Amherst College announced Tuesday that it will cease using "Lord Jeff" as an unofficial mascot for the institution. The use of the term has been controversial, and many students and some alumni have wanted it dropped.
Lord Jeffery Amherst was an English general for whom the town of Amherst is named. He died before the college was created and had no direct connection to the college. Honoring him was opposed by many because in correspondence he proposed the use of smallpox-infested blankets as a weapon of war against Native Americans. It is not clear whether the proposal was carried out. (The photo at right shows a student protest on the issue.) A statement from Amherst's board said: “Amherst College finds itself in a position where a mascot -- which, when you think about it, has only one real job, which is to unify -- is driving people apart because of what it symbolizes to many in our community.” The college said that names controlled by the college -- such as the name of the hotel run by the college, the Lord Jeffery Inn -- will be changed.
A statement issued by Cullen Murphy, chair of the college's board, said that while the college would prefer that people not use the Lord Jeff nickname or mascot, the college will take no action against those who -- as individuals -- do so. "The college has no business interfering with free expression, whether spoken or written or, for that matter, sung. Period," Murphy said. He added, "To those who argue that stepping back from Lord Jeff as an unofficial mascot takes us down some sort of slippery slope that calls into question the name of the town or the college, the board would respond that you can find slippery slopes anywhere you look, that real life isn’t a philosophy class or court of law, and that people long ago figured out the commonsense way to deal with slippery slopes: just draw the line. Amherst College will always be the name of the school."