Previous W&L Mission Statement (May 1988 - 2008)

Washington and Lee University has two preeminent objectives: to dedicate all its resources to developing in its students the capacity and desire to learn, to understand, and to share the fruits of their intellectual growth, and to pursue its educational mission in a climate of learning that stresses the importance of the individual, personal honor and integrity, harmonious relationships with others, and the responsibility to serve society through the productive use of talent and training. Independent, non-sectarian, and privately endowed, it comprises three divisions, one graduate-the School of Law-and two undergraduate-the College and the School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. With a rich heritage from the past and a history spanning more than two centuries, the University has a profound sense of tradition, but it likewise has a firm commitment to the ideal embodied in its motto, non incautus futuri, and therefore remains responsive to changes and innovations that contribute to the realization of its aims.

Convinced that it helps to meet a vital need in American higher education by offering undergraduate preparation in the arts and sciences of the highest possible quality, Washington and Lee provides a program that demands both broad exposure to the principal areas of human knowledge and intensive exploration of a single field or discipline. It requires competence in the use of English and familiarity with a second language; appreciation of the values of the human experience as derived from a study of the liberal arts and the social sciences; mastery of the rudiments of mathematical reasoning and understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry; and, in keeping with the ancient idea of mens sana in corpore sano, development of physical fitness and dexterity. It further requires completion of a major, in one of more than 30 subjects, designed to enable the student to explore in depth a significant body of knowledge and to grow in mental discipline and the capacity to deal with complex ideas and issues. The curriculum as a whole is both broad and exceptionally open to applied work, as in business, journalism, and engineering science. Through the regimen of general and concentrated studies the University seeks to encourage originality and creativity and to nurture all the qualities of a liberally educated mind, among them intellectual curiosity and unbiased judgment, critical and analytical power, clarity of thought and precision of language, patience and open-mindedness, and love of excellence and desire to understand the world in which we live.

The University recognizes teaching as its central function. It believes that the personal association of its students with a highly qualified and motivated faculty holds the greatest promise of inspiring in them a respect and thirst for knowledge that will continue throughout their lives. It seeks, therefore, to organize its instructional program in small classes and to encourage personal attention and a close relationship between teacher and student. It recognizes, too, that a faculty of eminent teacher-scholars is essential to the achievement of its educational purposes and to the success of its academic programs. Accordingly it seeks to maintain a faculty of men and women who gladly accept the challenge to teach effectively and whose scholarship and professional development are vigorous and growing, and it endeavors to compensate its teacher-scholars in ways appropriate to their training, skill, experience, and effectiveness in aiding the development of their students. Moreover, because it recognizes research, scholarly investigation, and creative achievement as proper companions to the most effective teaching processes, Washington and Lee attempts to provide ways and means by which its faculty members may pursue their scholarly and creative interests and by which its students may be properly introduced to the tools, techniques, and methodology used to increase knowledge and understanding and stimulated to become involved themselves in the process of generating knowledge.

Washington and Lee is selective in its enrollment of students. It chooses young men and women with the highest qualities of intellect, character, and the promise of future achievement, and it seeks to create a student body that is geographically, socially, and economically diverse but unified as "an aristocracy of talent." It imposes no other barriers to admission. For all those qualified to undertake its exacting degree programs the University seeks to render whatever financial assistance may be needed for their enrollment.

Through an effective program of self-government Washington and Lee attempts to involve its students in responsible participation in the affairs of the University. It grants considerable autonomy to them in the governance of their own affairs and the management of clubs and social organizations, and, through such means as Omicron Delta Kappa, founded on the campus and annually recognized at a University convocation, it seeks to encourage the development of the capacity for leadership that traditionally has been a distinguishing trait of Washington and Lee graduates. More important still, it gives to the student body final responsibility for the Honor System, which has been a powerful and central force throughout the University from its very beginning during the Lee presidency, which rests on the fundamental principle that a spirit of trust pervades all aspects of student life. Finally, aware of the great men whose names it bears, the University seeks to develop in its students the qualities of mind and spirit they exemplified and demonstrated in their regard for personal honor and integrity, for duty, for tolerance and humility, and for self-sacrifice in behalf of their fellow citizens.

Because it believes that student activity outside the classroom may contribute as much to self-fulfillment as that inside, the University devotes a substantial part of its resources to enhancing the intellectual and artistic life of the campus at large and providing extensive athletic and recreational programs. From both special and general endowments it funds a wide variety of lectures by distinguished visiting speakers, and it supports a rich array of programs and exhibits in music, drama, film, painting, and sculpture. Insofar as its location and resources allow, it seeks to establish itself as a center of intellect and culture extending beyond the boundaries of its campus, bringing both direct and indirect benefits to the surrounding community and providing a series of summer programs that attract executives, business families, rising high school seniors, elderly citizens, and alumni from all parts of the country. In athletics it emphasizes the development of the student-athlete and maintains a balanced program in a broad range of both intercollegiate and intramural sports and encourages the use of its recreational facilities for individual and group exercise.

To determine how well it achieves its aims the University engages in almost continuous self-examination. The Board of Trustees regularly reviews through its standing committees the policies governing the life of the University, modifying them when there is good reason to do so. At the departmental level, course offerings and major requirements are regularly reexamined for the purpose of improving academic programs. Each year virtually every aspect of the University comes under some form of review by standing and ad hoc committees addressing various questions and making recommendations, or by members of the faculty and administration drafting grant proposals for financial assistance. From alumni, both individually and corporately in a board of directors and regional chapters, come comments and suggestions for further strengthening of the University. It is in these alumni, in fact, and in their achievements, their loyalty, and their generosity that the University finds the primary evidence of its success in reaching its goals.