by Walter Smith
The Virginia Magazine newsletter recently featured this article on two newly formed commissions: one to articulate the university’s commitment to free expression and inquiry, the other to pursue recommendations of the Racial Equity Task Force regarding the renaming of buildings and memorials.
Regarding the first commission, the fact that an internationally respected institution founded by Thomas Jefferson, perhaps history’s greatest advocate for free speech, finds it necessary to study the issue is damning on its own terms. No further comment needed.
My primary complaint dwells on the naming and renaming commission. To start with, I cannot believe a name of an inanimate building, thing or place is truly “harmful” to any thinking person. You could name the buildings after Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Nebuchadnezzar, Genghis Khan, or any other offensive person you can think of, and I would not be “harmed.” I might think you were stupid, but I wouldn’t be harmed. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
It is deemed a great honor to be one of the 47 fourth-year students at the University of Virginia awarded a residence on the Lawn, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece and World Heritage site. A committee of 60 students selects the residents from a pool of applicants, in theory based on their record of “unselfish service and achievement in their respective fields of activity and academics.”
But when the Cavalier Daily published an article yesterday providing the racial/ethnic background of the individuals who were offered a spot on the Lawn next year, it didn’t emphasize their accomplishments. Rather, drawing from data provided by Dean of Students Allen Groves, the article focused on the increased demographic “diversity” of the Lawn residents.
“Students of Color” received nearly 60% of the offers this year, compared to only 30% last year, reported the student-run newspaper.
The dramatic one-year shift in the racial/ethnic composition of Lawn residents raises the question of whether race and ethnicity has become an explicit but not-stated-publicly criteria for selection. Continue reading
by Walter Smith
“Lifetime learning” sounds pretty innocuous, right? Maybe even charitable and aspirational?
To be fair, the University of Virginia lifetime-learning program does offer some courses that provide an opportunity to learn something. The two offerings by Professor Ragosta on Patrick Henry look interesting.
But there is a difference between “learning” and “indoctrination. And the “Governor’s Summit on Equitable Collaboration,” hosted by UVa’s lifetime learning program, is shaping up to be an embarrassment for an institution of higher learning whose purported goals are to be “good and great.”
The toolkit for “transforming community spaces” sounds more like the manual for a Red Guard reeducation camp than a lifetime learning experience. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Sometimes things come together that confirm one’s worst fears but improve hope for the future simultaneously. Such a turning point happened with me not long after UVa’s alumni magazine, Virginia (Winter Edition 2020), arrived at my house earlier this month.
The first story in the magazine was a piece written by Richard Gard (Col ’81), alumni association vice president for communications and editor of Virginia. It was titled “BOV Blesses Racial Equity Plan — More Diversity, Less Confederacy.” Catchy.
It purported to update alumni on “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” the report of the University’s racial equity task force, and the Board of Visitors’ specifically partial and entirely unfunded endorsement of that report.
The members of that task force were:
- Kevin McDonald, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships
- Ian H. Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
- Barbara Brown Wilson, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and co-founder and Faculty Director of UVA’s Equity Center
by James A. Bacon
Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”
The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.
by James A. Bacon
Pity poor Stephen Farmer. The newly appointed vice provost for enrollment at the University of Virginia has a thankless job: fulfilling the goal of admitting more African Americans and Hispanics, even as Virginia’s flagship university has inadvertently branded itself as a racist institution.
Farmer’s appointment was highlighted in the most recent issue Virginia, the UVa alumni magazine. A UVa alumnus, Farmer was recruited from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions. With a record of attracting more first-generation students and students from underrepresented minorities, Farmer has made “remarkable contributions to the shape of the class,” says Provost M. Elizabeth Magill.
Taking charge of both undergraduate admissions and student financial services, Farmer will build new strategies for attracting applicants and supporting students’ financial needs. “There’s a real logic in bringing them together,” Magill said. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Jeffrey Leopold, a University of Virginia assistant professor, was assigned this fall to teach “COMM 1800 — Foundations of Commerce,” a prerequisite for students entering the McIntire School of Commerce. On October 22 he lectured the class on the topic of globalism. His purpose was to explain the necessity of adopting a “global mindset,” which among other things, required appreciating cultural differences.
Leopold kicked off his lecture, as he commonly did, by telling a joke. For this particular class, he told one that played on stereotypes of peoples around the world. It went like this:
The United Nations conducted a survey worldwide. The only question asked was: “Would you please give us your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?” The survey was a complete failure…
In Africa they did not know what “food” meant.
In China they did not know what “honest” meant.
In Europe they did not know what “shortage” meant.
by James A. Bacon
In the previous post I gave a chronological account of how a classroom joke delivered by Associate Professor Jeffrey Leopold in University of Virginia business class exploded into a full-fledged racial controversy. The post was a straightforward, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative of what happened. I made every effort to give all sides of the story and to keep my opinions out of it. With this post, I’ll say what I think.
In the scale of injustice, the Leopold incident is trivial. A professor who knocks down a salary about twice the income of the average American household suffered personal embarrassment and was relieved from solo teaching of his class. He will go back to work. His life will return to normal. He did not die with a policeman’s knee pressing down on his neck.
But the story of how the drama unfolded tells volumes about the nature of race relations at the University of Virginia and, by extension, other elite institutions of higher education. The story illustrates the ever-morphing definition of what constitutes “racism,” the narrowing scope of what is permissible to say out loud, and how those who disagree with the cultural Marxist critique of America as a irredeemably racist nation are condemned and silenced as racists. Continue reading
Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia’s insurgent alumni have made it very clear what they’re against. They don’t like profane signs on the Lawn that disrespect the University. They oppose contextualizing the Thomas Jefferson statue. They’re unhappy with the endless self-flagellation for the institution’s association with slavery and segregation, as if nothing has changed in the past 55 years. I’m one of them. I share the same concerns.
But what are we for? If we can’t articulate a positive agenda for Mr. Jefferson’s University in the 21st century, people will think us like those cranky old men with pants hiked up to their chests who shake their fists and yell, “Get off my lawn!” or at worst, a bunch of old, white, Southern racists who can’t accommodate themselves to the younger generation’s thirst for social justice.
Those of us who are unhappy with UVa need to start talking about what new direction we’d like to see it take. I have some preliminary thoughts.
First, UVa should strive to be the best public university in the country, not a Southern Ivy. Continue reading
Joel Gardner, Undergraduate class of 1970; Law School class of 1974.
Letter from Joel Gardner, author of “From Rebel Yell to Revolution,” to President Jim Ryan.
First, I would like to thank you once again for being on the zoom call last week. I thought it was a very worthwhile discussion, but unfortunately, with the limited time allotted, it was only possible to skim the surface of the many crucial issues now facing the University. And as someone who has closely followed the history of the University on a real time basis for the past five decades as a Double Hoo, two time parent, member of four University boards, inveterate fundraiser and University historian, I truly believe we are at a decisive inflection point in our University’s existence.
With that in mind, I will take you up on your suggestion for us to send you recommendations and advice on how we might together address some of these critical concerns. In that regard, I’m sure you will be pleased to know that this will not include recommendations regarding the Lawn room signs. I will omit this for two reasons. First, I am sure you have already heard every iteration of the various arguments. Second, while I still disagree with how the University approached this issue, I believe you made a cogent and reasonable argument supporting your actions–in effect that forcibly removing the signs would make those students martyrs and only increase support for them among other students and faculty who thus far have not been generally supportive. Moreover, the Lawn room debacle is but a symptom of a much larger and more important set of problems at the University. Continue reading