Washington and Lee University – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Lexington, Virginia, is one of my favourite cities in the US, due in large part to its history. Home to two of the most famous Confederate generals (Jackson post bellum, Lee ante), it’s also home to the Virginia Military Institute, and Washington & Lee College. As denoted by its name, W&L was presided over by General Lee, and the Marble Model instilled his sense of honour so effectively that it still shows today:

Washington and Lee maintains a rigorous Honor System that traces directly to Robert E. Lee, who said, “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student must be a gentleman.” Students, upon entering the university, vow to act honorably in academic and nonacademic endeavors. While “honor” is often interpreted as meaning that they will never lie, cheat or steal, the Honor System actually proscribes whatever behavior the current generation of students decides is dishonorable.

The Honor System has been run by the student body since 1906. Any student found guilty of an honor violation by his or her peers is subject to a single penalty: expulsion. Faculty, administration and even trustees are powerless; the Honor System is defined and administered solely by students, and there is no higher review. Referenda are periodically held to gauge each generation’s appetite to maintain the Honor System and its single penalty, and the students always re-ratify the Honor System by a wide margin.

Washington and Lee’s Honor System is distinct from others such as those found at the neighboring Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia because it is not codified. That is to say, unlike those others, Washington and Lee’s does not have a list of rules that define punishable behavior.

The Honor System encompasses fundamental honesty and integrity. Other disciplinary frameworks exist to address lapses of social and behavioral standards that do not fall into the category of a student’s basic honor. (If you cheat on an exam or take a book from the library without checking it out, it’s an honor violation. If you go 55 in a 50-mph-zone, it isn’t.)

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