In Defense of Jefferson… and Free Speech

The following letter was sent by The Jefferson Council to the UVA Alumni Association Board of Managers.

Dear Board Member and fellow Wahoo,

We are writing to make sure you are aware of the recent action taken by the Alumni Association to reject our proposed advertisement in the forthcoming issue of the Virginia Magazine. We believe this action is totally improper, is inconsistent with the spirit of our Alumni Association, is in violation of the recently adopted Statement of the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, and is legally in violation of our First Amendment rights.

As some background, if you are not acquainted with the Jefferson Council, we are a quickly growing group of UVA alumni, students and faculty who are dedicated to preserving the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the integrity of the Lawn, the vibrancy of the Honor Code and insuring the existence of intellectual diversity on Grounds.

We had an introductory full page ad in the last edition of the Magazine:

As we considered the content of our next ad for the current issue of the magazine, we were materially influenced by the current controversies surrounding the University Guides and Monticello and their relentless attacks on our Founder, Mr. Jefferson. The accusations that he was a “rapist” and/or that he fathered multiple children with Sally Hemings are unsubstantiated by conclusive fact, are highly controversial and by all means are open to reasonable dispute.

Nevertheless, the Magazine itself in the past has published articles that present Mr. Jefferson’s alleged paternity as fact. Accordingly, we thought it timely and appropriate to submit an ad that presents both incontrovertible facts and directs the reader to scholarly articles that question the veracity of the subject charges against our Founder. This is the ad we submitted:

The editor of the Magazine, Richard Gard, rejected the ad stating that it contained content that is “political or contentious, untruthful or misleading.” However, Richard did not specify what part of our ad fit any of those conditions. He offered to publish our previously submitted ad.

A number of our Board members objected to the ad’s rejection, and appealed the decision to Lily West. However, Lily supported that decision by Richard, stating that “the assertions in the ad copy are open to reasonable dispute.” She then offered to run the previous version of our ad or an “alternate version” of the one submitted. But, once again, she did not specify what part of our ad was open to “reasonable dispute” nor did she delineate how the ad could be “altered” to her
satisfaction.

We are greatly disturbed by the Alumni Association’s decision to reject our ad and Lily and Richard’s responses on numerous levels:

  1. Both Richard and Lily repeatedly refused to specify the offending content in our proposed ad or how we could cure the allegedly problematic language. That is both unreasonable and unbecoming behavior toward fellow alumni.
  2. The imperious rejection of our ad represents stunningly hypocritical behavior on behalf of the Alumni Association. WHY IS IT APPROPRIATE TO PUBLISH MULTIPLE ARTICLES ALLEGING JEFFERSON FATHERED SALLY HEMING’S CHILDREN-
    BUT BAN AN AD RAISING DOUBT ON THIS ISSUE? And why were the published articles considered not open to reasonable dispute, but our ad is considered to be so?
  3. The refusal to print our ad contravenes the spirit and language of the University’s newly adopted principles of free expression and inquiry. The principles state in the very first paragraph: “All views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference.” This commitment underpins every part of the University’s mission. The Alumni Association’s decision to not allow us to defend our Founder against questionable attacks on his character flies in the face of Mr. Jefferson’s dictum to follow
    the truth wherever it may lead.
  4. We believe the decision to censor our ad contravenes our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech. We are currently reviewing our options in this regard. Particularly in view of the University Guides’ incessant disparagement of Mr. Jefferson and the
    Magazine’s history of publishing accusatory articles on this subject matter, we believe the Association’s attempt to shut down a level playing field of debate will not be viewed favorably under the law.

In conclusion, we hope that after reviewing the above, you will agree that the Association did not act appropriately in rejecting our ad and that you will support the Association taking remedial action in this regard.

Respectfully as fellow Wahoos,

The Jefferson Council Board

James Bacon
Peter Bryan
Nickolaus Cabrera
Aubrey Daniel
Bert Ellis
Joel Gardner
Elizabeth Klinger
Van Krebs
Ann McLean
Thomas Neale
Thomas Sansonetti
Jeff Saunders
Sarah Saunders
William Spencer
Allan Stam
Robert Turner
Ernest Vaughan
Charles Weber
Peter Wyeth

This letter was sent July 17. — Ed

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Sam Rembert, ‘64
Sam Rembert, ‘64
30 days ago

What is it that being “open to reasonable dispute” makes a topic of discussion unacceptable? Is left-leaning political diatribe not open to reasonable dispute, or must we simply accept it as truth? Thank you for your article and your pursuit of fairness.

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
30 days ago

Would you consider re-submitting the ad eliminating the reference to Sally Hemming? I think the opportunity to grow the membership through exposure in “The Magazine” outweighs the argument regarding the question of Jefferson’s paternity. Fight the battles you can win.

Karen Fullerton
Karen Fullerton
29 days ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

This is a good question. Would they publish the ad if the Sally Hemming claim was removed? I would be interested in hearing their answer.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
29 days ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

We had an ad in the prior 2 issues: Winter 2021 and Spring 2022. As you see above, it was simply a listing of our 4 principles with the Peale Jefferson portrait and our website link. I’m the TJC Treasurer and asked Lily West if the Sally Hemings reference was the offending phrase in our new ad and would she print the ad if we removed it, trying to ferret out her issues. She refused to specify what “offended” her.

For the record, not one statement in the ad is false. All the citations in the top chart are factual Jefferson accomplishments.

Last edited 29 days ago by Wahoo74
Jen Ba
Jen Ba
29 days ago

Uva may be gone. President Ryan believes he owns our bodies and can tell students and employees alike what they must do with their bodies. He said directly about if a student doesn’t want the jab, they don’t need to go to Uva. This would be considered tyranny to TJ!

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
29 days ago

Karen Fullerton, we asked that specific question, but Lily West refused to answer what offended her in the ad.

Last edited 29 days ago by Wahoo74
Karen Fullerton
Karen Fullerton
29 days ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

Thank you for clarifying. Apparently our alumni association is too lily-livered to promote Thomas Jefferson. How sad and offensive. Surely there is another, more noble and worthy cause that would be happy to receive our donations. After all, UVA’s alumni association isn’t changing lives or saving the world. Sometimes you have to vote with your feet.

Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
29 days ago

You’re welcome, Karen. Please join The Jefferson Council and spread the word! We are bringing in conservative speakers, supporting conservative student groups like YAF, and promoting balanced intellectual diversity on the Grounds where all views are heard and tolerated – liberal AND conservative.
https://thejeffersoncouncil.com/join/.

Last edited 29 days ago by Wahoo'74