A Legacy in Peril

by Ann McLean

Outsiders who seem to have little understanding of or respect for Thomas Jefferson have been running Mr. Jefferson’s University for several years. Their policies have wreaked havoc on the spirit of individual liberties envisioned by the founder, threatening to destroy Virginia’s flagship University as a place of freedom and free expression.

Travel with me, a 1998 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences (MA and Ph.D., Art, and Architectural History) as I catalogue the situation.

The Jeffersonian legacy. First, let’s recall what Jefferson gave us in his university. The academical village became one of the finest places for scholarship in the nation, with a system of honor second to none. Seeking “the truth, wherever it may lead,” he centered the university on virtue, reflective of his advice to “adore God,” which he recommended to his godson Thomas Jefferson Smith as a primary rule for living. Jefferson applied his mind to creating unique inventions and ingenious farming practices. He studied the natural order, wrote his Notes on the State of Virginia, and supplied a vision for freedom respecting nature and nature’s God. Through study of historical (classical) texts, he and other Founders created a great experiment which cleansed the continent of corrupt “over-reach” (tyranny). Perhaps most critically from our 21st-century perspective, he sowed the seeds of abolition of slavery by including the phrase “all men are created equal” (“equal” meaning in the sight of God; “man” meaning “mankind”).

In 1778 Jefferson drafted a Virginia law that prohibited the importation of African slaves. This law failed to pass by only one vote. As a member of the Confederation Congress — the official government of the United States prior to the ratification of the Constitution — he authored the Ordinance of 1784 that established the major principles enshrined in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery in any part of the Northwest territories. In 1787, the U.S. Constitution formalized the government that would carry out the vision of Jefferson’s Declaration, outlawing slave trade within the United States starting in 1808, thus, making the United States the first nation in the history of the world to outlaw slavery.

One should remember that slavery was practiced worldwide at the time — and in fact is still practiced in many places such as Africa and the Middle East. Slavery and child trafficking, both egregious crimes against humanity, continue. With benevolence for human beings, Jefferson cared for his laborers, providing food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. He said slavery was a “hideous blot” and a “moral depravity.” He knew his God, and marveled at His Creation in all its variety and majesty. Jefferson’s writings reflect his revulsion at the base and the low.

Nevertheless, Jefferson’s character is pilloried by many at the University today, with minimal pushback from the administration, as well as those caring for another of his architectural masterpieces, Monticello. To obtain funding, the Monticello Foundation and its leaders such as Leslie Greene Bowman have allowed unfounded rumors of Jefferson’s personal life to spread unchallenged. They teach children to despise a man who deserves our reverence and gratitude.

Thomas Jefferson and the Founders were educated classically. They studied the ancients, the holy Bible, and the towering works of political and legal philosophers such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Blackstone. Jefferson gave his expansive library to the Library of Congress. He doubled the nation’s territory through the Louisiana Purchase. The nation was not won easily. He served the new nation as Secretary of State, as Ambassador to France, as the third President of the United States, and as a guide and mentor to thousands who looked to his “head and his heart” to guide the new American experiment in liberty.

Jefferson created dignified and beautiful architecture for Virginia. He studied the Italian architect Palladio and the great works of ancient Greece and Rome such as the Pantheon and Parthenon. He meticulously drew plans with Benjamin Latrobe for the building of his university. He personally walked off the spacing of the lawn, directing its cornerstone, and where the walkways would be. He guided the academic mission, choosing of faculty, and designed each aspect as a place of open dialogue and deep learning.

Canceling Jefferson. Tragically, the outsiders running his school now allow it to suffer from a radical Leftist “cancel culture.” Marxist thinking and “woke” religion distorts and obliterates Jefferson’s wisdom. The administration touts absurd phrases such as “Honor the future.” But how is it possible to honor the future while disdaining the past? The University was one of Jefferson’s proudest accomplishments.  No nation, university or institution is perfect, but UVa’s current administration may have the unique distinction among the prestige universities in the Western world to be charting a course to disparage its noble founder who is also one of the greatest Founding Fathers of the country. What a disgrace.

In fact, President Jim Ryan took the opportunity in speaking to the Richmond alumni last year to criticize Jefferson for his alleged “glaring moral failings.” In so doing, he ignores the findings of Robert Turner’s Scholars Commission, in which thirteen noted American historians examined the evidence and overwhelmingly concluded Jefferson innocent of fathering children with Sallie Hemings. (Evidence suggests his younger brother, Randolph, was perhaps one of at least 12 who could have fathered Eston Hemings.)

Cynthia Burton’s and James A. Bear Jr.’s Jefferson Vindicated absolves Jefferson of blame. The Ryan Administration ignores this, also. Professor Turner, who taught in the law school for over 30 years, has offered to debate the subject openly to present the full evidence, but his offer goes unanswered. President Ryan presides over a student body now lukewarm to the Honor System, which he has allowed to “go fallow” from inadequate support. He stood aside as students voted to remove the single sanction – the “teeth” of the Honor System.

The outsiders running the University have brought ideas alien to its great founder. Their actions and policies are destroying the serene, God-honoring atmosphere which characterized the Charlottesville ethos. Students are bullied and doxed by Leftists who use profanity and Twitter to harass anything contrary to their agenda. Ryan (New Jersey native, Yale undergrad) and Provost Liz Magill (native of Fargo, ND, Yale undergrad) give the green light to such behavior and have at the same time mandated un-constitutional policies which punish the innocent. Their policies disparage Jeffersonian ideals, while cloaking their by suggesting that they are creating a university that is “great and good.” (As if it was not great or good, before they arrived, with their non-traditional, globalist and racist vision emphasizing a misplaced superiority.)

When government fears the people, there is liberty; When people fear the government, there is tyranny.” –Thomas Jefferson

While the administration suppressed the daily activities of students and faculty with its aggressive COVID-fighting regime, a fictitious narrative about “white supremacist” oppression propagated on the grounds. Jefferson, whites generally, and even the buildings themselves were deemed “oppressive.” 

Oppression of thought through “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” employment practices, has poisoned the faculty, causing one veteran professor, Ken Elzinga, to confide that faculty suppression of thought and speech is worse than he has ever experienced in his sixty plus years at the University.

The chilling effect of an arrogant narrative shaped not by the facts, but by Marxist theory. Even the thoughtful and organic design of the Rotunda and Lawn are deemed hierarchically oppressive! Likewise, leftists criticize the university’s gracefully curved, serpentine garden walls as “slave” designs because they make the shape “s,” and other absurdities.

Why the abject hate of a design based on Western thought and tradition? The answer lies in the impetus that comes out of Marxism, which is based on envy and a desire to destroy. And for what? To “build back better” which is no more than a slogan without substance. Such a shallow and woke vision is no match compared to the incredible intellectual and spiritual contributions of Jefferson, as well as the organic design of nature and nature’s God. Yet Jefferson’s brilliance is lost to a generation of students, some of whom conduct university tours emphasizing Jefferson’s role as a slaveholder.

Where does this poisonous philosophy come from? In large part from Ivy League schools that routinely and hypocritically disparage slave-owning southerners while ignoring their own participation in chattel slavery. The fact is: the density of slave owning white households in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1774 was almost as high as the density of those in the American South in the Civil War.

UVa’s leaders, many of whom have Ivy League backgrounds, are aligned with a desire for a globalist, technologically centered “fundamental transformation” of not only the University, but Virginia and the nation. Rarely is our government referred to as a Constitutional Republic. “Democracy” is used frequently, but the Founders were leery of mass democracy. They understood that such democracies devolve into mob-rule, or “mob-ocracies,” over time. Benjamin Franklin warned against forming a democracy when the new nation was being planned. The Founders’ reading and understanding of history was broad and deep. Fearing a tyranny of the majority, they designed a government based on individual rights, deliberation, rational thought, and checks and balances.

Fundamental transformation. Statistics show that constitutions last approximately seventeen years on average. Our U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document for many reasons, and because of the wisdom of its federalist structure and its division of powers, its First and subsequent Amendments, it has lasted 234 years. Well-read landowners studied history, the Creator and His creation. By contrast, former President Barack Obama deemed the US Constitution “insufficient.” He stated that, it didn’t “go far enough.” Many former Obama administration employees now work behind the scenes at Jefferson’s University to transform the school’s core of Western philosophy.

Obama’s domestic policy chief, Melody Barnes, runs the newly formed “Democracy Institute,” funded with a $100 million grant. She helped remove classical bronze statues of Virginians who fought for due process and the original Constitution in Richmond and Charlottesville. Robert E. Lee, the Christian soldier who freed his family’s inherited slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation and who was revered by soldiers on both the Union side and the Confederate side, fared the worst, with Stonewall Jackson, a Sunday School teacher for a class of young black children, a close second. She and other cultural Marxists applied Saul Alinsky’s tactic: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” (Alinsky dedicated his book, Rules for Radicals, to Lucifer.) Interestingly, Barnes received an Emmy Award for her class of 2020 graduation speech, wherein she talked about “the collective.” She and her husband, Marland Buckner, own a company MB2, formerly called Global Strategies, located in Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., which focuses on political and cultural change.

Are Jefferson’s legacy and First Principles endangered by academic leaders from Ivy League schools who bring destructive philosophies here, implementing them strategically, over the years? It seems their policies, which clearly stem from these beliefs, degrade the Judeo-Christian worldview. They seek to “fundamentally transform” the philosophical undergirding of Mr. Jefferson’s University.

Here are a few “change agents” worth noting:

  • Law School Dean Risa Goluboff, Yale Law School graduate specializing in urban vagrancy, has joined forces with Provost Liz Magill (B.A. Yale) and law professor John C. Jeffries (B.A. Yale), to hire seventeen new, Leftist law professors. Their choices demonstrate a lack of diversity of political opinion. These new hires specialize in many branches of law, but their political slant is globalist, secular and radical, a stark departure from the Judeo-Christian tradition of jurisprudence.
  • Ian Baucom, Yale M.A. and Ph.D., serves as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will take over Liz Magill’s position as Provost, without a proper search, sliding right into the position just as Ian Solomon, President Barack Obama’s attorney for four years, Yale Law graduate and Dean of the Batten School, moved seamlessly — without tenure or prior UVa experience — into a Lawn pavilion which formerly would have required 40 years of service to the University.
  • Stephen Mull, architect of the Iran Nuclear deal under Barack Obama, lives close to the Lawn, on the Range.
  • Bill Antholis, also a Ph.D. from Yale, leads the Miller Center. His recent praise on the passing of his former mentor, Madeline Albright, exceeds anything he has acknowledged of The Founder of UVa, the author of The Declaration of Independence and contributor to the Constitution of the United States.

We are seeing something contrary to Jeffersonian ideals play out at The University. Marxism has found its way into the fabric of the school, under DEI, “Voices for Equity,” CRT and “Democracy” initiatives. Graphs of data on the numbers of words used in each department (Marxist scrutiny of language called “Keyness”), point to efforts to re-define and manipulate perception through language. Marxists are never about building but are always about destroying what has been built in order to seize power. We see their affect in Charlottesville. Students are being taught to be suspicious of and to dislike the very Founder who gave them a vision for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Death, oppression and the pursuit of misery” seem to be the emerging norms at the University of Virginia.

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Jack Cann
Jack Cann
6 months ago

Ann McLean writes a thoughtful and accurate warning to us all. The only way to reverse all of this is to start by changing the Board of Visitors and reestablishing some common sense. I thought that only UC Berkeley taught Marxism, but clearly, I was wrong.

James B Atkin. CS'53, L588
James B Atkin. CS'53, L588
6 months ago

Well said. The alumni need to wake up to what is going on in Charlottesville and thought our country to stop this effort to destroy our Republic/.

Thomas C. Hodgson, II
Thomas C. Hodgson, II
6 months ago

I echo Jack’s comments and can only add that, in fact, it’s going to have to be a “top to bottom” cleanup at the University in order re-effect Jeffersonian principles.
The process will take years, but the results will be worth the wait. UVA has the challenge before it to become not only a beacon of but also a prime mover in the national effort to get America’s educational system back on to a positive track.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
6 months ago

Excellent article, Ann. The thought suppression and lack of any effort to hire some moderate much less conservative new faculty to foster true intellectual diversity is very real, Larry Sabato and the Administration’s protestations to the contrary.

Also ironic is the plethora of UVA Yale administrators and faculty to ever condemn their founder Elihu Yale’s extensive slaveholding and slave trading past (https://yaleandslavery.yale.edu/elihu-yale). Perhaps President Ryan and his Yale cabal can transfer back to New Haven, make Yale “great and good,” and leave Mr. Iefferson’s University in the hands of alumni who revere one of America’s preeminent Founding Fathers.

James B Newman
James B Newman
6 months ago

I agree that a transformation of the Board of Visitors is needed. Look what just happened to the nearby historical site of Montpelier. Home to James Madison, it is no longer a shrine to the Constitution and James Madison, but now a part of the slave grievance ideology.

Dustin Hecker
Dustin Hecker
6 months ago

While I generally share your concern that the University, like virtually all colleges and universities in the United states, has been captured by the left, I think you’re being a little unfair to the law school. And its Dean. Just today I saw a marketing piece about the Thomas Jefferson award being given to Justice Breyer, who pointedly mentioned Jefferson’s great legacy. And a piece about a highly accomplished law review student who was proudly president of the Federalist Society. All is not lost.

GRob
GRob
6 months ago

What a brilliant defense of Thomas Jefferson!
 
The core of this problem is our Leftist academia. They foment the socialist/communist revolution and teach hatred of America to the people who then populate the media, the elementary and secondary schools along with their teachers unions, almost all government workers, Big Tech, and most of our billionaires.
We are way behind in this war. If we don’t take back our colleges and universities we will be fighting against an inexhaustible supply of America haters.
 
From Professor John Ellis:
“The [college and university] hiring being done now is at the rate of about 50 to one, not five to one or eight to one. So you’re going to wind up with a complete monoculture
The academia is poisoning one profession after another. It’s totally poisoned journalism. It’s poisoned the teaching in the high schools because the high school teachers are all trained on college campuses, and we — the society needs to wake up and decide whether it really wants to pay these vast sums of money to support this apparatus.”
 
From Larry Arnn at Hillsdale College:
“The fact is that since the 1960s, the Left has increasingly controlled the tools of education, and it has used those tools to undermine informed patriotism, with the ultimate goal of transforming American government and society.”
 
If we don’t stop the seed of this problem in our colleges and universities, we will lose our country.
 
It should be Thomas Jefferson’s University that leads this charge.

Clarity77
Clarity77
6 months ago

As to a list of UVA avowed Marxists, the most galling to me is the dean of the Library, which Jefferson deemed the very heart of our University. He also occupies a Lawn Pavillion. His name being John Unsworth. Absolutely disgusting!

Donald T Smith
Donald T Smith
6 months ago

A well researched, well thought out, and well written piece that summarizes the whole situation at Mr. Jefferson’s University. Especially poignant is Dr. McLean’s point that “outsiders” are running The University. Many of us concerned alumni/ae have long lamented the disappearance of the practice of promoting from within at The University. We should get back to it — the recognition and rewarding of excellence in our midst.

Ruckweiler
Ruckweiler
6 months ago

These “critics” live like free-market capitalists but speak like communists on the barricades.Their motto should be “Nunc Exitium.”

Margot
Margot
6 months ago

Excellent! Well researched and written. Thank you all who are entering this fight. It is imperative that this battle be won for posterity, our nation, and liberty worldwide. We need people with courage, insight, and vision.