Open Letter to Lily West

Double click on image to see legible version of the ad.

Letter from Jefferson Council board member Joel Gardner to Lily West, president of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, Richard Gard, editor of the alumni association magazine Virginia, Whitt Clement, rector of the Board of Visitors, and the university counsel:

As a Board member of the Jefferson Council and a member of the University’s Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, I was astonished and appalled to learn of the Alumni Association’s decision to reject and cancel the Jefferson Council’s most recent submission for an ad in the next edition of the alumni magazine (found above). This decision to blatantly silence the Jefferson Council’s attempt to open a fair and open dialogue throughout the University community concerning the efforts to discredit and vilify our illustrious founder is particularly poignant on the eve of the celebration of Mr. Jefferson’s greatest triumph–our Declaration of Independence.

This striking affront to our freedom of expression is particularly meaningful to me, as I just returned from a three day trip to Philadelphia with my Canadian born and raised wife to visit the foundations of our great and unique republic–the existence of which is so much attributable to our founder Mr. Jefferson. Without his efforts, it is doubtful that our country would exist in the form that it does today–and I realize that there is a good chance I would not be here presently, my ancestors probably having been eliminated by the forces of the Tsar, Hitler or Stalin.

As a member of the Free Expression Committee, I more than once commented on the double standard that I observed existing throughout the University community. Certain viewpoints were institutionally supported and disseminated while others were either suppressed or barely tolerated. The Alumni Association’s decision to quash our ad is disturbing proof of the concerns I voiced.

You have rejected our ad on the general and unspecified basis that it is political or contentious, untruthful or misleading. In response to a number of our officers’ requests that you specify your broad and conclusive allegations, your response was merely that we could edit this ad or submit our prior ad. However you in no manner specified how our ad was in any manner contentious, untruthful, political or misleading.

Moreover, you completely ignore the hypocritical nature of your action. The alumni magazine has a long history of publishing articles and letters to the editor that are contentious and political–especially as concerns our founder. For example, you published an article by Alan Taylor in 2018 (https://uvamagazine.org/articles/hero_or_villain_both_and_neither) in many ways highly critical of Jefferson and which contains the flat out claim that Jefferson fathered six children with Sally Hemings. This allegation is without a doubt contentious and is highly debated by historians. (And Richard, you yourself repeat that assertion as generally accepted in an article you wrote for the magazine). In fact, this is one of the areas the Jefferson Council would like to open for fair debate. Indeed, my fellow Board member  and University Law School professor Robert Turner has issued a challenge to any of the so-called Jefferson scholars to debate him on this issue–unfortunately to no avail. Would the Alumni Association like to sponsor such a debate?

So let me ask you both–WHY IS IT APPROPRIATE TO PUBLISH MULTIPLE ARTICLES ALLEGING JEFFERSON FATHERED SALLY HEMING’S CHILDREN-BUT BAN AN AD RAISING DOUBT ON THIS ISSUE? Because that can be the only part of our ad that you can even possibly say is “contentious”. The information in the box at the top of our ad is just a statement of facts, and two of the other three sentences consist of a quote and a statement of Jefferson’s historic importance. One can only conclude that your decision to silence the Jefferson Council’s wish to have a widespread open debate on this issue is politically motivated itself–and whether it is or not, it is very arguably in violation of the University’s Principles of Freedom of Expression.

You still have an opportunity to revoke your shameful decision to quash the Jefferson Council’s ad–or live with the disgrace of having made a mockery of our newly constituted free speech principles and Mr. Jefferson’s dictum to follow the truth wherever it may lead.

I am cc’ing President Ryan, Rector Clement and University Counsel Iler on this, as it is important they be aware of the free speech double standard being employed at a University affiliated organization.

Sincerely yours,

Joel Gardner

CLAS ’70; Law ’74

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Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
1 month ago
Reply to  jimbacon1953

Jim, agree 100%. Well stated and framed analysis.

Wahoo'74
Wahoo'74
1 month ago

Joel, superb letter. Please share her response when and if you get one. You nailed it!

Dave Mitchell
Dave Mitchell
1 month ago

Off topic, but having to sign into WordPress every time I want to “Like” an article is burdensome especially compared to other social media.

Rob Smith
Rob Smith
1 month ago

The current Stalinistas who run the University do not care about the truth. They make their money and enhance their reputations by making promoting victimhood and spreading lies. They are the ultimate hate group. The fuel that feeds the Left is hatred. Their goal is destruction.

Larry Chamblin
Larry Chamblin
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Smith

Joseph Stalin was responsible for the death of nine million people, and maybe more. After his death in 1953 Russia went through a period of de-Stalinization of Soviet society. His cult of personality was widely denounced. Are you sure you want to compare the current leadership of UVA to Stalin?

Dustin Hecker
Dustin Hecker
1 month ago

I generally agree with the Council’s support of Jefferson and am distressed by and disagree with the “progressive’s” attacks on him and so many flawed but important Americans. But honestly, how do you expect to accomplish anything with the petulant, over the top tone of your letter to the Alumni Association? It’s obvious what they didn’t want in the ad. You could easily have said “Former UVA Law School professor Bob Turner and 11(12) other scholars studied carefully the evidence concerning Jefferson and Sally Hemings and concluded Jefferson almost certainly did not father her children.”. Cite to the book (which I’ve read) and encourage people to read it.

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Dustin Hecker

Constructive. Thanks, Dusty

Hal Juren
Hal Juren
1 month ago

I love that you’re continuing the fight, and applaud your efforts. I’ve been raging for years about how the Monticello staff and UVA’s own supposed Jefferson expert colluded with the media to promote the Hemings narrative to the point that it’s now commonly repeated as the consensus. Unfortunately, I don’t expect much real change until the composition of the Board of Visitors has been substantially changed. The people now in control are just going to dig their heels in more.
Hal Juren
College ’59 Law ’62

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
1 month ago
Reply to  Hal Juren

Thanks, Hal. Difference now is TJC President Bert Ellis was just elected to the BOV. There’s a new sheriff in town. Stay tuned.

Kerry D Moynihan
Kerry D Moynihan
1 month ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

The University, which I have long loved, will NEVER see another nickel from me while this suppression of Free Speech and promotion of Left Wing Orthodoxy continues.

Barbara Wilson
Barbara Wilson
1 month ago

This is a great letter! My husband Bill Wilson (UVA BA 72. PhD 82) and I (UVA Med 74) fully support your cause. I hope you will get a response from the Alumni Association