This Is It! Act Now to Save the Honor Code, or It Dies

Letter from Bert Ellis, president of The Jefferson Council to All Friends of the University of Virginia.

I am writing this letter as Bert Ellis, a passionate Double Hoo (College ‘75, Darden ‘79) and as a Founder and President of The Jefferson Council. Our University is under attack from multiple sources and at multiple levels. The entire academic and community experience that so many of us shared at UVA is
totally at risk. Our Administration has totally politicized the entire university to the detriment of all that we hold dear.

We at the Jefferson Council have been fighting on behalf of all of us to preserve/promote four major tenets:

1) Open Dialogue throughout the University.

2) Preservation of the Jefferson legacy.

3) Preservation of the architectural sanctity of the Lawn.

4) Preservation and rejuvenation of the Honor System.

We have indeed made some progress on points 1 and 3: The University adopted a set of principles of open dialogue which we think are quite reasonable and the Ryan administration adopted a set of rules limiting signage on the Lawn doors. Mr. Jefferson’s statue – which was in jeopardy — remains in front of the Rotunda, yet to be contextualized. The Honor System still exists but is now under very serious attack such that this could be its very final year at UVA.

It is a fact that most, maybe all, educational institutions in America have been taken over by the woke crowd and now the DEI/Woke mob. DEI, an abbreviation for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, has become the new mantra for our society. DEI was either purposefully misnamed or has been tragically
misinterpreted across our country and especially in academic environments. DEI personnel use their power to do exactly the opposite.

At UVA, the “DEI” philosophy has reached a level that many of you are not aware. I hope this letter will alert you, in fact scare you, and will cause you to share this letter with everyone you know who cares about our University of Virginia. Please research The Jefferson Council and join us to make a stand.

We need to build The Jefferson Council into a huge grass roots movement to save our University. We need to fight back. We need to start now.

We have also teamed with similar organizations at four other universities – Cornell, Davidson, Princeton, and W&L – to build a national grass roots movement to fight this across the country.

Let me summarize some recent activities at UVA that illustrate our concerns.

Open Dialogue

President Ryan accepted the Job as our President in the aftermath of the tragic events in Charlottesville in August 2017. Ryan said then that the only way to combat the ideology of the alt-right was to “double down on the fact that that is not what UVA is about.” To prove that our University is not guilty of systemic racism, Ryan has institutionalized a deep, pervasive, and very expensive DEI
infrastructure at the University that has gotten completely out of hand. The Heritage Foundation ranked the DEI organizations of the 65 largest public universities in America. UVA has the second largest DEI organization in absolute numbers of DEI officials (92) and the absolute largest in DEI officials per faculty member.

These DEI officials at UVA cannot be debated or challenged in any manner. Whatever they say is gospel. To disagree at any level is prima facie evidence that you are a racist. They must be consulted on every decision and every hire made by every Dean at every level.

For example, please read this article about former medical student Kieran Bhattacharya who was secretly sanctioned by the UVA Med school for questioning what is a micro-aggression in the Q&A session following a panel discussion on such. Simple intellectual debate of many DEI tenets is just not
permitted at UVA.

Many UVA schools and departments now require all new applicants to fill out “diversity statements” effectively creating a self-fulfilling ideological litmus test for employment.

DEI affects almost every new hiring decision, but it also subjects everyone at UVA to anti-racist training ad nauseum even when there is absolutely no indication that racism exists in any form or fashion with that person or department. Please read this article summarizing the DEI/CRT
indoctrination that has permeated all levels of the library staff. This is first-hand information from a 14-year UVA library official, Michelle Vermillion, who resigned because she could not take it anymore. There is not now and never was anything racist in our library. Alderman Library and the books within it
are available to anyone.

We also know that amid this massive multi-million-dollar renovation of Alderman Library, there is a major movement afoot by these same DEI dictators to remove the Alderman name. Edwin Alderman was our first official President of UVA from 1905-1931. His legacy now offends the DEI crowd as do so
many other of our prior faculty and administrators who happened to live in the pre-woke world of today.

Thus, the institutional focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while sounding virtuous to the modern ear, actually undermines open dialogue and free speech through the University.

The Jefferson Legacy

The University Guides now seem intent on “contextualizing” Mr. Jefferson as a slave holder and rapist, and to completely undermine his part of the Founding of America and our University. They completely disparage Mr. Jefferson. I have heard from parents who have brought their high school kids to visit UVA who said the official University Guides tour is a turn-off to many prospective students, particularly the type of prospective student that would support the traditions of UVA.

Furthermore, the University Guides in conjunction with the DEI organization of UVA (which is massive) has created a video and a companion physical tour of the University for first year students that “contextualizes” the University in terms of the enslaved labor used to build the University and the white privilege that established the standards for the University. This video and the companion tour
further disparage the traditions we hold dear.

The above two items are all a part of the movement to eradicate anything positive about Mr. Jefferson. First, he will be “contextualized” and then he will be removed from the history of the UVA. This will happen if we do nothing. Mark my words. Mr. Jefferson’s legacy is totally under attack.

Just this week, Mayor de Blasio and his colleagues in NYC voted to completely remove a statue of Mr. Jefferson from NYC City Hall that has been there since 1833.

The Lawn

The Lawn doors for the moment are mostly free of the large offensive signs of last year. However, we still have hate-filled students living on the Lawn who view the Lawn as their personal place to vandalize with all sorts of messages and claim it is their First Amendment right to do so. Unfortunately, much of the student leadership at UVA supports their right to use the doors as such.

Despite clear rules to the contrary, rules that the Jefferson Council caused to be implemented, one current Lawn resident recently put up a sign the size of her full door claiming that Congress shall pass no rule abridging her right to free speech. The Administration did take this sign down immediately, but we still have Lawn Residents like her that were told the rules and will not abide by them and must be constantly policed like little kids. There is no shortage of places for any student at UVA to voice their opinions on any matter including standing in front of their Lawn Room or on the steps of the Rotunda. There are also plenty of places to put up signs. However, it is not their right to put up any sign they
want anywhere they want…especially the doors of the Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage site…any more than it is their right to put up signs on their neighbor’s house. The Lawn is not their house. Lawn residents are invited to live in one of the original rooms of the University’s facility subject to certain rules. This is not complicated.

I do not understand the Lawn selection process that would choose so many students to live on the Lawn who have no respect for the University. This also needs to change.

The Honor System

BUT….my biggest concern of all these issues is the Honor System. I firmly believe that the most sacred and most valuable tradition of my 6 years at UVA was the Community of Honor that we all had the opportunity to experience. However, we also had the shared responsibility to support and maintain this system. For almost 50 years since my graduation, this experience has affected my view of the world and the way I enter into any and all negotiations or partnerships: I trust you until or unless you prove I cannot trust you. That is my way of life and I learned that at UVA. Many of you have told me the same thing. This is special. The Honor System totally distinguishes UVA from all other schools…if we can maintain it.

Without Honor, UVA is just another state school with a Lawn and lots of red brick.

The Honor Committee is comprised of 29 representatives from the various schools, 5 of whom come from the College. The current Honor Chairman is Andy Chambers who has a very sensible and pragmatic view of the Honor System and wants to modernize the Honor System in order to maintain it. I have met with Andy many times and support what he is trying to do. Unfortunately, the Honor Committee significantly outvoted Andy and chose to recommend to the student body that the Honor System abolish expulsion as the single sanction in favor of 2 semesters leave of absence with no permanent notation to the student’s file.

Not to be outdone by even this radical change, one of the senior columnists to the Cavalier Daily, Noah Strike, now proposes that the Honor System be totally abolished.

Please read this editorial to just get a feel for what “educated college students” are thinking these days. This quote from his article says it all:

“A system which harms our peers for no good reason other than upholding some abstract, arbitrary concept of “honor” should not and cannot be tolerated.”

Honor is not an abstract, arbitrary concept. Unfortunately, Noah Strike is not a lone voice in the wilderness at UVA. We have admitted many young adults to UVA who think honor is a function of white privilege and should not be supported as a standard or even as an aspirational goal. And, ever since our Board of Visitors selected Teresa Sullivan as our President, we have had no senior leadership at UVA educating students on the value of a community of honor and their personal responsibilities necessary to have such a system. The Honor System has been almost ignored by our senior leadership and BOV for over 10 years. As a result of the Jefferson Council’s efforts this past year, President Ryan did discuss and voice his support for the Honor System in his recent convocation speech, but it may have been too little too late.

The Honor Committee will be proposing their changes to the Honor System to the entire student body in February. They may modify what they have initially approved, but they are probably going to propose very radical changes, nonetheless. The student body must adopt the changes for them to go into effect, but only 10% of the student body has to vote in favor…i.e., as few as 2600 of our current students can vote to so change the Honor System as to effectively kill it. Worse, other parties like the Cavalier Daily and/or misguided writers like Noah Strike could propose an alternative plan to totally eliminate the Honor System. If so proposed, the student body just might completely kill UVA’s Honor System.

I am telling all of you that we are at the crossroads… THIS IS IT. The Honor System could be totally or effectively killed this year. We all must get off the sofa and into the fight and we need to do it now. We need to write letters, make calls, tell everyone you know that without Honor there is no UVA. We need to talk to every sane current student at UVA, whether it is your son or daughter or your grandson or granddaughter or your neighbor’s son or daughter and explain the value of such a philosophy and lifestyle and convince them as students that they should vote down such changes to their Honor System. This is their legacy: do they want to be part of the class at UVA that voted down Honor? Do Pres Ryan and this Board of Visitors want to be known as the team that allowed Honor to die at UVA? We need to educate and enlighten the students, but we also need to hold our Administration and our BOV’s feet to the fire.

We need to tell everyone at the Alumni Association and the Board of Visitors that this is a litmus test for the survival of this University as we know it. Almost 50 years ago, Honor Chair Howard Trent wrote the following to all first-year students:

“The Honor System is Virginia’s most sacred heritage, it’s most cherished tradition. It is the one aspect of the University of Virginia that stands above all else. It is what makes Mr. Jefferson’s University a unique institution in this country.”

I believe this to be true now as well.

Call and send letters to Pres Ryan and to his staff. Call and send letters to every member of the Board of Visitors. I refer you to the Board of Visitors own web site which clearly states on their front page their main function:

“The Board approves the policies and budget of the University and is entrusted with the preservation of the University’s many traditions, including the Honor System.”

Fellow Wahoos: This is a call to action. Please pass this letter on to everyone you know on every list you know. Please talk it up. I do not expect you to agree to all my concerns. I list these to let you know that there is a major change in the culture at UVA which will totally affect everything we cherish: our university, our state, our families, our nation. I am in Charlottesville about 2 weeks a month and I talk to lots of students. I walk the Lawn every single day that I am in Cville. I feel and see the changes. They are not hearing anywhere on the Grounds an alternative point of view to that of the now “official” DEI and woke perspective.

It is my very strong opinion that if we do sit back and do nothing, the Honor System will be effectively gone by the end of this academic year. We cannot sit back and just let this happen.

Honor is Honor is Honor. Without the Honor System we have a very seriously diminished UVA.

I, for one, am not afraid to go on record and fight. My fellow Jefferson Council members are all fully engaged as well. Please join us at the Jefferson Council. Please forward this letter to all that you know.

Thank you.

Bert Ellis
President, The Jefferson Council
[email protected]
Cell: 404/229-808

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Tony Castle
Tony Castle
2 years ago

I agree completely. Thanks for speaking out so forcefully on this issue. As a former Honor Committee member I feel the Honor System is central to the culture of UVA and I believe must be preserved.

Tom Neale
Tom Neale
2 years ago

Super letter, Bert. This is a call to action. I trust all concerned alumni will step up and fight to retain the Honor System and the single sanction.

Harrison Wilson
Harrison Wilson
2 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. Thanks Bert for your concern and efforts towards this critical cause.

2 years ago

In the words of fellow alumnus James Hay, Jr., 1903, author of
“The Honor Men”: “Remembering the purple shadows of the Lawn, the majesty of the colonnades, and the dream of your youth, you may say in reverence and thankfulness:

“I have worn the honors of Honor. I graduated from Virginia.”

Robert Austin
Robert Austin
2 years ago

Bert, as a fellow double Hoo (College ’71; Darden ’78), I couldn’t agree more with what you have synthesized in your post as to the dangers the University faces. But, and I ask in all sincerity, what could we expect when the BoV selected Teresa Sullivan – a box-checker if there ever was one – and then doubled down with Ryan? He was the Dean of Harvard’s Ed School, for goodness sakes. Does there exist a more woke organization? He brings along his consigliere Magill, and together they immediately begin the tearing down of UVa already underway. Just take a look at the CVs of – and statements by – the cascade of new deans and administrators now flooding the Grounds, including particularly the Law School and the DEI cadre. It’s Orwellian. What I am saying is that our ire should be manifestly aimed at a BoV complicit in the dismantling of UVa, or at best, uninterested in its future. Oh, by the way, if McAuliffe wins, he will continue to stack the BoV with liberals who will complete the dismantling.

Anne McConnell
Anne McConnell
2 years ago

This is so important! I was very shocked at the sentiments in that Strike column in the Cav Daily. Alumni need to rally on this and speak out. Thanks for being the tip of the spear.

Last edited 2 years ago by Anne McConnell