Extremely P. C. Makeover at W&L

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

While Americans continue to move south of the Mason Dixon line, officials at southern institutions of higher learning try to distance their schools from the region that they are in.

“Many attributes about the South we incorporate in our values and traditions,” the president of Washington and Lee University told the school newspaper there. “Some have views of the South that are uninformed or prejudiced.”

The University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee and Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. are the latest casualties of politically correct remodeling. The former school now lists itself in college guides as Sewanee: The University of the South, largely on the advice of a Chicago-based marketing firm.

“This edition of our annual Best Colleges book is the first one in which we listed the school as ‘Sewanee-the University of the South’” a publicist for Princeton Review Books admitted. The publicist pointed out that “The college names in the book are how the colleges identify themselves.”

Washington and Lee, informally known as W&L, may change its name as well, based on the findings of a market research firm in Bethesda, Md. The Bethesda firm found in a survey that Northern Virginia high school students were unimpressed with one of the historic figures that the school is named after—General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

“Vanderbilt (University) was able to move past the name,” W&L journalism professor Abedayo Abah told the W&L Trident. “Now you think the Southern, educated image, not the name.

Other recent national surveys of college students show that these high school graduates have little knowledge of the U. S. Civil War, let alone who the major figures in the conflict were. The other famous Virginian that W&L is named after has a decided edge in surviving any transformation at the school, as long as the visage of President George Washington continues to adorn a one-dollar bill.

As with Sewanee, the desire to move up in U. S. News and World Report’s annual rankings plays a large part in W&L’s move to hire an outside consulting firm to reassess the school’s image. The head of Potomac, Inc., Steve Raabe, has impeccable establishment credentials, due to his service in Maryland’s State Democratic party and work with the state branch of the National Education Association teacher’s union.

While the Potomac, Inc. study was designed to provide information on how to improve W&L’s listing by U.S. News, the marketing firm itself did a study which called into question the value of such rankings. “Most of the 282 undergraduate and 46 law school officials responding to the online survey decry their own schools’ rankings as too low, while indicating that they apply subjective filters themselves as they rank their peer institutions each year,” Potomac, Inc. reported.

Ironically, General Lee, who once headed the college, was reluctant to serve as its chief executive when offered the job at the close of the civil war. He worried that his selection “might draw upon the college a feeling of hostility.”

General Lee himself found slavery immoral but turned down the chance to command union forces. “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil,” General Lee wrote in 1856.

Yet, because of his commitment to states rights, General Lee turned down the post which was then given to Ulysses S. Grant.”With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home,” General Lee wrote in a letter to his sister on April 20, 1861.

“I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword.”