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I am amazed at the energetic debate roused in our quiet county about changing the name of Lord Fairfax Community College. And gratified too — it shows how many of us love the college enough to have strong opinions about what is best for the students.
Like most of us, I have arguments in my head both for and against changing the college name. Not only do I respect the arguments against the change; I have made them myself as I've considered the question from many different angles. For me, and my friends on the college board and the leadership team, this has never been a simple question with only one factor to consider.
I have been reading, thinking, and conversing about Lord Fairfax Community College and its namesake for many months. I have reflected on the proud 50 years of history as well as the next 50 years of accomplishments. And I have thought a lot about the students. Among all the threads of this complex question, here is one consideration to which I keep coming back.
Consider Thomas 6th, Lord Fairfax. He was certainly not evil by the standards of his day. He was well known among the colonial elite of Virginia, though little known today. He inherited huge land holdings in the colony and secured and expanded them through a series of court cases. He became fabulously wealthy by collecting quit rent (a feudal term) from tenant farmers who worked and lived on his land. As a British lord, he never had to work; he was born to wealth. He was not a scholar or a great military leader. He left no significant contributions to the political development of colonial Virginia. During our American Revolution to break free from his patron, his loyalties were to the wrong side. In short, he is known to history for the single reason that he was born to the direct line of a noble family thus becoming a wealthy landowner.
The comparison to LFCC's mission, values, and student population couldn't be more stark. The college doesn't exist to serve rich people. Aristocrats who inherit wealth so they don't have to work aren't the important demographic. The college is not a place for elites. A story of inherited wealth does not speak to our students. Any positive images for the college that come from the words “Lord Fairfax” come only from the good work the college has done for our citizens.
I have come to believe strongly that this institution, built from the ground up to help all our citizens gain knowledge, learn new skills and improve their lives, should have a name more appropriate than one anchored in colonial British aristocracy and royal patronage. As colleges increasingly reach students beyond their original boundaries, a strong, coherent brand is more essential every day. This is our opportunity to make that change.
No one expected to be asked this question. Nor, I think, did we anticipate the outcome. I feel a sense of loss at changing the name and definitely realize what a challenging task it will be. But as I think about the students who will consider attending the college over the next 50 years, I know it is the right choice.
The writer, LFCC College Board Vice-Chair, lives in Flint Hill