By now, you’ve received a number of letters asking you to consider removing Lee’s name from the University’s. Having read the draft of a number of these, I don’t think I could add to any justifications that others have undoubtedly illuminated better than I could. I would, however, like to add my voice to that chorus.
I come largely empty-handed and without threats. I’ve seldom donated to W&L, and with two children left to put through college, any money I could spare for the annual fund isn’t worth you losing sleep over. That said, having served in an Army uniform for 27 years, I understand several things much better than I did as an undergraduate.
First, diversity is important. When faced with complex problems, diversity of thought and experience is paramount. I tell my faculty and students diverse teams lend themselves to better solutions. I would respectfully ask that you consider the diverse opinions on this matter, and also consider the potential effects of retaining Lee’s name on the University’s future diversity. Truth in lending, I believe I heard that the entering class is the most diverse ever, so that logic probably falls short.
Second, words matter, and narrative has power. In this age of instant communications and the 24 hour news cycle, words also take on a life of their own. Complex rationale loses to the sound bite every time. That’s the antithesis of critical thought, but it’s also a reality we can’t wish away. Lee’s name in 2020 is a drag on the University’s reputation, regardless how one might try to justify its presence there. Its presence has a negative narrative power.
Lastly, and practical considerations aside, I support removing Lee’s name as a just and proper gesture. Like many have written to you, I’ve largely disabused myself of any notions of Lee’s greatness. He rebelled against the same Constitution I defended for 27 years. I’ve buried soldiers who engaged in that same defense, which remains a raw spot personally. He rebelled for a cause that used slavery as its justifucation. I believe the change is due.
Thanks for considering this request. I may have it wrong, but I also understand you may be sending out a note concerning this matter soon. Allow me to suggest you don’t do so tomorrow on Juneteenth. Words matter, Sir, and so does timing.
Thanks again, and have a good weekend.
Paul G. Schlimm
Colonel (Retired), US Army