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Common Questions about Not Unmindful

The following are some real questions we’ve been asked, as well as some reactions to our mission. Reading through this may help you understand the mission a bit better, or to talk to people about this.

Why are you doing this? Why do you want to hurt the school?

We want to help the school. We are doing this because we love the school. Morally, removing Lee from the name and brand of the university is the right thing to do. It’s also the right thing to do from a business perspective. The university is boxed in, even though they may not see it or admit it yet. Lee is the primary brand of the university, and he is one of the primary symbols of white supremacy.

Despite the great work in admissions, especially in the last two years, the Lee name is a hindrance. After recent current events, it will be more of an obstacle. Ask the professionals in admissions. Ask the coaches who are serious about recruiting for diversity.

It is an obstacle in recruiting adults as well. President Dudley said that in the past two years, 45% of tenure-track faculty hires were people of color and 20% were Black. That sounds great, but it doesn’t take a math major to realize that he is talking about 20 people, 9 people, and 4 people. That is not enough. There are no Black cabinet members. There is one Black coach – an assistant coach – in the athletic department. In fact, the athletic department is less diverse now than it was several years ago.

It may not affect giving immediately, but many younger alumni support a name change.

As the university enters the quiet phase of a major capital campaign, we believe that it must deal with the name decisively, or the capital campaign will be at risk.

You want to erase history.

We want to make sure that history is accurate. We want to take Lee out of mythology and place him back into history. Nobody wants to pretend that Lee did not exist. After Germany’s defeat in WW2, the Germans did not name universities after Rommel. They did not teach that the Nazis were great men fighting for a noble cause. They did not build monuments to Hitler. But Nazi Germany did not disappear from history because it IS history–it happened. In fact, that period and those historical figures have been studied and written about endlessly because they are fascinating.

So you buy into all of this revisionist history?

We buy into facts. Actual history. The history that is not mythology. When we learn new facts, we are open to revising our own views. In fact, that is a a foundational principle of a liberal arts education.

Revisionism refers to re-interpretation of historical accounts. We reject the revisionist label as it relates to Lee, because we are evaluating him objectively based on the introduction of facts that previously have been suppressed by those who promoted the myths and lies of Lost Cause narratives, including the university itself. If anything, what we are doing may be classified as post-revisionist history.

It’s a slippery slope. Where does it stop?

We disagree. We believe that the truth provides firm footing.

But if it is a slippery slope, it’s because it’s on a mountain of myths, lies, and legends built over the past 150 years, and it’s collapsing. We don’t know where it stops, but we are saying that it starts with Lee.

Just be careful what you wish for…

We do not know what the future looks like. No one does. But we DO believe that the risk of the status quo is more dangerous than the risk of change, both from a moral and a business perspective. We believe that the longer that the university wastes time and energy trying to rationalize the legacy of Lee, the more pain there will be for all members of the university community.

I think the name of the university is different than statues and monuments.

We do too. We think the name is more harmful, to be honest. Because it is an undeserved and undesired honor. Because it was the foundation of a business model based on name recognition, not merit. It was the foundation of a culture, rather than a small aesthetic piece of it. The trustees were trading on Lee’s name. Then the university intentionally propagated a mythology, ethos, and culture after the fact to justify and inflate Lee’s “contributions to the school” so that the university could continue to prosper.

But what about these super-wealthy alumni who support the school? Are they going to abandon it?

We hope not–that would make them look really shallow. We also hope that they will not try to hold the trustees hostage over this issue. That would be incredibly disrespectful to the trustees. If 15 donors hold all the power, then the trustees aren’t really fiduciaries are they?

The amount of money that several handfuls of donors have given to the school is astounding in its generosity. It has changed lives. It bothers us when people cast those patrons in a negative light: “Rich old people” or “White and Loaded”. Those sorts of labels bother us. Those people have done more for the university and for students over the years than most of us will ever be able to do.

Our belief is that those people have supported the school because they love the whole school, not just one part of it. We think they love the school more than they love Lee. In fact, that’s not only true of the super-wealthy. It’s true of almost all donors.

I just hope everyone can be civil as we have this discussion.

We hope so too. We are committed to civil discussion and we are encouraging others to make the same commitment. But being civil does not mean being passive or non-confrontational. We are going to be civil but we are also going to challenge.

So you just want to change the name of the university to make yourself feel better, and then you’re going to disappear again?

No. That would be the worst thing that we could do. Changing the name, specifically removing Lee, is a strategic step. There could be some short term pain from that initial step. Since we trying to force the issue, we owe it to the university community to stick around. If anything, this movement has the potential to deliver thousands of apathetic or disengaged alumni back to the university community.

Isn’t it more important to focus on initiatives that are actually going to help students and improve campus climate right now than to change the name?

It is important to do both. Some people want to do one before the other. Even though it is an emotional issue for many, starting with the name change is actually pragmatic. It’s the easiest thing to do. The trustees could call a meeting, give 48 hours notice, and vote to change the name.

At the same time, it takes planning, funding, recruiting talent, plugging that talent into the org chart, and consistent effort to implement initiatives, programs, and support structures. It takes time. We think that starting with the name change sends a positive signal, not only to the university community but to the wider world, that the university is serious about the initiatives at the top of its strategic plan related to diversity and inclusion.

Changing the name accelerates the pace of substantive change. Once we are free from having to rationalize our past, we have more time and energy to focus on our present and future.

So what should the name be?

We will not propose a new name. We think that there should be a renaming process led by the Board of Trustees. Further, we believe that if that process is transparent, and seeks input from all members of the university community, that it will provide an opportunity for healing.

We also believe that the process will offer the university an unprecedented opportunity, complete with millions of dollars in free media, to tell the wider world about its values and strategic initiatives, and that it will be a tremendous asset in recruiting students, faculty, coaches, and key leaders.

In fact, it will be the first time in ages that the university will have the opportunity to tell its own story, rather than reacting to current events.

I just don’t think this is the right time. You’re reacting to George Floyd. The administration has its hands full trying to figure out how to open in the fall while dealing with COVID-19.

We hear you, but be very careful. “This is not the right time” is a delaying tactic that has been used for centuries by those who wish to preserve the status quo, even when it is harmful.

Do you know who used that tactic as an argument against emancipation and voting rights? Robert Lee.

The time will never be perfect. We did not pick the time. The time picked us. And we have to deal with it. Change happens in seismic bursts. If the university does not act now, it will bring greater and lasting pain on itself. It will be self-inflicted.

But they just dealt with this two years ago, didn’t they? The commission did not recommend a name change.

Go back and read the report. It is a great place to start. Be sure to read the appendices as well. It is not clear that the commission even believed that it was within its purview to recommend a name change, though they did present a case for and against, before deciding to focus on concrete ways to contextualize Lee, rather than change the name.

While contextualization, changing the names of buildings, and moving flags may have had some minor internal effect, two years later it is clear that it was not enough. The contextualization needs to happen within the backdrop of the world, not within the university itself.

I am afraid that blowing up the culture is going to make the school lose its identity, and it will be just like any other liberal arts university. Super-liberal!

We are not blowing anything up. We are saying that the foundation is already collapsing. Changing the name of the university on moral and business grounds is an issue that does not reside on the left-right political continuum. Nevertheless, we do not think that a hard pivot to the left is very likely, given the school’s history, its alumni, its trustees, and so forth.

But even if the university were to double down on its reputation as an institution that produces conservative thought leaders, it can better claim moral high ground if its name and brand do not double as a symbol of white supremacy.

Changing the name opens the door for the university to create a culture more in line with its values and 21st century initiatives. We hope that students will participate in building that culture. As alumni, it is not our place to be overly prescriptive about how those initiatives are implemented.

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