FROM: The Jefferson Council
RE: We Are Losing the Soul of Our University
DATE: May 20, 2021
On the eve of Final Exercises at our University, we, the founding members and Board of the Jefferson Council, feel the need to send out this letter regarding very troubling developments at our beloved University. Every aspect of the legacy of UVA is under threat from our President and his hand-picked administration. They have a social justice agenda that is in many cases contrary to the values at UVA that made our institution so unique and so beloved.
We cannot solve everything in one fell swoop. Like the adage about how to eat an elephant, the answer is one bite at a time. Therefore, we have narrowed our focus and set our goals to address four core issues at UVA that we know to have wide-spread alumni support. These four core issues of The Jefferson Council are as follows:
- Open Dialogue: We will fight for the University to adopt and enforce a set of principles providing for open dialogue from all parties within the University. No one should be vilified or physically abused or have their grades docked for expressing a contrary opinion on any issue, political or social.
- Mr. Jefferson: We will fight to protect the legacy of Mr. Jefferson as our Founder and as a Founding Father of America.
- The Lawn: We will fight to remove all signage from the Lawn doors and preserve the sanctity of the Academic Village.
- The Honor System: We will fight to resuscitate and preserve the Honor System at UVA. It has been severely weakened and will only survive with a concerted effort by the Board of Visitors, the Administration, the alumni, and the students.
If you agree with our concerns and with our efforts to address them, we urge you to:
- forward this letter to everyone you know who cares about UVA and
- go to our site at www.thejeffersoncouncil.com and sign up to be a member.
The founders and Board of The Jefferson Council are all UVA alumni and/or parents of current or prior students and are willing to stand up and fight to preserve the legacy of our University and our Founder, Mr. Jefferson. If we do not do it, no other organization or group associated with UVA will do so at this time. It is now up to us. We have strength, but only if we have numbers on our side.
Let me summarize some of the recent activities that have triggered us to take action and write this open letter.
As you all know, April 13 has always been Founder’s Day – Mr. Jefferson’s Birthday. But NOT this year. UVA Today did not even acknowledge his birthday. Nor did our President. Nor did the Cavalier Daily. This was the final straw for us. The Administration said UVA would not celebrate Founder’s Day this year due to the pandemic, but this was just a convenient excuse. The pandemic did not preclude an online acknowledgement of which there was none. The leadership at UVA, whether at the Administration or at the Student Council or Cavalier Daily, do not want our University reflecting the ideals that were so important to so many of us alumni. Let me repeat for emphasis – there was no official acknowledgement this year of Founder’s Day by any UVA organization. Absent real pushback from our group, we expect Mr. Jefferson will eventually be purged from the history of UVA. Our President has never stated this as a goal, but by ignoring Founder’s Day this year, he has clearly signaled his intent.
Last September, a student living on the lawn posted a F..K UVA sign on her door and the Administration decided that UVA must protect her right to post such an offensive sign on the Lawn. (Note: She did fully spell out the obscenity on her Lawn room door. We will not do so.) Never mind that the University already had rules in place on the UVA website that clearly prohibited the posting of signs except on kiosks specifically authorized for such. The Administration decided that this student had a 1st Amendment right to post this offensive material because the Administration had failed to enforce its own signage rules. The Administration ignored a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S.260, 266 that school officials can punish students for “vulgar and lewd” speech at school because it “undermines(s) the school’s basic educational mission”. Instead, our Administration chose to protect this vulgar behavior and went so far as to post UVA Ambassadors on the Lawn with specific instructions to prevent anyone else from taking this obscene sign down.
Then the Administration said that it would make sure that no such signs would be posted in future years on the Lawn doors by letting future Lawn residents know in advance that the “no-sign rule” would be enforced before they take residence next year. However, the Administration changed course again and decided to allow future Lawn residents to post any sign they so desire on the Lawn but only on new bulletin boards to be installed on the Lawn doors over the summer. Lawn residents can post anything they want, as vulgar as they want, but the sign cannot exceed the size of the new bulletin boards. That is our Administration’s new standard. These people do not even want to protect the Lawn. Nothing is sacred to them….nothing.
Civility and collegiality and open dialogue no longer exist at the University of Virginia. The radical wokesters have taken over almost all student activities at our University and they will absolutely shout down and verbally abuse and vilify anyone who tries to argue another point of view. Attached (via links) is a summary of
- Nick Cabrera’s vilification as a conservative member of Student Council, and
- Gavin Oxley’s vilification running for Student Council President, and
- Victoria Spiotto’s issues on the central grounds as Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).
The Administration knows this and will not do anything about it. They defended the F..K UVA sign on the Lawn but not YAF’s signage at the Amphitheater or even at YAF’s own sign-up desk in front of Newcomb Hall. The persons and/or organizations mentioned above do not toe the line with the prevailing social justice agenda, so they are not protected.
Case in point, Kieran Bhattacharya, a second-year medical student attended a panel discussion on October 25, 2018 at UVA Medical School hosted by an Assistant Dean of the Medical School on microaggression, and he had the temerity to ask some questions of the panel. Most notably, he asked “is it a requirement, to be a victim of a microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?” Bhattacharya and the Dean sparred a bit about this issue in a very civil manner, but an assistant professor who helped organize the panel decided that Bhattacharya’s questions were too pointed and filed a “professionalism concern card” against him. This complaint went all the way up the ladder at the Medical School. The end result, Bhattacharya was suspended from the Medical School and on December 30, 2018 was ordered not to set foot on University grounds. This is outrageous. All Bhattacharya did was challenge some woke assumptions at a panel discussion. He is now suing the University for allowing these woke staff members and Deans in the Medical School to ruin his medical career and his life.
The Administration, in defending the University against this lawsuit, cites legal cases permitting educational institutions to discipline students for disruptive or offensive speech. This hypocrisy is beyond imagination. Here is a quote from the University’s own response to the lawsuit: The Supreme Court and Fourth Circuit have long recognized that schools may discipline students for disruptive and offensive speech without offending free speech interests. Because Plaintiff’s in-school comments were disruptive to the School’s educational mission as well as highly disrespectful, the School had a right to discipline him. Building on these First Amendment principles, other federal circuits have recognized a public university’s right to discipline unprofessional speech.
So, let’s put this in perspective. The Administration believes that it is constitutionally protected speech to put a “F..K UVA” sign on a door on the Lawn—the only academic UNESCO World Heritage site in North America—because that is not “offensive” or “indecent”. However, a student who assiduously challenges a professor’s “microaggression” theories is “indecent” and “offensive” and deserves to be secretly sanctioned.
To be perfectly fair, the Administration has said that Bhattacharya was ultimately dismissed for other reasons, but this still does not change the hypocrisy used in the University’s legal arguments or the fact that this student was secretly sanctioned for his questions during the Q&A period at this panel discussion. Silly us, we thought Q&A really meant an opportunity ask penetrating questions.
Here is a link to an article from the New Virginia Press summarizing this whole affair. The article has an internal link to a recording of the panel discussion and his questions to the panel: You can draw your own conclusions whether Bhattacharya was disruptive or disrespectful.
We feel that this case represents hypocrisy at the highest level and a stunning double standard for free speech that could exist only in an academic environment fostered by our Administration that institutionally favors one group of students over others and/or certain political and social positions over others. This is blatantly wrong for the University of Virginia and must be stopped.
Mr. Ken Elzinga, who has taught more students than any other professor in the history of the University of Virginia, stated for the record in a public listening session hosted last week by the University committee addressing the open dialogue issue, that he regularly hears from students that they are afraid to voice an opinion in class contrary to that of the social justice agenda of the professor or even other students. Mr. Elzinga views this as a “tragedy” because he believes that a university should be a “marketplace of ideas.”
Professors Christian Gromoll and Brad Wilcox also called in to this same session and commented on the Administration’s efforts to force their social justice agenda into the classroom from every angle. Gromoll said that mandatory faculty training at UVA has become increasingly ideological. In order to complete the training, you have to give the “right” answers to the questions, which have ideological components. He described this as a form of “compelled speech” and characterized it as a form of “indoctrination”. Wilcox said the faculty is being increasingly “advised” that terms and phrases such as “husband and wife” are no longer acceptable in the classroom and are to be replaced by “significant other” among other examples.
We at the Jefferson Council totally agree with these concerns voiced from Messrs. Elzinga, Gromoll, and Wilcox. We wish we could post a link to this listening session which had many more specific examples of such transgressions at UVA, but the Administration so far refuses to post a link to that session for others to hear. We know it was recorded. Everyone concerned about our University should have a chance to listen to this 90-minute session. We will post this link on The Jefferson Council site when we prevail in getting it released.
And it goes on and on. The Administration appointed two employees to curate a collection of 100 artifacts from the history of the University. These two University employees addressed a class this year on the topic of “Encountering the World in Collected Objects.” In describing their plans for this collection, one curator made it clear that he has an intense dislike for Mr. Jefferson and the other curator said that she would not put equal time in any effort to preserve artifacts that are not from an underrepresented minority of which Mr. Jefferson was not. Why would any sane organization that wants to preserve the legacy of its University put two people in charge of such a collection with an intense dislike of if its Founder?
Finally, we have done much research about the status of our Honor System at UVA. We have met with two of the last three Honor System Chairs and the current Honor System Chairman. In our opinion, our Honor System has been so weakened by the lack of administrative support that it may be on its deathbed. We believe that the Honor System at UVA can be resuscitated and revived, BUT only if the Administration and the Board of Visitors make it a high priority. At this time, Honor is not even a part of faculty orientation. Our President never talks about it…not at all except for fundraising. And it has a very small role in the orientation of incoming students. The value of an honorable community must be preached to the faculty and students all the time. The Jefferson Council will push this effort as hard as we can.
If you take honor and civility and collegiality and open dialogue away from UVA, which our current Administration and student leaders are doing, all we have left is red brick. We want more than that for our University and we hope you do as well.
We want to preserve for future generations of Wahoos those fundamentals that have made the UVA experience such an exceptional and unique one. It doesn’t matter where in the world you meet another Wahoo or what age difference there might be–the common values and experiences we have all shared for generations create an instant and palpable bond unparalleled in academia. But this visceral bond is disintegrating on a monthly basis as the pervasive political and social justice agenda institutionally and systemically pushed by this Administration creeps into every nook and cranny of University life and subjugates every aspect of our customs, traditions and heritage to the agenda. E Pluribus Unum has become E Unum Pluribus — instead of a community of shared values and experiences, we have become a community increasingly splintered and divided by politics and agendas in a manner never before witnessed on the Grounds.
NO! We will not sit by and let this erosion of our University continue!
We have a potential movement here that will definitely get our Administration‘s attention if we band together… but we need to do so NOW… before it is too late and the die has been irreversibly cast. Go to our site and read these posts above and more. Then we urge you to join The Jefferson Council (www.thejeffersoncouncil.com ) and then start calling and writing to everyone you know at the Administration.
Make some noise.
Let’s make them reckon with us and save our University. Wahoo-Wa.
Bert Ellis, president of the Council is the lead author of this letter, which reflects the views of the entire board of directors. James A. Bacon, publisher of Bacon’s Rebellion, is vice president-communications of The Jefferson Council.