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.
CLAS ’70; Law ’74