Washington and Lee University, the highly rated liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, has announced that it will no longer hold classes on the federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., beginning in January 2016. The faculty of the college approved the change in November but school officials said it was too late to change the college’s academic calendar for the current school year.
University President Kenneth P. Ruscio opposed the change saying he believed it would serve to produce a three-day weekend for students which would take away from the “impressive array” of projects, presentations, and performances on campus that honor Dr. King. For example, this year Roslyn McCallister Brock, chairman of the national board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will give the keynote address of a multi-day event honoring Dr. King.
The issue of the holiday honoring Dr. King is of particular significance to Washington and Lee University. General Robert E. Lee’s tomb is located in a chapel on campus. Confederate flags are displayed in a museum on the lower level of the chapel. This past summer, President Ruscio acknowledged that the university had owned 70 to 80 slaves and benefited from their labor and in some cases financially from their sale.
The university’s law school made the decision not to hold classes on the holiday several years ago.