UVa’s Invasive, Ubiquitous DEI Program, Its President and the New Board of Visitors

UVa President James Ryan Courtesy of the University

by James C. Sherlock

As a public service and a primer for new UVa Board of Visitors members, I will offer here a brief summary of the extent and costs in dollars, time, distraction and suppression of debate by the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program.

Put briefly, they are everywhere, overseeing everything at the University.

On that subject, Victor David Hanson has written:

“At a time of impending recession, runaway inflation, and climbing interest rates, universities are charging students thousands of dollars in increased tuition and fees to subsidize an unproductive diversity, equity, and inclusion industry. And like all good commissariats, the DEI apparatchiks produce no research, do no teaching, and bully and repress those who do.”

“Their chief legacy is the millions of opportunistic mediocrities emerging from the shadows to mouth wokester shibboleths about climate change, diversity, equity, and inclusion, identity politics, and transgenderism, while damning the customs, traditions, history, and values of a prior society that alone is responsible for their very affluence and leisure.”

A harsh critique, certainly. Perhaps that does not apply to the DEI program at the University of Virginia.

It is up to the Board of Visitors to examine whether Mr. Hanson’s description accurately describes that program and, if so, make changes.

I will offer here a brief and assuredly incomplete accounting of that DEI bureaucracy and its hold on UVa’s President to let readers get an idea both its scope and its penetration of the University.

Officially,

“The University of Virginia (“UVA”) does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender identity or expression, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, pregnancy (including childbirth and related conditions), race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, and family medical or genetic information.”

No one would want any of those groups to be discriminated against. It is the definition of what constitutes discrimination that the University, at its peril, leaves to Mr. Hanson’s commissariats.

First, at the heights of the administration, the University has a Vice President for DEI.

Thirteen schools and the library of the University have at least one Associate Dean or Director for Diversity and Inclusion. The Darden School of Business, not to be outdone, has two.

These 14 positions, to me, are the heart of the matter of academic freedom. If any professor, instructor, researcher or student does not feel threatened by these political commissars, that person does not understand their purpose. And will likely discover it.

In 2020, 57% of University of Virginia undergraduates answered a question in the largest survey of student opinion ever undertaken that they had been intimidated from expressing their opinions; 79% of students self-identifying as conservatives responded that they had been intimidated. Those were the ones that did not express their opinions.

No word on what happened to those that did.

The University also assures that no board or panel at the University is without DEI oversight.

As example, the Advisory Board of the University’s new Karsh Institute of Democracy features Deborah Archer, president, ACLU;  co-faculty director, Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law; co-director, Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program, New York University School of Law.

She should keep it in line.

The University’s Division for DEI has fourteen headquarters employees. It oversees

  1. Center for Community Partnerships – seven full time employees
  2. The Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights is rebuilding its website. No personnel listed. This office runs two programs that are required for federal compliance, the University ADA Office and Title IX Office.
  3. Disability Advocacy & Action Committee
  4. Diversity Council
  5. President Ryan’s Racial Equity Task Force, which has advised racial equity initiatives on infrastructure and investment, access, climate, intergroup relations, scholarships, and healing and repair (such as statue removal and contextualization and a new, lavishly funded academic program on ‘Race, Place and Equity’ with “deans from many of UVA’s schools already committing to participate”).
  6. Native & Indigenous Relations Community (NIRC)
  7. Women’s Leadership Council, and;
  8. Five Employee Resource Groups
    • Black Faculty and Staff Employee Resource Group
    • LGBT Committee
    • Latinx Employee Resource Group
    • Military Service Veteran Employee Resource Group
    • Organization of Employees from Africa

The University also has an Equity Center. You will be pleased to know that

“The Equity Center will tangibly redress racial and economic inequity in university communities by advancing a transformative approach to the fundamental research mission, which will, in turn, reform institutional values, pedagogy, and operations.”

A “transformative approach to the fundamental research mission.”

Personally, I always support the airing of new ideas. It would be interesting in this case, however, to find out why the university’s research mission needs to be transformed before entertaining ideas on how to transform it, and to what.

The leadership page of the Equity Center lists 43 employees. They have such titles as: Executive Director; a Local Steering Committee Member, Institutional Inequality; Director of Equitable Analysis; Faculty Director, Design Justice; Faculty Director, Youth Education Pipeline with several local steering committee members; a Local Steering Committee Member, Ground Theory of Structural Racism; a Director of Community Research; a Faculty Director, Institutional Inequality; a National Advisory Committee, Equity Center Co-Founder; Faculty Director, Grounded Theory of Structural Racism; Faculty Director of the Equity Center; Doctoral Fellow, School of Education, Youth Education Pipeline;  Sound Justice Lab Postdoctoral Research Associate; Arts Research Program Manager;  Youth Pipeline Director; Educational Equity Data Scientist; and Faculty Leader, Youth Education Pipeline Programs.

School of Education Youth Education Pipeline indeed.

The Equity Center, in partnership with the Office of the President and the Office of DEI, has an Institutional Inequality Initiative that seeks reparations in their quest for equity and racial justice.

“In order to enact our mission of redressing inequity within the communities we are embedded, it is necessary for us as a public institution of higher education to continue to build our capacity for equity and racial justice. From the level of executive leadership through each internal stakeholder group, including students, staff and faculty, we need to develop institutional equity literacy with common understandings of principles of equity, historical underpinnings of our social location, and methods of redress, including respectful community engagement and scholarships and reparations.”

I suspect that is enough to let us understand, in part, why tuition is going up and President Ryan’s calendar is so booked up.

And why he sat and took it while a student who had violated the terms of her residential contract with the University by placing a F… UVa sign on her door on the Lawn, not only got a personal meeting with the President of the University, but lectured him on her status as a minority, lack of ADA accessibility on the Lawn (a World Heritage site), freedom of speech, white supremacy and the university police.

Hira Azher, who introduces herself as a Muslim woman of color, lectured Ryan:

“I think there needs to be serious conversation about how UVA is an exploitative institution with UVA students, as well as like with the Charlottesville community, as well as how UPD is unnecessary. And that there’s no reason for us to have such a close relationship with CPD as well. How, the ways in which student self-governance is exploitative and just at the core of it, like there’s no denying that white supremacy and settler colonialism are like foundational and built into this university.”

She had lots more to say along that line.

It is not only possible that she learned all of that at President Ryan’s university, it is impossible to believe she could have reached her fourth year without absorbing it.

Ryan’s response, when he finally got a word in was:

Alright, um, so some of the reactions, so, um, you know, I’m sure you’re receiving a lot of emails. I’m receiving a lot of emails. Um, a lot of the reaction is to just “fuck UVA” and the, just the profanity. Um, and I think that precludes a lot of people from actually thinking about what the rest of it is. I also think the KKK Cops, um, stops a lot of people in their tracks who think it’s basically an epithet. Um, so I’m curious, like how, how do you respond to that, right? That is completely fine to raise complaints about these issues, um, and, and, and, um, and, and concerns about them, many of which I share, but, but a lot of the reaction I’m seeing anyway, it’s just as a visceral reaction to the headline, a subsidiary reaction to, wow, are you saying all cops are members of the KKK? And I think that, that stops a lot of people from thinking about the valid points that you’re raising. And I, I’m just curious, like, how do you think about that? And if you were me, how would you think about that? (emphasis added)

That certainly put her in her place.

It is up to the new members of the Board of Visitors to decide whether this massive DEI bureaucracy and its wide and deep penetration of the entire University and all its works is proportional to the mission and representative of the culture and priorities of a public university.

And whether the University has the right President.

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Kelly Hayes
Kelly Hayes
1 month ago

The end game seems too often to be about financial reparations and the redistribution of money. The tuition increase which UVA is holding firm on, even after Youngkin’s request, is a money transfer from weary UVA parents to the University. So UVA can, in its own words, fund its mission of “access and affordability.” Not affordability for all UVA students or those who pay full tuition, just affordability for those students that the University deems worthy of such attentions and gestures.

Charles James Frankel III
Charles James Frankel III
1 month ago

Well done.The inmates are running the asylum and the Administration appears to be too weak to do anything about it.

Walter Smith
Walter Smith
1 month ago

Which administration? The UVA admin, Jim Ryan and his “leadership” team, are all in. Read his Great and Good 2030 plan. He aims to transform UVA and is so far down the path that alumni and citizens have no idea. Blame the BOV for just going along and not standing up for students, parents, citizens, faculty AND Jefferson. The Youngkin admin at least appears willing to provide adult oversight but it is a long slog…
And how come the BOV in March, not previously announced, extended Jim Ryan’s contract from its July 2025 expiration to July 2028? What was the urgency? I mean besides the fact that in July of 2025 all 17 BOV members would have been Youngkin appointees and in July 2028 that maybe 12 or 13 BOV members would have been appointed by somebody not named Youngkin? Can you think of any other reason?

ToniAnn
ToniAnn
1 month ago

Shocking! President’s inability to speak and the woke take over of this once amazing institution

Larry Chamblin
Larry Chamblin
1 month ago

“The Societal Foundations of National Competitiveness” identifies characteristics of nations that enable them to be more competitive, more energetic, more vibrant, more innovative, and more productive. The Rand Corporation paper explores those qualities that have made the US more dynamic and competitive than the USSR. While Rand finds that the US continues to have advantage but concludes that several factors, including “the corruption of the national information space, pose acute risks to the long-term dynamism and competitiveness of the nation, raising the worrying prospect that the United States has begun to display classic patterns of a major power on the far side of its dynamic and vital curve.”

Rand concludes that these seven leading societal characteristics are associated with national competitive success: national ambition and will, unified national identity, shared opportunity, an active state, effective institutions, a learning and adapting society, and competitive diversity and pluralism.

While it may be a stretch to apply these findings to the success of a university, I suggest that there is much here that is a model of any successful organization, including a state university. 

TJC comments about DEI use terms associated with the USSR–such as “commissariats” and “apparatchiks” to express its extreme displeasure with the concept of diversity, equity and inclusion. Do the members of TJS really mean to say that those who support DEI, like university president Ryan, are communists? For the benefit of new members of the BOV, James Sherlock is quoting another TJC member, so he backs away from any such accusations directed at him. He leaves it up to the BOV to decide if President Ryan is pushing the DEI agenda too far, or whether it belongs as part of the university’s policy at all. As a UVA graduate, I hope the university will continue to pursue “diversity and pluralism” as an essential value for a great university.

Walter Smith
Walter Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry Chamblin

I believe that an atmosphere of free speech does not exist at UVA and that the so-called unequivocal support for free speech was a fig leaf. The roots of DEI are Gramscian Marxism. So, in an atmosphere where free speech does not exist in reality, where the University is spending great resources to focus on judging everything by the “under-represented” or “marginalized,” which is mostly code for affirmative racial and sexual discrimination, where 95% of employee campaign contributions go to Democrats (per FEC records), where faculty members are required not just to make affirmative statements, but to include affirmative actions, supporting DEI, the use of such terms is analogous, and does not indicate that anyone believes that Jim Ryan and his admin wish to kill 60 million people or so. But the ideas they are supporting have caused great harm.
Perhaps calling people Nazis and white supremacists offends you as well?
Perhaps the article you reference from RAND is not necessarily an optimal way to organize for national competitiveness… perhaps it is theoretical justification to remake society in the way Leftists wish, dressed up in non-objectionable words that don’t work in reality. Like the way DEI is sold.
Are the compelled DEI statements not McCarthyist? What happened to the years of outrage over McCarthyism and “the blacklist?”
Maybe critics would like to see UVA get back to an educational mission, lower costs for the students, and teach kids how to think, not what to think.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
1 month ago
Reply to  Walter Smith

Walter, yet another eloquent distillation of the myriad problems with the UVA DEI obsession. The Administration has built a multi-million dollar in overhead expenses behemoth seeking to solve an inherently “systemically racist” problem at UVA that doesn’t exist.

Fire the DEI staff and reallocate the money to scholarships or, novel idea, reductions in tuition to make UVA more affordable to all.

Peter B LeQuire
Peter B LeQuire
1 month ago

Just a couple of comments/questions:

Events, words and appearances mean things. The Alumni Association’s “survey” of Alumni conducted earlier was limited to Alumni of the class of 1970, and subsequent classes, was it not? There may be some magic in the 50 year scope of alumni surveyed, but it seems a convenient way to dismiss an important segment of our alumni, a segment which is probably more attuned to the history of the University that many more recent alumni.

How does the explosion of administrative DEI-related staff contribute to the mission of the University it sets out for itself in its Mission Statement? Where in this morass of DEI policies and enforcement is mentioned academic excellence?

Words mean things. It appears that renaming the library is a hot button issue because Edwin Alderman was a racist and a eugenicist. If the University is going to purge itself of any connection with any person who did not espouse present day “correct” ideology, seems that Woodrow Wilson’s name should be high on the list of undesirables.

The only effective way to slow this wave of revisionism is by cutting of the money that pays for DEI sinecures: the state’s budget would be a grand place to start. Dare I mention alumni contributions as another?

During my four years, I entered innumerable times the Cabell Hall doorway the lintel of which bears Jefferson’s “..for here we are not afraid to follow truth,,,” popularly-used quote.. I’d guess there will be a line item in a not-too-far-in-the-future budget for removing it.

This is all very sad.