New York Times “DEI” Article Prompts Questions About Ryan’s Views

Bert Ellis. Photo credit: New York Times

by James A. Bacon

Kudos to Stephanie Saul for her front-page article in The New York Times this morning. She quotes Bert Ellis and me accurately and in context in an impressively even-handed account of the brewing controversy over Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Virginia.

Followers of the Jefferson Council will find that the article, which explores DEI issues at UVa through the prism of Ellis’ appointment to the Board of Visitors, covers familiar ground. However, it does contain nuggets of news, mainly by putting UVa President Jim Ryan and other university officials on the record on issues about which they have been largely silent so far.

Most astonishing are the quotes from Ryan, who comes across as totally clueless about the aims of his critics.

James E. Ryan, the university’s president, said he believes the majority of alumni feel the way he does — that diversity is desirable and needed.

“I haven’t heard anyone say we should have a community that is monolithic, unfair and unwelcoming,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Ryan said he wonders about the motives of the critics.

“Whether this is an effort to focus on the aspects of D.E.I. that seem to threaten academic freedom and push toward ideological conformity, or whether it’s an effort to turn back the clock to 1965 — it’s hard to know,” he said in an interview.

It is breathtaking that UVa’s president should have such a skewed conception of what his critics are saying. It suggests that he is not dealing in the realm of reality.

First point: He states that majority of alumni feel the way he does — that diversity is desirable and needed. The insinuation is that his critics do not believe that diversity is desirable. He has zero justification for such a belief. When he speaks of “diversity,” of course, he is referring to demographic diversity. Ellis and the Jefferson Council support demographic diversity as long as it is consistent with the principle of “equality of opportunity” rather than “equality of outcomes.” The possibility that we have different visions of “diversity” eludes him.

Second point: He states, “I haven’t heard anyone say we should have a community that is monolithic, unfair and unwelcoming.”

That’s true. No one says that. To the contrary, the Jefferson Council’s critique of Ryan’s DEI regime is that it has accelerated UVa’s drift toward intellectual conformity, creating a leftist monolith. By harping on the themes of racial, sexual and gender injustice, the administration has fashioned an environment in which moderate, libertarian and conservative students and faculty members engage extensively in self-censorship and, to borrow a phrase, feel “marginalized,” powerless, and unrepresented within the university community.

Third point: Ryan doesn’t come right out and say explicitly that his critics want to “turn back the clock to 1965,” but he clearly suggests that they might — he finds it “hard to know.”

Our goal at the Jefferson Council is to make the University of Virginia the most exciting place in the 21st-century United States to learn, teach and pursue the creation of knowledge. We believe that creating a suffocating cultural and intellectual climate thoroughly dominated by leftist views about “social justice” is inconsistent with that aim.

Another interesting revelation is a statement by Kevin G. McDonald, the University of Virginia’s vice president for diversity, that UVa’s DEI apparatus numbers only 40 employees — half the number cited in studies by the Heritage Foundation and the Virginia Association of Scholars. This is the first time a university official has publicly uttered such a number, as far as I know. The difference, I suspect, is in how one defines “DEI employee.” We look forward to hearing MacDonald’s presentation to the Board of Visitors on how he came up with that particular number.

Finally, Saul quotes university spokesman Brian Coy as saying that diversity statements are not required. Saul herself notes that several job postings she reviewed do, in fact, ask applicants to submit diversity statements. Likewise, the Jefferson Council has provided documentation that diversity statements are required in job-performance reviews and in student admission applications.

The Jefferson Council would welcome a formal statement from President Ryan that diversity statements are not required in job applications and performance reviews — and to see that policy reflected in actual job postings and performance evaluations.

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Wahoo 76
Wahoo 76
11 months ago

Jim–thanks for this timely article. You are such a great writer and I appreciate your postings! Perhaps the new crop of BOV appointees can turn the DEI tide, but I remain skeptical unless Ryan is dismissed.

GRob
GRob
11 months ago

I notice in the NYT article:
“The university plans to add context to a Jefferson statue in front of the university Rotunda.
Mr. Ryan said that he envisions a QR code at the statue with additional information about Jefferson’s legacy. The language will likely include references to Jefferson’s slaveholding.”
 
I doubt that the “context” will include that his Declaration established the foundational principle that there should not be slaves in America, that it was illegal to free the slaves he inherited, the many things he did to suppress slaveholding, the proof that he never had a relationship with Sally Hemmings, and that “Thomas Jefferson may well have been America’s first abolitionist.”
https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2023/04/thomas_jefferson_deserves_respect_from_all_americans.html

Jack Cann
Jack Cann
11 months ago

Judging from the article, Ryan’s apparent cluelessness is breathtaking, unless this is an act. He would have to wander around in a bubble of like-minded individuals to make the statements quoted by Saul. One might wonder if this posture is to obfuscate his actual march to the left it is so out of touch.

Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
11 months ago

Excellent summary, Jim.

From his comment that The Jefferson Council and our members want to “turn back the clock to 1965” it is evident that President Ryan thinks our end game is a return to an all male, white university. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The myopia of the Progressive Left DEI adherents is mind boggling. Those who desire true intellectual diversity where liberal, conservative and moderate viewpoints are all allowed to flourish are branded racists. That is certainly President Ryan’s implication.

The anecdotes from undergraduate students which were on display at the April 4 TJC annual meeting are proof of the Orwellian thought control mandated by far too many professors. They demand philosophical orthodoxy to their where racism still dominates American culture and all whites are branded as privileged from birth.
 
It is time for the rational among us to win back our alma mater. Students and faculty of all races and viewpoints need to be not just tolerated, but encouraged to voice their opinions without fear of uncivil retribution. It is unfathomable to me why President Ryan cannot see this.
 
Regardless, The Jefferson Council does, and won’t rest until civility and freedom of expression are restored at Mr. Jefferson’s University.

Last edited 11 months ago by jimbacon1953
Walter smith
Walter smith
11 months ago
Reply to  Wahoo'74

Yes, Ryan’s quote is truly consistent with how Marxists argue. They won’t. So he instead slyly implies it is all about going back to all male, coat and tie, and therefore also implying racists and sexists. He’s not that dumb. He is that practiced at the tactic, and has hired all true believers, infecting the entire school. Admissions is actively discriminating against whites and “Asians” in the false god name of DEI, and, even if the Supreme Court outlaws the race preferences in admissions, as it should, UVA and all the other so-called elite schools will continue to cheat. Ryan was a Supreme Court clerk. He knows UVA’s admissions policy violates the Constitution, but he believes he has a higher calling – JR the Great and Good.

If he truly believes his quote (he doesn’t), then he is to UVA what Anissa Heinerschneid is to Bud Light!

James B Newman
James B Newman
11 months ago

It was a telling moment when the subject article appeared in this morning’s NY Times. Jim is right in stating that this will accelerate the date when the issue will be front and center and President Ryan will have to make his position evident to all. Kudos to Bert Ellis is making this a reality and a special thanks to the Governor for his support and leadership. Change, thankfully, will occur.

Jeff Krauss
Jeff Krauss
11 months ago

Way to go Bert Ellis! If anyone can win this fight, or at least make a persuasive and principled stand against the dying of the light, it’s you. Being the lone voice of reason or the single thoughtful “no” vote can we wearing. I hope you get the allies you deserve from the Governor and you can make a difference at not just UVA but on state university campuses everywhere.

Larry Chamblin
Larry Chamblin
11 months ago

As an alumnus of UVA, in the late Fifties there were no Black or women students in the college of arts and sciences. The Jefferson Council complains about UVA becoming “a suffocating cultural and intellectual climate thoroughly dominated by leftist views about ‘social justice.’”

In my years at the university the state was dominated by leaders opposed to desegregation. The political leadership of the state–and the UVA board of visitors–had no interest in social justice or diversity and inclusion. But faculty views, in my experience, were generally much more “enlightened.”

When Jefferson died, on July 4, 1826, Sally Hemings left Monticello with a pair of Jefferson’s eyeglasses to remember him by. This was an appropriate memento as Jefferson was at once a man of vision and a man of blindness. The man who wrote that “all men are created equal” was an owner of slaves. I reject both the unalloyed reverence for this great statesman and any effort to deny his great vision. In rejecting the Christian origins of the nation, he wrote that treating the founding documents as Scripture was to “ascribe to men of the proceeding age a wisdom more than human.”

I applaud the current UVA president, James Ryan, for his support of moving the university toward being a university where learning is enhanced by being more inclusive and a place of equality for all, as Jefferson promised.

Larry Chamblin
Larry Chamblin
11 months ago
Reply to  jimbacon1953

Yes I would support an honest, unbiased survey. Of course, the devil is in the details.