The Columns

Reflections on W&L

— by on June 10th, 2015

On his blog, Cobbloviate, James “Jim” C. Cobb, who holds the B. Phinizy Spalding Professorship in History at the University of Georgia, reflected on his recent trip to Washington and Lee University, where he received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree during the May 28 commencement ceremonies. Earlier in the year, he visited campus as the keynote speaker for W&L’s Founders’ Day.

W&L Provost Daniel Wubah introduced Jim to graduates and their guests as “one of the foremost scholars of Southern history, a teacher who has had a profound impact on generations of students, and a writer who has interpreted the South for academic and lay audiences alike.”

So it’s not surprising that Jim, who refers to himself the Ol’ Bloviator (O.B.), chose to mull over his experience through the lens of a historian and educator.

He noted, “Neither Robert E. Lee or George Washington are really dead on a campus marked by so much statuary and truly imposing architecture bearing their names and likenesses. Though the Lee connection has grown socially problematic at times, as recently as last summer, in fact, W&L’s dynamite prez, Ken Ruscio, a stand-up dude if ever there was one, has steadfastly maintained that the school’s special place in history is integral to its identity. Lest ye be deceived, President Ruscio’s position does not imply dogged defense of an ossified, uncritically venerated past, but quite the opposite.”

Jim added, “It is for this very insistence on reason over emotion and thoughtful discourse over shouting that, since the O.B.’s first visit to the campus nearly 20 years ago, he has been a walking infomercial, touting Washington and Lee as the place to go if you want to see undergraduate education done right, and his more recent trips have not only affirmed but, if anything, strengthened that conviction.”