Regular friends of the decanter may recall that ol’ Robbo picked up his legal education at Dubyanell University.
For those of you unfamiliar with W&L’s history, the place was founded in 1748 as Augusta Academy. (It is, I believe, the 6th oldest school in the country.) During the Revolution, it changed its name to Liberty Hall Academy. After the Revolutionary War, ol’ George donated some stock (in the James River Canal Company, if I recall correctly) to the school, which promptly changed its name to Washington College in gratitude.
In 1865, the school was on the verge of bankruptcy. It had five professors and three students. In a Hail Mary move, it sent a representative to Robert E. Lee to see if he would be interested in taking on the presidency. The thinking was that his name recognition would generate some monies to keep the place afloat.
Lee, who really only wanted to retire into obscurity, nonetheless agreed to come aboard. But he was no figurehead or mere money-magnet. He reformed and restructured the place, insisting on high moral and academic standards. He established the Honor Code still in use today. He grafted on the law school from which I graduated. Under his spirit and guidance, not only was Washington College saved, it began to thrive. A grateful Board changed the name to Washington & Lee in honor of the man’s achievements shortly after his death.
When I was there in the late 80′s/early 90′s, Lee’s spirit of Christian Gentlemanliness (because that’s what it was) still almost tangibly walked the grounds. The fact that he’s buried in the chapel and his horse Traveler is buried just outside certainly helped foster that sense, but it wasn’t the real reason. Rayther, it was the man’s awesome moral force. One could leave valuables in one’s study-cubby without fear of theft. Strangers regularly greeted each other in passing along the Colonnade. The Honor Code – wholly student run – was taken very, very seriously when it came to academic matters. Guys wore ties and girls wore dresses to football games. It was that sort of place.
Mind you, I had been an undergrad at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT. I don’t call it that for nothing. Wes-U in the mid-80′s was a hotbed of Radical Progressivism. Although the place prided itself (and still does) on its “Diversity”, I wasn’t on campus more than ten minutes or so before I realized that what it really fostered was a lockstep Leftist orthodoxy. “Politically Correct” was a term I first heard used without irony in August, 1983. It meant that opposing views, opinions and tastes – most of them conventional and/or traditionalist – were not argued with or challenged on their merits. Rayther, they were vilified, delegitimized, ostracized and stamped out.
Being the stubborn idjet that I am, rayther than immediately transferring to a more hospitable environment, I stuck it out and waged a very lonely counter-revolution. I won’t go into all the detail, but suffice to say that one of the high points of my time there was receiving an after-the-fact report that on the night of Reagan’s reelection landslide over Mondale, one of the fellow-travelers in my dorm had vowed to find me and break my nose, but had collapsed in an alcoholic stupor before he could put his plan into effect.
(I’m actually thankful for the experience I had as an undergrad: The constant hostility taught me to be a better debater by forcing me to pick apart and examine my views that much more carefully. It also taught me what a fraud Progressivism is as a whole in terms of its professed concern with general well-being and the common good. When “The People” are more important than just plain people, and especially when God is taken out of the equation, somebody’s going to get hurt.)
Nonetheless, by the time it came to looking at law schools, I had had about enough. I wanted a campus much more given to academic and intellectual rigor, as well as to the honoring of traditions. Hence, Dubyanell was a gloriously perfect fit for me.
So it is with particular, ah, emotion that I read where the Shadow has advanced even as far as Metro-Lex: Students threaten disobedience if school doesn’t denounce Robert E. Lee:
Black students at Virginia’s Washington and Lee University have issued an ultimatum: Denounce Robert E. Lee, one of the school’s two namesakes, or face civil disobedience, the National Review Online reported Monday.
Students also want the school to apologize for what they call Lee’s “racist and dishonorable conduct,” remove Confederate battle flags from the chapel and ban Confederate reenactors from the campus on Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday. They also want the university’s undergraduate school to cancel all classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
I’m not even going to get into the merits of Lee’s conduct, its historickal context or the substantive pros and cons of continuing to honor his legacy, because although I would grant that there is room for such debate, that’s not really what this is all about. (I would only point out the obvious in noting that there would’t even be a school against which such protest could be launched BUT FOR the efforts of Lee to save the place to begin with.) These people (I believe they call themselves “The Committee” and initial reports suggested they were a multiracial group) don’t want an honest assessment of the school’s history, legacy and modern face. Instead, they simply want to disappear a major part of it – using guilt, but also force if necessary – in part because it offends their sensibilities, but more because causing such a disappearance proves that they can. (Another W&L alum, Tom Wolfe, summarized this thinking nicely in his essay “Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers”.)
In other words, this has nothing to do with comity and everything to do with control. In fact, it’s war to the knife. Back when I was an undergrad in the heyday of Reaganism, this sort of thing was relegated to a few outlier college campuses like mine. Now? It’s spread to all aspects of the so-called Cultchah and can no longer be indulged or shrugged off.
Co-incidentally, the school was blasting a massive fundraising drive all across various social media today. Not that I give all that much anyway, but given this nooz I think I’m just going to sit on my hands until I see how Dubyanell handles these demands. If they tell the Committee to go stick its collective head in a pig, I intend to react generously. If they cave? Well, upon graduation I was presented a lovely wooden walking-stick with a brass knob and inscription. It has sat for years in the umbrella stand by the front door of Port Swiller Manor. Should the school cave to these bullies, I will break it in half and burn the bits. See if I don’t.