Confirmed victory

Lexington and Washington & Lee have a long history in relation to the Civil War and that is something to embraced. However, this should not negate the fact that Human Rights, Peace and Justice should be fully embraced as well.

Sign this petition as a starting point to tell W&L your thoughts about MLK Day procedures.  I believe we deserve to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the issues he triumphed, but what form should the celebrations take? 

It would be incorrect to assume that W&L turns a blind eye to MLK day, as in the past, W&L has offered many programs aimed at recognizing and embracing the legacy of Dr. King although student turnout has been low.

However, W&L still holds classes on that day contrary to the policy of many other universities and schools.  While W&L does not recognize other statutory holidays, should MLK day be different?  Should we suspend classes and participate in the MLK National Day of Service? 

Feel free to use this petition as a forum to state your ideas about what W&L Law procedures should look like regarding MLK day or just sign to voice your support for MLK day and the principles Dr. King championed.  

Letter to
Faculty & Administration Washington & Lee University School of Law
The symbolic benefits of suspending classes on MLK Holiday outweigh the obstacles.

This petition was formed to see how the student body felt about the current procedures regarding MLK Day and to gauge if the students did in fact want a change. Over ___ persons have signed the petition, many of them students. And many others who have chosen not to sign, have expressed support. This leads me to the presumption that a large part of our academic community support recognizing Dr. King’s contributions and MLK’s policies by putting down our books and work obligations in solemn remembrance.

Ceasing classes on MLK Holiday materializes several benefits.

MLK Day could be a formal occasion for the community to talk about race, gender, class and other differences. We could use it to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still need to go.

W&L’s image would be improved by aligning itself with other law schools. Holding class on MLK Day and conducting business as usual permits some to construe the law school as intolerant and insensitive to an important issue. W&L strives to draw diverse, highly qualified professors and students. W&L could preclude itself from attracting such persons because of how it handles MLK Holiday. Through my Internet research of other law schools, W&L, Liberty and Richmond are the only ABA approved (or seeking ABA approval) in VA, NC, SC, MD, GA, MS, AL, AR, TX and D.C. that hold any classes on MLK Holiday. W&L, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame are the only law schools in the US News Top 30 that do not cancel classes or suspend classes for MLK events. The extreme majority of these institutions choose not to hold classes.

Through discussion with our students, administrators, and faculty, three main obstacles surface in reference to cancelling classes on MLK Holiday.

First and foremost, faculty and students fear loss of valuable instruction time. Logistically, this can be remedied by a minor alteration to the calendar. Additional time could be added across several class periods or one full day at the beginning or end of the semester. Also, an exam or reading day could be turned into a teaching day or the classes missed could be scheduled at another time during the week.

Secondly, W&L does not cease classes on any other statutory holiday. MLK Holiday is different than other federal or state holidays. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served his country with honor, integrity and compassion and died for his commitment to social justice. Also, no other public figure celebrated by such a holiday forces us to recognize that our nation has a dark past of slavery and belittling entire groups just for being who they are. No other national hero made it his life work to encourage our country to discover the differences of others, rooted in the fact that we are all fundamentally the same. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. affects every single member of our community. Without his contributions towards integration, our classrooms could have lost the diverse perspectives we now enjoy.

Third, past events on MLK Day have had low student turnout; thus, no more measures are needed. Attendance does not measure the value of an event. By analogy, some elections are plagued by low voter turnout; this does not mean the voting process should be abandoned. While some would surely use MLK Holiday for less worthy purposes, others could use it for discussion, self-reflection, attending an event, participating in the National Day of Service or mere appreciation of how far we have come and how far we still need to go.

I first learned the law school does not cancel classes on MLK Day during Orientation in a small section meeting. As soon as this message was spoken, I observed sadness and outrage in that room. Those impressions stuck with me. At that moment, I had a choice of whether I should immediately alert news media or try to fix this issue within the law school community. I chose to keep that knowledge in-house because I believe our community would change to do what is right. Unfortunately, we hit roadblocks internally and January 16, 2012 has passed with no change in MLK Holiday policies. The time has come for the public to enter the discussion. I still believe that W&L will change but may take a little nudge to speed the process up.

Although I have only been a member of this community for a short time, I love W&L and am proud to be a part. Never have I been to a place where the administration and faculty are so accessible and everyone so caring. I have faith in the W&L Law community and those members who act on its behalf. For the reasons listed above, and my faith in how things work at W&L Law, I believe you should reach the same conclusion I did regarding MLK Holiday. I respectfully ask that your office adjust the calendar and suspend classes on January 21, 2013 in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the issues he championed for the betterment of our beloved community.

David Knoespel representing those who have signed this petition