to some, writing about robert e. lee on the heals of a post on mlk could seem oxymoronic. i would encourage those people to read up on lee, he too was a remarkable man. today is lee’s 200th birthday (i know it’s you’re bday too, baldwin) and my alma mater is celebrating to boot. lee was president of then washington college (now washington & lee university) from 1865 till his death in 1870. in that short time, he breathed new life into a floundering learning institution. from wlu’s website…
In December of 1865, Lee petitioned the General Assembly for funds to support professorships in chemical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, modern languages, and history and literature.
In 1869, Lee instituted rudimentary business courses and outlined a curriculum proposal for a School of Commerce, a new concept in education. Funding for the School was not forthcoming, but Lee created the foundation for the University’ s nationally noted Williams School of Commerce, which was finally fully established in 1906.
Lee incorporated the Lexington School of Law into Washington College in 1869. Established by trustee Judge John White Brockenbrough in 1849, the School of Law became part of Lee’s plan for a practical education, assuring its continuance and setting the stage for it to grow into the nationally ranked law school it is today.
Also in 1869, Lee offered the nation’s first courses in journalism. It was an idea that was ahead of its time and received national criticism. E. L. Godkin of the New York Evening Post was not alone when he publicly branded the idea as “absurd.” While the journalism program suffered after Lee’s death, the roots remained and it was revived in 1925 as The School of Journalism–now the department of journalism and mass communications. The department also continues today as one of the top of its kind in the country.
Lee proposed a School of Agriculture, and courses were offered in 1869-70.
Lee added courses in Civil and Mining Engineering and drew up a detailed plan for a School of Medicine in 1869.
Lee expanded the science curriculum in 1869 and purchased significant scientific equipment. He also advocated for a Department of Astronomy with an accompanying observatory and pursued an endowment for its continuing support.
while these innovations strengthened the wlu community, i think lee’s most notable contributions are his call to honor (which lead to wlu’s well respected honor code) and his call to reconciliation between the north and south. lee not only encouraged these ideals, he exemplified them.
so tonight when i go to pazo for christina’s birthday party, and i am surrounded by fellow generals, i can promise you a toast to lee’s birthday.