Alderman Name Change Contested at Board Meeting

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors took up the controversial issue Thursday of renaming the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library. Two board members expressed sharp objections to name change, but the Building & Grounds Committee voted to advance a resolution authorizing the change to the full board, which will take up the issue Friday.

Foes of the renaming called into question the process by which the Naming & Memorials Committee reached its decision to jettison the name of Edwin Alderman, UVA’s first president and architect of UVA’s transformation in the early 1900s into a modern university. The name of Edgar Shannon, who led the University through integration and the Vietnam War, has been suggested in Alderman’s place.

Paul C. Harris was the first board member to attack the recommendation. He criticized proponents of the name change for their confidence in their moral rectitude and their “unforgiving culture.” He was disappointed, Harris said, that the committee members spent so much time passing judgment on a historical figure so central to UVA’s history without acknowledging his transformative contributions.

Foes of the name change have assailed Alderman, who served between 1904 and 1931, for perpetuating segregation and supporting the eugenics movement. Under the proposal put before the Board, Alderman’s name would be removed from the building but the original dedication plaque crediting his role would remain in place.

“I would rather see this university build bridges than seek flaws in past leaders who can never meet today’s standards,” Harris said. UVA should devote its energy to honoring positive virtues such as courage, temperance, forgiveness, and justice, he added.

In introducing the renaming issue to the Board, Buildings & Grounds Chair John Nau acknowledged how difficult the decision was. “To say this was a charged issue is an understatement.” He described the controversy as “emotional and destructive,” adding that he had worked to keep it as “low level as possible.”

Nau said he had spoken to almost every board member and added vaguely that there will be more coming out about the matter over the next couple of board meetings. He also said that he and Rector Robert Hardie would be having discussions with President Jim Ryan before a decision was made, but he did not elucidate what they would talk about.

Board member Bert Ellis asked if anyone had bothered to query students what they thought about the name change. Student representative Lillian Rojas responded that in her observation an “overwhelming majority” supported the renaming.  Faculty representative Tish Jennings weighed in that members of the faculty senate also expressed “overwhelming support” for the change.

Board member Bob Blue addressed the charge that deleting Alderman’s name amounted to “erasing history.” He said it was “entirely appropriate” to rename the renovated library for former president Shannon. “The only person who gets perpetual naming rights is Thomas Jefferson.”

Doug Wetmore declared that he agreed with Harris’ statement and questioned the process for renaming the second most prominent building on the Grounds. The first he had heard of the renaming proposal was in December, when it appeared on the board agenda before being withdrawn. The decision-making process was opaque, and he wondered if there were other prominent buildings “in the hopper” scheduled for renaming.

A UVA official whom the Jefferson Council could not identify asserted that there would be no surprises; the naming committee has no more outstanding business at the moment.

Commenting that the issue was raised as long as seven years ago, board member James Murray commended the volunteer members of the naming committee for hundreds of hours they had dedicated to the project and for their unbiased research. “I think the process works,” he said.

Committee members voted 9 to 0, with Harris abstaining, to advance the name-change proposal to the full Board.

Walter Smith, research chair for the Jefferson Council, blasted out an email to board members immediately after the committee vote.

“I object to this name change being done in the dark, without any review of documents or availability of the documents from the Naming and Memorials Committee first,” said Smith, who had tried unsuccessfully to obtain committee documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Far from making information available to all, FOIA administrators said that the committee’s documents were exempt fronm FOIA as presidential “working papers.”

“There is no valid reason to take these actions in the dark,” Smith wrote. “It is anti-democratic. It is anti-intellectual. It is distinctly non-Jeffersonian.”

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1 month ago

The rewriting of past leaders by 21st century moral criteria knows no bounds. Literally EVERY man and woman from prior generations fails by today’s moral standards.

Two examples that may hit home to our Progressive friends:
1) FDR: Presided over a racially segregated military during WWII, a decade after Alderman retired from UVA. FDR also illegally imprisoned hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese American citizens after Pearl Harbor. Is he a racist, and should we expunge his name from FDR Highway in NYC and any other public buildings/schools/highways across the US?
2) Obama: He was steadfastly FOR traditional marriage during his 2008 initial presidential run. VP Joe Biden spoke out in 2011 strongly supporting gay marriage. Miraculously, Obama changed his “official” stance and then supported gay marriage in 2012. Is he therefore a homophobe or just a political hack/hypocrite for such divergent standards?

This cuts both ways. Alderman transformed UVA as our first President and should be honored, just as FDR should be for seeing us through WWII, and Obama as our first black president.

Wake up, President Ryan, Provost Baucom, and the BOV.

1 month ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

Yes, FDR was a racist and Obama was a war criminal. Hope this helps! <3

Wahoo 76
Wahoo 76
1 month ago

I admire Paul Harris for his statement. But I have a question about similar issues and overall policy beginning July when Youngkin appointees become a BOV majority. It appears that the current Rector will remain Rector for another year. As the Rector and Ryan control the BOV agenda, how can the Youngkin majority have their voices heard in a meaningful manner other than voting on agenda items controlled by Ryan and the Rector?

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Wahoo 76

There are ways to address this, but, it shouldn’t be necessary except for the political hack world we currently occupy.

Are all of the Northam appointees just partisan hacks, or do they actually care about the University of Virginia, the education of the students, and their duties to the citizens of the Commonwealth? I don’t think ALL of them are, but it is really hard to say.

One major thing to address first however is – who runs UVA? And I hate to disappoint Lilian Rojas and Tish Jennings – the students and faculty do not. Ms. Rojas only travels among her fellow group of cultivated, recruited, admitted and subsidized activists, so of course they are there to support the Ryan Admin’s destructive policies. Ms. Jennings has long been in the forefront of the DEI poison at UVA. She also defamed JLM Curry yesterday with her ridiculous statement of how much better things were with the name change. Curry was an enlightened educator and the only reason UVA had a Curry School was because Rockefeller in making the gift to start the school insisted it be named Curry. The Ryan admin also DOES NOT RUN THE SCHOOL – at least they are not supposed to – the BOV sets policy and the Admin is SUPPOSED to EXECUTE the BOV POLICY.

It seems to me since the failed ouster of Sullivan the power dynamics have been upside down, and that is why there is such pushback against rationality – free speech, no indoctrination, lower costs, honor the greatness of Jefferson and restore the Honor System. And don’t kid yourself, Ryan has salted his people EVERYWHERE. And, unfortunately, I can’t think of one who is not a fair amount on the Left side of the political spectrum.

As to what can be done – here is the Board Manual –

Section 2.3 on Meetings is particularly applicable. Me, being the mean intolerant person I am would also just have Gov Youngkin ask every person serving on any BOV this question “How many sexes are there?” And if any BOV member gives an answer other than “Two” I would remove that person as unfit for a position at an academic institution. The Gov has the power to remove people unilaterally with just a statement. “I believe Joe Blow and Josie Roe are unfit for their duties to the Commonwealth in advancing knowledge.” That simple.

In the short term, the best we can do is to get Harvard to hire Jim Ryan as the new President. He would fit better there and provide an opportunity to start with a different vision at the top.

Longer term, we have to keep pointing out how far off the rails UVA has gone. It is a hard message to get out since UVA curates the propaganda…daily. UVA Pravda Today had an article about the wonderful state of free speech at UVA, but only talked about ONE class of NINE students. I’ll FOIA the data, likely be denied for a specious reason, again, and see what it measures. We had to fight to get the BOV approved “Climate Survey” released and it showed real issues when separated by political and religious leanings. We see the divisiveness currently in the refusal to condemn the guerrilla tactics of Hamas, with plenty of faculty supporting “Palestine” and Jewish students being threatened and assaulted. UVA’s own data shows that (the only doc provided through FOIA on the so called religious diversity committee, withholding Ian Baucom’s instructions to the committee…because transparency and unequivocal yada yada yada)

1 month ago
Reply to  Wahoo 76

Remove the Rector. He’s shown his bona fides. The last two days of the BOV meetings have shown his total intolerance for divergent viewpoints.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wahoo74
1 month ago

I am surprised that anyone on the BOV would state they were unaware of this being “in the hopper” as on a library construction tour offered during an alumni reunion less than two years ago it was stated quite forcefully to me that the name would be changed. I was rather taken aback by how sharp the response tone was to my simple question. Certainly the Library staff under the Marxist dean John Unsworth would appear in no way open to any other plan but removal of Alderman’s name.

I commend Mr. Harris for a very well stated and reasoned objection to what is apparently “baked in” to both the indoctrinated student body and their indoctrinating UVA faculty.

The woke cult of victimhood now reigns on Grounds, and as Walter Smith in an earlier comment noted Newcomb Hall under Ryan has been turned into what I would term a temple for the worship of victimhood, housing all form of grievance groups with a built in propaganda wing, the Cav Daily, “preaching” every day to the woke UVA community.

As Jonathan Haidt in the recent TJC talk succinctly concluded this focus now at UVA, following the rest of current “higher ed,” only serves to destroy the brand carefully built over now centuries. As to the subject of brand at UVA, I was struck by the fact that John Nau presided over this meeting. As a “higher up” in the Anheuser Busch apparatus one would think he would have a handle on branding and the brand destruction experience at A-B by way of the very recent Bud Light woke focus as to Dylan Mulvaney. How bizarre to think that at A-B their corporate management would have such a clueless disconnect to their consumers! Should we expect the same now by the UVA BOV? As to the woke focus at A-B would they in hindsight have benefited by having wiser adults present?

ICYMI, at that UVA meeting yesterday the only wise adult present appeared to be Mr. Harris in his eloquent remarks. I would not normally criticize Bert Ellis but his later question as to the viewpoint of students only served to add fuel to circumvent and detract from the well thought out perspective espoused by Harris.

The reference anywhere to Jefferson being untouchable is patently laughable. Especially to those of us who have had previous personal experience with Marxists. Trusting in their statements history has proven over and over only leads to your own demise.

Wake up UVA BOV!!!

J. Swift
J. Swift
1 month ago

Harris made a powerful and compassionate statement. I would like to see his words receive a wider audience.

Wetmore’s simple inquiry about the way the “Namings” Committee works was revealing. The (smug) answer that no other building names were *currently* under review didn’t explain who charges the committee with what work to do and when so.

Some committee or body has laid down the principle that UVA should not name in honor things at UVA after people who had no connection to UVA. And also that eugenics is horrific _ab initio_.

And so I wonder if the “Namings” committee will undertake a review of the name of W. E. B. Du Bois Center, given that illustrious intellectual’s use of eugenicist ideas with his “Talented Tenth” campaign, his writing on birth control and the Black working class, and his consistent writings on biological “self-help” of the race that appeared for decades in The Crisis (the official magazine of the NAACP). And Du Bois had no personal connection with UVA.

I would not like the “Namings” committee to do this work, for all of the reasons Paul Harris explained. Context matters. President Alderman was modernizing the University at the time that eugenics was an emerging field across the industrializing world, and like all emerging fields (then and now), it drew in smart people (but always flawed, just as we are) and opportunities for external grant money for research. So in his quest to modernize the University, Alderman was using eugenics as a kind of pivot to draw in new human and financial resources. Other schools were doing this too, including Stanford and Johns Hopkins…. but also Howard University and other HBCUs.

At the time, eugenics was an expressively “progressive” field that sought to improve lives and societal welfare. In many ways, the field is akin to AI and Data Science now. At yesterday’s meeting, University leaders spoke about the power of AI and Data Science, along with all of the new investments, new faculty, new money, and new buildings we are seeing.

Will future generations condemn us as villains who solely sought their destruction by creating tools to do evil? Or will future generations understand us to be fully human and deserving of some “grace”?

TJ Wahoo
TJ Wahoo
1 month ago

I foresee changing the name of the University to Woke State U. Then we can put Ryan statues on every corner.