by Walter Smith
Next weekend is Finals (graduation in University of Virginia speak). The Class of 2021 class arrived at the University just after the traumatizing Unite the Right rally, lived through the backlash against Donald Trump, suffered through the suppression of unpopular conservative views, was afflicted with the Engagements requirements of the new curriculum, and missed about a third of the normal four-year college experience thanks to COVID-19 hysteria. As if the climate of the last four years was not poisonous enough, the administration squeezed in one one final indoctrination experience. I speak of assigning Melody Barnes to be a featured speaker.
Ms. Barnes co-chairs the Democracy Initiative at UVa’s Miller Center. Besides working for years for Senator Kennedy, she served eight years under President Obama. If you check out the news feed attached to her CV linked above, you will find more than enough evidence to conclude she is a rabid partisan – just the right person to lead the Democracy Initiative!
Ironically but not surprisingly, Ms. Barnes has been selected to lead The Thomas Jefferson Foundation (which oversees and operates Monticello) while desecrating the memory of Thomas Jefferson in The Washington Post. Like all good Leftists, Ms. Barnes mixes in enough truth to hide the lie. Sally Hemings was a slave owned by Jefferson; she was the half-sister of Jefferson’s deceased wife; but she was NOT the mother of his “other” children. It is important here to note the use of the plural “children.” Hemings had one child with Jefferson family DNA. That child was her last child, born in 1808 while Jefferson was president. Frankly, I don’t care if Jefferson was the father or not (according to AncestryDNA I have relatives who would “identify” as black), but the evidence of his paternity is inconclusive at best. But no, Ms. Barnes intentionally uses this imprecision to smear the man.
How many of the graduating UVa students know that at least five of her six children were not fathered by Jefferson? How many know that James Callender, in classic journalistic pique of that day, supposedly as retribution for Jefferson not appointing him as Richmond postmaster, began accusing Jefferson of fathering several children with Sally Hemings in 1802? Was Callender, besides being a notorious hothead, also a prophet? Shouldn’t a graduate of a school founded by a giant of history at least have an accurate knowledge of his human flaws? Much worse, shouldn’t the faculty? Even more to the point, shouldn’t the person chairing a foundation named in his honor?
A Leftist speaker at college graduations is not a new phenomenon. Since Ms. Barnes is from Richmond and went to TJ High School (really!), perhaps inviting Steve Bannon, notorious Trump supporter, Richmond native and Benedictine and Tech grad, as a co-speaker would relieve the ideological monotony. Such a gesture would provide diversity of speech, which I don’t think the graduating students have experienced much of during their college careers at UVa.
President Ryan has also much bally-Hooed his free expression committee. I can’t believe this requires study at Thomas Jefferson’s University! What is really required is the exercise of free speech. FIRE’s positive ratings of UVa just reveal how abysmal the state of free speech is at higher ed. Let’s hope that the class entering this year will graduate in four “normal” years from a University where they are taught how to think, not what to think, and maybe hear a Finals speaker with something different to say!