Asleep at the Wheel

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I expect you will ignore me, as usual, but, for purposes of establishing a record when the time for your contextualization comes, I must document your many failures and refusal to do your fiduciary duties, because I believe, if you had any honor, you would resign.

You have the distinct honor of being in charge of one of the world’s premier public universities, with an historic legacy few other schools could match: a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third President, author of the Religious Freedom statute, and perhaps history’s greatest proponent of free speech. The University of Virginia was Jefferson’s dream, established as a public university to pursue truth wherever it may lead.

Supposedly, you have been trained in your duties as Visitors. I sincerely doubt it. I have reviewed the Board Manual and the Board Basics booklet. The Board Manual’s first two duties list (1) the preservation of the ideals and traditions of the University and particularly encouragement of the maintenance of the Honor System by the student body and (2) the establishment of general education policy. As the recently released Alumni Association survey showed, support for the Honor System has dropped precipitously over the last 20 years, and the “single sanction” was overwhelmingly defeated in a March vote.

I attribute this defeat not just to changing mores, but to your dereliction of duty. Similarly, I believe you are not establishing general education policy – you are rubber-stamping a radical, political re-making of the University of Virginia and abandonment of its legacy and mission.

Before I list the more egregious failures, I would like to acquaint you with the language in the Code of Virginia concerning Governing Boards of Public Institutions of Higher Education, 23.1-1300 et seq, particularly 23.1-1304.B.1, which states that your primary duty is to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Your primary duty is not to any political party or ideology. It is to the entire Commonwealth, with particular emphasis on the things that made (past tense on purpose) UVa unique.

People who took their jobs as stewards of the premier university in Virginia would not have stood by idly while UVa accumulated a faculty that is overtly political, contributing over 90% to Democrat candidates. … Serious Visitors would object to the College faculty being required to list affirmatively, as part of their peer review, contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion, while at the same time denying religious exemption requests from employees and students. It seems UVa has established an official DEI religion contrary to its Jeffersonian heritage, besides being unconstitutional compelled speech and a contradiction of your so-called “unequivocal” support of free speech and free inquiry.

Serious Visitors would be embarrassed that a Lawn resident was published in the New York Times, complaining of a “cancel culture.” Serious Visitors would consider the rights of the faculty and the student body, heeding concerns about forced COVID “vaccination.” Serious Visitors would guard against outside influences harmful to the interests of the students and faculty of the University. Perhaps they would take seriously the formation of dissident alumni groups, or parent petitions objecting to the forced injections of an experimental medical product, or faculty objecting to skipping normal hiring processes for senior positions at the University (that the faculty members themselves must comply with).

Serious Visitors would consider the instruction happening in classes to understand if there were political influence being “taught” by an over 90%  (possibly 94% ?) Democrat-supporting faculty. Moreover, serious Visitors would scrupulously refrain from appearing to take political action in their decisions. They would not sit idly by when the Administration advances a controversial “booster” shot requirement from February 1 to January 14, which just “happened” to be the day before a new Governor was to be sworn in.

The Board, after passively being less than full-throated in support of the Honor system, would perhaps think that the “optics” of a three-year extension of President Ryan’s contract on the same day as the disastrous honor vote results, without any prior announcement of such a desire, might appear as a political act to keep him in office past Governor Youngkin’s term. The Board might have listened to objections of faculty over the rubber-stamping of Ian Baucom at that same meeting as Provost for a term of five years. John Kosky was installed as Chief Human Resources Officer at that meeting, also for five years. Perhaps most challenging “optics” from that meeting concerned JJ Davis. She was approved in 2018 for a six-year term expiring at the end of 2024. Her contract was extended, without notice or need, to run through July 31, 2028.

All of those actions could appear to be political, almost an anti-Trumpian “resistance” to the Governor elected by the citizens of Virginia. To whom does the University of Virginia truly belong? In my opinion, you clearly think it belongs to Jim Ryan and his cronies, ignoring the rights of students, faculty, parents, alumni and Virginia citizens, and ordering things not for the benefit of those constituencies, but for the perpetuation of Jim Ryan’s destructive, ahistorical, indoctrinating “vision.” Contrary to the opinions of Jim Ryan and his cronies affiliated with the Connecticut school built on the money of a slave trader, UVa was great and good prior to Jim Ryan’s arrival.

But the latest travesty … has to be the failure to stand up for reality and one of your most celebrated your student-athletes in service of political correctness and a denial of biological truth. Emma Weyant is the NCAA Women’s 500m freestyle champion. The “winner” is a biological male with larger, stronger, greater aerobic capacity. This is an affront to reality, a betrayal of all women athletes, and a betrayal of Jefferson’s desire to pursue truth wherever it may lead. None of you has the guts to defend this UVa student’s accomplishment? Where is your honor? Where is justice in your silence? …

UVA has strayed from its true educational mission and Jeffersonian legacy in pursuit of a globalist, me-too desire to produce anodyne “good citizens,” who don’t know how to think but how to robotically repeat the accepted political narratives of the day. I would point to UVA Today and The Cavalier Daily for the last three years to see if you could find any substantive article contrary to the dominant “narrative.”

I searched UVA Today for “insurrection” and found 18 articles over a more than 10-year period, 15 of which pertained to January 6. There were no articles objecting to the COIVD response – lockdowns, masks, mandates. No economist or historian objected? No more civil libertarians at the Law School? No doctor defending primacy of the doctor/patient relationship, or advocating for the use of therapeutics (such as the Great Barrington Declaration)? I submit such a lack of differing opinion is proof of a monolithic political orthodoxy, and not a vibrant academic community pursuing truth wherever it may lead, which can only be made worse by the McCarthyist compelled speech of DEI fealty in peer reviews.

UVA may be awash in money; but it is devoid of intellectual honesty and academic integrity and you are the ones in charge, failing the students, faculty, alumni and Virginia citizens. If you had honor, you would resign.

Walter Smith, a University of Virginia alumnus, is an attorney residing in Henrico County.

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2 years ago

Well said, Mr. Smith. I appreciate that you took the time to write up what so many of us are thinking. My own family’s devotion to UVa has crumbled despite four graduates in our immediate family and many more in our extended family. Freedom of expression must return to Cville and the university. Until it does, our donation dollars will flow elsewhere. They may be awash in money but their honor is clearly waning.

2 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

If you haven’t already, please join The Jefferson Council.

Dave Mitchell
Dave Mitchell
2 years ago

This letter pretty much sums up the university of today and the source of its crumbling failure. I support its call for action.

2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Mitchell

Please join The Jefferson Council. We are dedicated to ensuring Walter’s vision for a return to a Jeffersonian University comes to fruition.

2 years ago

Walter this was excellent. The current BOV has clearly abrogated its oversight responsibility. Within 24 months Governor Youngkin will have appointed 8 new Board members, providing a majority. By 2025 the entire Board will be turned over. We can only hope that they are men and women of moral strength and traditional convictions who will reverse the continual degradation of Jefferson’s ideals.

President Ryan had best beware.