Community members protest course on Robert E. Lee

SarahBeth Davis

A rally was held today in protest of a course held at South Campus about Robert E. Lee. A coalition of Bowling Green community members are calling for the cancellation of the course.

The coalition is formed of members from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Bowling Green Resistance Hub, Black Lives Matter Bowling Green, NAACP, WKU students and other members of the Bowling Green community.

They claim in a letter written to the Society for Lifelong Learning Advisory Board and Founding Members the course is glorifying the Confederate general.

Bowling Green community members and WKU students were present out front of the Knicely Center on South Campus with signs and fact sheets on Robert E. Lee. The signs denounced the course as glorifying Confederates and being a function of white supremacy.

The four week course, entitled “Robert E. Lee: Soldier, Educator, and Example in Life and in Memory”, is being taught as part of the Society for Lifelong Learning, which offers non-credit educational programs for those 50 and older.

“We have enough to go on that indicated that there was very obvious bias and slant taught at a public university by a gentleman who is not an expert,” said Toby Fatzinger, a member of FFOYA House who was present at the rally.

Ronald Hatcher, the instructor of the class, is a retired obstetrician with an interest in history. He majored in the subject in college at Emory University, and this fostered his interest in the American Civil War.

Hatcher said he is against his class being cancelled, and views the movement to as a way of tampering the facts and erasing dialogue.

“What I’m attempting to do is to present historical facts in the context of the time they were made rather than imposing concepts from the 21st century on events that took place 150 plus years ago,” Hatcher said.

Teresa Christmas of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is part of a racial justice committee, whose first public action is this rally.

She is critical of Hatcher after seeing him speak previously during a lecture on Lee at the Hobson House, a publicly funded preservation group. She viewed his speech then as being an inaccurate depiction of General Lee and the Civil War, which she said glossed over the horror of it.

“I am really surprised that he got to teach this class here. He is not a historian,” said Christmas. “I also am a Civil War buff and I have always read a lot about the civil war. But I have a different fascination with it because I think it’s a horrible, tragic tale of blood lost, of young men’s lives.”

The issue of what lens through which to view the civil war has been a prominent issue lately, with statues being removed of Confederate heroes sparking national debate.

“We need a hard reset,” said Elizabethtown junior Autumn Johnson at the rally. “I highly doubt that’s going to happen without some people really trying to push for change. If we all stay complacent in how society is right now and just hope that it will change instead of doing something about it, nothing’s going to happen.”

There are no current plans for the class to be cancelled by the Society for Lifelong Learning. They issued a statement clarifying that they have heard and respect the opinions of those protesting but will continue to offer the course.

Professor Richard Weigel attended the class and spoke on behalf of the Society for Lifelong Learning. He is a historian and is in favor of the course being held, citing the freedom of speech.

“I think you can go too far,” said Wegel. “I think it gets unfortunate when it infringes on free speech and open discussion. Everyone has the right to their own interpretation.”

Digital reporter SarahBeth Davis can be reached at [email protected] or through the WKU Herald Facebook page.