Sweeping changes to Washington and Lee University that include converting Lee Chapel into a museum only, removing portraits of its former president dressed in Confederate uniform and educating students about the school’s past connections with slavery were proposed in a report released Friday.
The report was produced by the Commission on Institutional History and Community, created in August in the aftermath of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and amid a national discussion on Confederate monuments. President Will Dudley assigned the 12-member commission to report on the history of the university and recommend how the campus could best reflect the university’s core values.
Members of the commission include four educators, three current students, two staff members and three additional alumni.
The report makes 31 recommendations that begin with reforming how the university educates students on its own history through the first-year orientation process and beyond.
The commission also recommends reducing the prominence of commemorations of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate figures and symbols on campus. Even mentions of Lee in official documents and websites would scrub references to “Gen. Lee” and replace it with “President Lee.” Lee served as president of the then-struggling school in Lexington from soon after surrendering his Confederate army at Appomattox Court House in 1865 to his death on campus in 1870.
It also recommends a major change in the use of Lee Chapel and a de-emphasis of its use as an auditorium for university-wide events.
Notably, the commission did not recommend renaming the university, the namesake of two prominent Virginia slave owners, or its sports teams’ names, the Generals. But the commission did call for renaming at least one building with ties to slavery, and establishing a new committee to consider renaming others.
Aside from the first recommendation — to publicly release the report — it’s unclear if or when the rest of the commission’s recommendations will be implemented.
The university has previously taken steps to detach itself from Confederate symbols. In 2014, the university removed Confederate flags from the main chamber of Lee Chapel in response to protest by black students who said they felt the school was unwelcoming to minorities.
Dudley thanked the commission for its work but emphasized in a letter Friday “that all of the commission’s recommendations are just that — recommendations.” He was traveling and unavailable for an interview Friday, a university spokesman said.
Over the coming months, Dudley said in his letter to the university community, he will consider the requests in consultation with the university’s board of trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumni. He promised an update on progress by the end of summer.
One of the immediate changes recommended by the commission was to rename Robinson Hall, which stands among on the university’s most iconic buildings in a grouping called the Colonnade. The building was constructed with money raised by selling most of 73 slaves who had been left to the school in an 1826 bequest. In echoes of a similar matter at Georgetown University, the report recommends hiring a genealogist to research the descendants of the slaves that were sold to owners in other states. It also calls for reaching out to those descendants, possibly with an education fund to support secondary or college education.
The commission recommended the university to appoint a standing “naming committee” that would establish specific evaluation criteria for the naming or renaming of buildings and spaces.
And it said the naming committee should consider renaming three campus buildings : Lee House, the former president’s residence where Lee died, Lee Chapel and the Lee-Jackson House, a residence also used for university offices that shares the name of another prominent Confederate general from Lexington, Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.
The number of places named for Lee is disproportionate to his contribution and overshadows other individuals who played an important role in the university, the commission wrote.
The commission recommended converting the Lee Chapel and Museum building into a museum, to serve as a “teaching environment with a well-appointed classroom, offices and state-of the art exhibition space.”
Instead, W&L would create a new meeting space for university events such as orientation, convocations, or induction ceremonies and other major occasions.