by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia Board of Visitors did more than endorse free speech on university campuses Friday when it voted to adopt a Council of Presidents statement on free speech: It endorsed the principle of viewpoint diversity.
In 2012 the Board had embraced a 2021 statement on free speech by a commission appointed by President James Ryan. But that statement alluded only vaguely to the value of “exposure to a range of ideas.” If the ideas discussed at UVa consisted only of different strains of leftism, the declaration on free speech wouldn’t amount to much.
The statement of the Council of Presidents, which was crafted at the request of Governor Glenn Youngkin, made it clear that the exercise of free speech and the diversity of ideas are intertwined, and it implied that a wide range of ideas should be encouraged. (My emphasis added below.)
As presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, we unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity on our campuses. Free expression is the fundamental basis for both academic freedom and for effective teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom. Our member universities and colleges are bound to uphold the First Amendment. We are committed to promoting this constitutional freedom through robust statements and policies that are formulated through shared governance processes and through actions that reflect and reinforce this core foundation of education. We value a scholarly environment that is supported by a diversity of research and intellectual perspectives among our faculty and staff. We pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences. We will protect these principles when others seek to restrict them.
Ryan told the board that he wants the Council of Presidents statement to “inform what we do at UVa.”
The challenge for Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom will be implementing those principles in an institution marked by a left/right ideological imbalance of roughly ten-to-one; in which a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracy suffuses university policies with a leftist understanding of “equity” and requires employees to express their views of DEI in “diversity statements”; and in which many students and the faculty self-censor for fear of igniting a social media storm, sparking social ostracism, or suffering administrative punishment. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
Virginia has now entered the feeding frenzy stage of the assault on Bert Ellis’ character. Abandoning all journalistic standards of impartiality and fair play, mainstream media outlets compete with another to publish anything they can find to compromise Ellis, a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin and narrowly confirmed by the General Assembly.
Following a Washington Post piece yesterday that highlighted such transgressions as referring in private correspondence to a UVa employee as a “numnut,” Virginia Public Media has joined the fray. Among the new affrights uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act is the scoop that Ellis also referred to UVa administrators as “schmucks”!
It is laughable that anyone would deem such language used in personal communications to be worth publishing — as if no one else in public service speaks this way in private. Ironically, the only thing remarkable about Ellis’ use of language is how restrained it is. It is less vitriolic, for example, than the language used by Jeff Thomas, the leftist author who filed the FOIA request and peddled his findings to the media. VPM reporter Ben Paviour quotes Thomas as accusing “these people” of “lashing out with these venomous personal attacks at innocent people.”
Venomous? Really? Ellis didn’t “lash out” or “attack” anyone — these were private communications. The victims never knew about them… until Thomas uncovered them and persuaded Paviour to publicize them!
Such are the New Rules of woke journalism.
But there’s more. Paviour included one exchange in his piece that had no business appearing in any article. The fact that he chose to include it exposes the shoddiness of his journalism. Here is what he wrote: Continue reading →
Chirp. Chirp. Silence.
by James A. Bacon
So… how did the University of Virginia respond to the revelation of Bert Ellis’ text messages in The Washington Post? Here’s the statement the university provided the Post.
These text messages demonstrate a disappointing disregard for the hard work of UVA faculty and staff, as well as the University’s core values of civil discourse and honor. It is important to note that the messages were sent before these members attended their first Board meeting, and that they have since had many opportunities to witness firsthand the many ways this institution, and its employees, contribute to the Commonwealth of Virginia, our nation, and our world.
In a private communication made public only through the Freedom of Information Act, Ellis referred to vice provost Louis P. Nelson, specialist in the built environments of the early modern Atlantic world with a special interest in the impact of racism on architecture, as a “numnut” (a variant of numbnut) and symptomatic of UVa’s bloated bureaucracy.
Now, let’s enter our time machine to see how the UVa administration responded when the Student Council passed a resolution calling Ellis a white supremacist: “From the bondage and abuse experienced by enslaved people, to the violent occupation by Nazis and KKK members, to Bert Ellis — the Lawn is no stranger to racist violence under the guise of “Jeffersonian ideals’ in order to maintain power for the white elite.” Continue reading →
Image credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
And the hit jobs just keep on coming!
After maligning Virginia Military Institute alumni dissident Matt Daniel two days ago, The Washington Post aims its guns today on Bert Ellis, a conservative alumnus and member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, with the publication of text messages obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. They were private communications. Like everyone else in the universe, Ellis expressed himself with candid language he would not have used in the public domain.
Make sure you’re sitting down. You might want to take a dose of anti-anxiety pills. Ellis actually called people “numnuts.”
He also had the temerity to express dissatisfaction with the Ryan administration’s obsessive focus on race, including its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives.
In truth, there is remarkably little that is worthy of note in Ellis’ text messages. Yet the Post quotes Jeff Thomas, the leftist chronicler of Virginia politics who obtained the FOIA documents, as asserting that the documents “demonstrate Governor Youngkin’s Board appointees are ignorant reactionaries consumed by hatred and neo-Confederate fantasies.”
The text messages demonstrate no such thing. Ellis has never been consumed by the destruction Civil War statues or the assault on Southern heritage. Rather, he has lamented the trashing of Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers. There is nothing in the text messages to suggest the existence of “neo-Confederate fantasies” — nor, for that matter, the notion that he is “consumed by hatred”… unless you consider calling someone a “numnut” an indicator of unquenchable animus. Continue reading →
The Jefferson Council is pleased to acknowledge that the appointment of Jefferson Council President Bert Ellis and three others to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors has been confirmed by both the Virginia state senate and House of Delegates.
The four individuals appointed last June by Governor Glenn Youngkin — Ellis, Stephen P. Long, Amanda L. Pillion, and Douglas D. Wetmore — have served on the board subject to approval by the General Assembly in its 2023 session. The confirmation of Ellis proved to be contentious, but he narrowly survived an effort by senate Democrats to oust him.
The UVa Board has 17 voting members. In June Youngkin will appoint another four members, giving him a total of eight board members who broadly share his vision for the University of Virginia. With such a large representation of his appointees on the board, the Jefferson Council is confident that it will be possible to bring about meaningful and lasting change to UVa.
Pop up memorial. Photo credit: WTOP
by James A. Bacon
The shooting of five University of Virginia students Nov. 13 on a bus back from a field trip in Washington, D.C., was understandably traumatic for the young people who witnessed the horror, as it was for family and close friends of the victims, three of whom died.
Indeed, the event was a trauma for the entire UVa community, and the administration treated it as such. The University responded by launching into full therapeutic mode: canceling events and classes, giving students a pass/fail option in their courses, mobilizing counselors, and creating safe spaces.
“There is still profound sorrow and loss that we’re all feeling,” President Jim Ryan said Friday in briefing the Board of Visitors about the administration’s response to the shooting. The horror impacted far more than the homicide victims and those who witnessed the shootings, he said. The circle of those affected included medical professionals who responded to the shooting, football teammates, friends, roommates and students who sheltered in place during the search for the killer. “This had a large ripple.”
Ryan listed key actions the administration took. Classes were canceled for two days. Events were canceled or rescheduled. Gathering spaces were set up where students could commiserate. Walk-in counseling was made available along with therapy dogs to comfort those in grieving. A basketball game was canceled, as was the remainder of the football season.
Provost Ian Baucom explained that the administration was concerned that the impact might linger and affect students’ ability to function academically. He asked faculty to provide maximum flexibility to allow students to deal with their grief and get them through the exam season, which wound up last week. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
Like employers around the country, the University of Virginia is experiencing major staff shortages. The problem is serious enough that it warranted a discussion during last week’s Board of Visitors meeting.
President Jim Ryan attributed the workforce challenges mainly to “the Great Resignation,” or the increasing willingness of employees during the wind-down of the COVID-19 epidemic to quit their jobs in search of better prospects elsewhere.
Looking ahead, UVa will pay greater attention to hiring, recruitment and retention, Ryan told the Board. He also made some useful suggestions. The university will review open positions to see if the listed educational credentials are truly necessary to perform the job. The university will increase its commitment to training so employees can rise within the organization — better to encourage people to move from one part of UVa to another than lose them altogether. An even more promising idea came from a Board member that if a position remains open for months and the place doesn’t fall apart, maybe it’s not really needed.
There’s one more thing, I humbly suggest, that UVa can do to expand the pool of potential applicants — eliminate mandatory diversity statements in job applications and employee reviews. Continue reading →
Silent Jim — President Jim Ryan during the UVa Board of Visitors meeting Friday
by James A. Bacon
Whitt Clement, rector of the University of Virginia, gave a brief defense of Thomas Jefferson and his legacy at the Board of Visitors meeting Friday.
“We are a University founded by Thomas Jefferson, and honoring his legacy and his contributions to our nation has, and will always be, an indelible part of what it means to live, learn and work here,” Clement said. “That is the policy and the position of this institution and it will not change under our leadership or that of President [Jim] Ryan or his team.”
Clement alluded to a statement made by Ryan two years ago regarding the decision to contextualize the Jefferson statue on the Rotunda plaza: “I do not believe the statue should be removed, nor would I ever approve such an effort. As long as I am president, the University of Virginia will not walk away from Thomas Jefferson.”
Seated next to Clement in the board meeting, Ryan did not expand upon the rector’s remarks in any way. But UVA Today, the mouthpiece of the administration, published an article summarizing Clement’s speech and repeated Ryan’s two-year-old quote. No other board members or university officials were given an opportunity to comment. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
It is horrifying to watch in real time how the media generates falsehoods and then spreads them without correction. About two weeks ago The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia, published an article about a 47-year-old controversy in which Bert Ellis, who then was a tri-chairman of the student union and now sits on the UVa Board of Visitors, invited William Shockley, a racist and eugenicist, to speak at the university. The story, shorn of critical context, spread to the Democratic Party of Virginia, then to the Washington Post editorial board, and most recently to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Insinuated but not stated baldly, is that Ellis is a racist. In its latest mutation, the lie is used to build a case that Governor Glenn Youngkin, who appointed Ellis to the board, is, in the Post’s words, “racially obtuse.”
Bert Ellis is a colleague of mine. We serve together in the leadership of The Jefferson Council, which is dedicated to upholding the Jeffersonian legacy at UVa. I don’t know him intimately, but I have gotten to know him pretty well. I have heard him speak candidly on a host of incendiary issues, and I’ve never heard him utter a racist sentiment.
With this column, I’m putting Virginia’s mainstream media on notice: Stop it! You’re treading dangerously close to libel. You can no longer claim innocence of the facts. If you persist, you deserve to be sued. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia Student Council has called for the immediate resignation of alumnus Bert Ellis from the Virginia Board of Visitors, and chastises Governor Glenn Youngkin’s decision to appoint him as “rewarding behavior that endangers students.”
Ellis stands in a long line of violent racist oppressors, says the proclamation. “From the bondage and abuse experienced by enslaved people, to the violent occupation by Nazis and KKK members, to Bert Ellis — the Lawn is no stranger to racist violence under the guise of ‘Jeffersonian ideals’ in order to maintain power for the white elite.”
No, Ellis hasn’t marched in neo-Nazi rallies. He hasn’t burned any crosses. He hasn’t even used the N-word. His primary offense was a professed intention — never acted upon — to use a small razor blade to cut the infamous “Fuck UVA” sign from the door of a Lawn resident. “Whether or not Ellis used his blade, whether or not Ellis threatened the student directly,” the Council statement declared, “his conduct is reprehensible.” Continue reading →