We found no consensus about whether changing the name of our university is consistent with our shared values," the university said in a statement. "Nor is there consensus on whether changing the name will position the university to be the most successful it can be in the future."

The school has changed its name multiple times since its 1749 founding as Augusta Academy. It was named Washington Academy after George Washington made a gift to what was then Liberty Hall Academy that "ensured its survival," the school said.

In 1870, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's name was added "in recognition of his leadership in saving and transforming the school after the devastation of the Civil War," it said.

"The university today is not a memorial to our namesakes, but a place that provides an exceptional liberal arts and legal education and fosters relationships that bind generations of students, faculty, staff and alumni to each other," the school said.

As part of its announcement of the vote, the school said it regrets a past that includes "past veneration of the Confederacy and its role in perpetuating 'The Lost Cause' myths that sustained racism."

The institution said it would take a number of steps to redress racism including renaming Lee Chapel as University Chapel, removing Lee's image from diplomas, discontinuing Founder's Day celebrations on the birthday of Lee, and dedicating $225 million to "need-blind admissions," internships and enhanced curricula.

"Our goal is to build a more diverse community, enhance inclusion for everyone at W&L, and support the professional success of our students and employees," the school said.

Not everyone was pleased with the decision. The Twitter account titled "has washington and lee changed its name today?" said, "Sometimes it’s just about doing the right thing. not everything has to be a strategy for future positioning."

Alumna and lawyer Gail Deady tweeted, "Dismantling structural racism in an institution built to maintain white supremacy will be extremely difficult. How can we trust W&L to achieve the difficult when it can’t do the bare minimum of changing the school name?"

Washington and Lee Law School professor Chris Seaman tweeted, "The Board acknowledges that the decision to retain the name will be 'painful' to our students, faculty, and staff of color — yet decides to do it anyway."