ROBERT E. LEE--EDUCATOR
[The Tombstone Epitaph, October, 1996]
On October 12, 1870, one of the 19th century's truly far-sighted and innovating academic officers died. Presiding over a small college in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley for less than five years, he pushed, successfully, for the implementation of an elective system of course to augment, not replace, the traditional classical curriculum. He provided the basis for the Student Honor Code. He proposed the creation of a School of Business more than ten years before the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania came into being. While a number of business courses were added, the School of Commerce, Economics and Politics was not created until much later, but the basic idea had been his. Under his leadership, the college became one of the first in the entire country to offer a course in International Law as well as to offer the study of the Spanish language. Fifty "press scholarships" were created; it was the first appearance of what later would be called a School of Journalism. The scholarships were offered for nine years, but eventually fell into disuse because of the suspicion they generated among old-time editors.
Shortly after his death, the trustees of the college changed the institution's name to include his. Even so, this college president is hardly remembered for his academic achievements, any more than he is remembered for the bravery in the Mexican War which earned him three commendations or his service as Colonel commanding the crack 2nd Cavalry in Texas. He is, rather, remembered as a grey-haired patrician astride his great grey war horse, Traveler--the commander of his beloved Army of Northern Virginia--Robert E. Lee, whose son, Custis, also presided over the college which had been renamed Washington and Lee University.
Copyright Robert Munkres 1981-2009 All Rights Reserved