Feature Stories Campus Events

W&L Archaeology Students to Participate in Monticello Excavation

Students and faculty at Washington and Lee University will be teaming with archaeologists from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello this spring on an excavation of the house site of Jefferson’s overseer, Edmund Bacon.

Each spring for the past three decades, W&L has participated in major archaeology projects during the University’s spring term. The archaeological field methods course has conducted digs at the ruins of Liberty Hall, the three-story, late-18th-century building that housed Liberty Hall Academy, the predecessor to W&L, and the Longdale Mining Complex in western Virginia.

According to Alison Bell, assistant professor of anthropology at Washington and Lee, working at the Monticello site will provide the students with exceptional opportunities and challenges.

“This is an exciting collaboration with the department of archaeological research at Monticello,” said Bell. “Our students will be able to work with Monticello staff, including Frasier Neiman, the director of archaeology, Sara Bon-Harper, the archaeological research manager, and Jillian Galle, project manager of the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. In addition, W&L students will learn state-of-the-art methods of archaeological excavation, recording, analysis and interpretation.”

The spring dig is part of a larger research project with Monticello and its Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS). The on-line database features detailed information about archaeological sites occupied by enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Chesapeake region, the Carolinas and the Caribbean during the colonial and antebellum periods.

“The project at Edmund Bacon’s house is part of an effort to understand how the non-elite European Americans lived in this era and in these places,” said Bell. “We have quite a lot of information about the elites of the time as well as fairly good documentation of the enslaved African Americans But this work will allow us to make some comparisons between how people like Edmund Bacon and his family lived and how enslaved people of the same period lived.”

Through the research, said Bell, it should be possible to get a greater understanding of the development of race and class in America. The excavation should provide important clues into the construction of the dwellings, the clothing and the eating habits of these non-elite whites.

“This is a broad center of the populace that has not had a great deal of study,” Bell said. “We hope to fill some blanks.”

Bell said that the excavation will have some significant logistical challenges, since the site itself is located in rugged terrain and at the very outskirts of the Monticello property.

Approximately 15 W&L students will participate in the dig this spring. Bell expects several future spring laboratories will also focus on the project.

“We will be entering our findings into DAACS, which makes the information available to anyone on the Internet,” Bell added.


W&L Joins Pilot Initiative with Hillel

Washington and Lee is among a group of seven national liberal arts colleges included in a pilot initiative being undertaken by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, to enhance the experience for Jewish students on smaller campuses.

Joan Robins, the director of Washington and Lee Hillel, attended a training seminar in October as part of the initiative.

“The first training seminar offered a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues and exchange ideas,” said Robins. “While I am familiar with Hillel’s mission and values, it was helpful to discuss ways to apply these values to my work with students. The goal is to enrich the lives of Jewish students on campus. I am already feeling the support from the cohort — W&L is going to be able to send four students on the Birthright Israel program this winter.”

The other colleges in the pilot cohort are Bowdoin College, Colgate University, Franklin and Marshall College, Lehigh University, Middlebury College, and Williams College. The campuses were selected on the basis of having one paid profession dedicated to Jewish life on campus, high alumni involvement, an open relationship with Hillel and high academic rankings.

According to Deb Geiger, assistant director of the Soref Initiative for Emerging Campuses, the goal is to increase student engagement and to double the number of Jewish students who participate in immersion experiences such as Alternative Break and Taglit-Birthright Israel.

“There is tremendous potential to develop the Jewish student populations on these campuses by applying a more strategic and focused effort,” explained Geiger. “We want to ensure that despite the small population, Jewish students feel engaged in Jewish life and have access to the same opportunities, like Taglit-Birthright Israel, as do campuses with large Jewish student populations.”

Hillel has committed to the six-institution cohort for two years and will not only work to get students in more meaningful Jewish experience on and off campus but also to provide the professional with more skills, knowledge and resources.

Washington and Lee is currently in the midst of a fund-raising campaign to build a new W&L Hillel House as an effort to help increase Jewish student enrollment and build Jewish community life at the University. The goal of the campaign is $4 million, and the effort received a boost recently from a challenge gift from Donald Childress, rector of W&L’s board of trustees. Childress made a $500,000 pledge to the project as part of his $5-million gift to the University. W&L hopes to use the Childress challenge match to complete fund-raising in early 2009 so that construction can begin next summer.


Locy Contempt Citation Overturned

A federal appeals court has vacated a lower judge’s contempt order against the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications’ Reynolds Professor of Legal Journalism, Toni Locy, arising from stories she wrote when she was working for USA Today.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. issued the brief unsigned ruling Nov. 17. Locy had been cited for contempt for refusing to reveal sources she used in stories about the government’s investigation of former Army scientist Steven Hatfill.

Unidentified sources told several reporters, including Locy, that Hatfill was a possible suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people. In 2002 then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft called Hatfill a “person of interest” in the investigation.

Hatfill sued, alleging that FBI agents violated his privacy by leaking information to reporters about the government’s investigation into the anthrax attacks. On March 7, in response to a motion by Hatfill’s lawyers, Federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered Locy to reveal her sources or pay up to $5,000 a day in fines from her own pocket. Four days later a higher court granted a stay while Locy appealed the ruling.

In that appeal, Locy urged the court to decide her case. But last summer Hatfill and the government settled the case for $5.8 million, and Hatfill asked the court to dismiss Locy’s appeal. The appeals court granted Hatfill’s motion, saying that because the case had been settled there was no reason to rule on whether Locy should be allowed to protect her sources. The court also vacated the contempt order against her.

“I am grateful that the court of appeals vacated the draconian contempt citation against me,” Locy said. “But I remain concerned that the case is not over, given recent statements in court by Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers that they intend to come after me to pay Dr. Hatfill’s legal bills. The appeals court did not address this issue directly, and we must now wait to see whether Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers follow through on their threat.”

“My colleagues and I are pleased and relieved that Prof. Locy no longer faces a contempt citation,” said Journalism Department Head Brian Richardson. “But it is unfortunate that the appeals court passed up an opportunity to affirm the necessity for reporters to be able to protect the identity of confidential sources.

“As reporters pursue their societal obligation to monitor our powerful institutions, their sources need to know that their identities can be protected when necessary,” Richardson said.


Professor Robert Ballenger Discusses Internet Shopping on WCVE in Richmond

Robert Ballenger, associate professor of business administration in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics, believes that this holiday shopping season will be different from years past when it comes to e-commerce sites.

Ballenger, an expert on e-commerce, discussed the situation in an interview aired by WCVE, public radio in Richmond, on Nov. 20, 2008.


Graham Sheridan ’11 Named to Board of Directors of Hillel

Graham Sheridan, of Greensboro, N.C., a sophomore at Washington and Lee University, has been named to the International Board of Directors of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. There are only 10 student members of the 70 to 80 member board. He will serve a two-year term.

Student members are selected based on their campus involvement, understanding of Hillel’s work and commitment to Hillel’s values, as well as type and size of the university. Sheridan has been active in Hillel since coming to W&L. He is currently the vice president for Shabbat and holidays and was vice president for community service during his first year.

Hillel’s international board comprises diverse individuals committed to furthering Jewish campus life. Members represent many campus constituencies, including the 10 students, Hillel professionals, faculty and the community at large. There are two meetings of the whole board during the year-in the fall and spring.

“Members of the board have expertise in different aspects of Hillel,” Sheridan said, “but they see the need for students to tell them what’s going on at campuses, our input is sought when the board is discussing policies having to do with campuses.”

He continued, “I’m honored to have been chosen to be one of the 10 student members of the board and to represent Washington and Lee in the Jewish community at large.”

“Graham is a natural leader, and has helped to develop an exciting program for Hillel and to sustain a Jewish presence on campus,” said Joan Robins, director of W&L Hillel. “He enthusiastically shares his passion for Jewish living, which engages many students, including those not typically involved in Jewish life. I believe Graham will be a real asset to the Hillel Board during his two-year term.”

Sheridan is an economics major with a concentration in the Shepherd Poverty Program. He is a member of Chi Psi fraternity, College Democrats and Two Dead Guys Ultimate Frisbee.


Professor Michael Smitka Interviewed on WVTF Public Radio

Michael Smitka, professor of economics in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics at W&L, has focused his research on the Japanese and U.S. auto industries, especially comparative analysis of the automotive parts industry and industry cost structures.

As Congress contemplated various scenarios regarding a potential bailout of the U.S. automobile industry, Smitka was interviewed by WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke about the potential impact of the collapse and where the blame for the current crisis lies.


Georgetown Philosophy Professor to Discuss ‘the Guilt Soldiers Carry’

“The Other War: The Guilt Soldiers Carry” will be the topic of a discussion given at Washington and Lee University by Nancy Sherman, professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown Law School and a fellow of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, on Thursday, Dec. 4.

The 4:30 p.m. event at the Stackhouse Theater in W&L’s University Commons is free and open to the public. A reception and book signing will be held after the talk.

Sherman was the inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the United States Naval Academy and in that role lectured widely to military audiences, including ROTC, military academies, bases and war colleges. She was associate professor of philosophy at Yale University and has held visiting positions at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

Sherman is the author of Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind; Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue; and The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue. The editor of Critical Essays on the Classics: Aristotle’s Ethics, Sherman has published over 30 articles in the general area of ethics, history of moral philosophy, ancient philosophy, military ethics, moral psychology and the emotions.

She has been the recipient of many awards, including fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society and the Mellon Foundation.

Sherman holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University in philosophy, an M.Litt. in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh and a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College.

Sherman’s talk is sponsored by The Herbert Pollack Lectures in the Sciences and the Humanities.


Annual Christmas Candlelight Service Held for At Least 35 Years

Washington and Lee University’s annual Christmas Candlelight Service will be held Thursday, Dec. 4, at 8 p.m. in Lee Chapel. The public is invited to attend at no charge. Seating will begin at 7:15 p.m.

The “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” broadcast each year from King’s College Chapel, University of Cambridge, and widely used in England, the United States and around the world, is an ancient form for corporate worship at the Christmas season. The prayers, lessons and music tell the story of sacred history from the Creation to the Incarnation.

In 1880, E.W. Benson, later the Archbishop of Canterbury, drew up a service of lessons and carols for use on Christmas Eve in the wooden shed which served as his cathedral. In 1918 this service was adapted for use in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. In the early 1930s, the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programming, and it is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide.

The service has been held for at least 35 years in Lexington, the earlier years at Robert E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church. W&L’s Glee Club participated in the service while at the Episcopal Church, but when the Candlelight Service moved to Lee Chapel in the early 1990s, the newly founded Chamber Singers sang at the service.

The late David Sprunt, then chaplain at W&L, presided over the service when held at the Episcopal Church. Thomas V. Litzenburg Jr., acting University chaplain emeritus, was the presider for 16 years until this year. Gordon P. Spice, professor of music, conducted the Chamber Singers in the service until this year at both Lee Chapel and for a few years when held at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church.

Music for the traditional service again will be provided by the University Chamber Singers, this year conducted by Jerry Myers, acting director of choral activities and visiting assistant professor of music. Timothy Gaylard, professor of music, will be the organist for the service.

Nine members of the Washington and Lee University community are chosen to read the lessons. William C. Datz ’75, coordinator of Religious Life, will preside over the service.


Band-Aid Will Not Help U.S. Auto Industry, Says Washington and Lee Economist

A disorderly collapse of the U.S. auto industry would not represent good public policy, but the successful solution to the current crisis requires more than a hurriedly applied Band-Aid, according to a Washington and Lee University economist who specializes in the automobile industry.

Michael Smitka, professor of economics in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics, focuses his research on the Japanese and U.S. auto industries, especially comparative analysis of the automotive parts industry and industry cost structures.

With Congress considering how to respond to the crisis confronting the Detroit automakers, Smitka argues that a quick fix is apt to be unsuccessful, even though he acknowledges that the industry, especially General Motors, is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and has cancelled new products that are crucial to the firm’s long-term health.

Given a 35% downturn in industry sales, even Toyota is temporarily closing plants in the US. GM, which due to its health care and pension obligations entered the current market collapse with insufficient cash, and clearly needs emergency assistance. However, Smitka believes that a panicky approach to the immediate problems of one or two firms is merely first-aid, not a cure. “Instead,” he said, ”we need a more orderly set of policies that looks not just at the Detroit Three, but at the industry as a whole, including suppliers and dealerships.”

Rather than a panicky approach to the immediate problem, Smitka believes the solution is a more orderly set of policies that looks not just at the Detroit Three, but at the industry as a whole, including suppliers and dealerships.

“Applying a bad bandage can make cleaning the wound much harder,” Smitka said. “As much as President-elect [Barack] Obama will have a full plate in front of him, I think this automobile crisis is one that should be left on the plate for him. Congress should focus on simple measures to stabilize the patient, and not attempt surgery in the field..”

Smitka notes that the six primary U.S. automakers — Honda, Toyota and Nissan in addition to the Detroit three — are all heavily dependent on U.S.-based suppliers with a particular type of part frequently coming from the same manufacturing facility. The collapse of General Motors would lead to the demise of many of these suppliers and that, he notes, would mean that Toyota, Honda and Nissan would also have to stop production for lack of the parts.

“There would be no quick fix, either,” he said. “Keeping one part of a plant operating half-time when payroll, purchasing and other areas were all closed would not be feasible. Assemblers, suppliers, dealerships would all close. In pretty short order, we would see 3 million direct jobs and as local businesses felt the effects, another 3 million indirect jobs gone. That would boost U.S. unemployment into double-digits.”

Smitka believes that any plan to provide assistance to the industry must not only be comprehensive, covering dealers, assemblers and suppliers, but that everyone in the industry must be willing to take a hit.

“I have little sympathy with the level of compensation of the bonus rank of the Detroit Three,” he said. “There are plenty of hungry managers around. If someone thinks life is impossible without all the perks, then let them hunt for an employer in some other industry who will provide them. One of their underlings will gladly take their place. All managers should be offered a flat salary with no stock options. Let the executives buy and gas up their own cars, too. That might be a particularly good symbol. If they want to compare vehicles, which surely they ought to be doing, then they can go to a test track or rent one out of their own pocket. My guess is that UAW executives do pretty well, too, and should also be asked to make sacrifices.”

Smitka is now convinced that a potential GM bankruptcy would occur before the end of January, due to the latest data that show an almost unimaginable drop in sales.

Suggestions that sales to consumers in developing areas outside the U.S. may help mitigate the significant decreases in domestic sales are no longer true, said Smitka. The developing world has been a major source of profit but the global economic downturn is already hurting profitability everywhere, according to Smitka. “Sales to China or Brazil or India, for example, do not represent a silver bullet,” he said. “Indeed, governments in the EU and Asia are also being forced to offer assistance to the industry.”


E-commerce Professor Predicts Changes Online This Christmas

In today’s economy, bricks-and mortar-retailers are already offering huge discounts to shoppers.

Traditionally, online retailers have offered discounts but not to the same degree, and in the past some online stores have waited until after Christmas to offer sales. This is all changing, says Robert Ballenger, an e-commerce expert at Washington and Lee University. “In this environment, the online stores are going to have to discount up front to attract people to buy.”

Ballenger says this is already beginning to happen. “Online retailers are becoming very competitive on discounting. I think anyone who has shopped online or through a catalog in the past year or two is going to be inundated this year with e-mail solicitations offering discount coupons to encourage them to buy online.”

“Customers are going to go where the best price is,” says Ballenger, who taught the first e-commerce development course in the United States. “If they think they can drive to the mall and get 30-40% off something that they want to purchase, why would they pay 30-40% more to buy the same thing online?”

Also this year, many online retailers are offering free or reduced shipping. For example E-bay is strongly encouraging its bigger sellers to offer free shipping by discounting its seller fees to those who offer free shipping.

Online retailers do have one disadvantage, says Ballenger: they can’t handle the last minute buyer. About five days to a week before Christmas online buying drops dramatically, because regular shipping won’t get the goods to customers on time and few people want to pay for express shipping.

At this point, the retail stores, if they have the inventory, can precipitously drop their prices to attract customers. “I think there are going to be a lot of people this year who are going to wait for those prices to drop,” says Ballenger. “I remember this happened in the early 1990s. Many Christmas shoppers waited because they knew there were going to be big discounts in the last week, and they were right. And that’s not good for retailers at all.”