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. I want to raise the alarm to Defcon 2. 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 4 major tenets:
- Open Dialogue throughout the University
- Preservation of the Jefferson legacy
- Preservation of the architectural sanctity of the Lawn
- 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. 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.
Let me summarize some recent activities that should cause you to get very upset:
The University Guides now seem intent on “contextualizing” Mr. Jefferson as a slave holder and whoremonger 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 kids to UVA who said the official U 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 (see next point), 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 such that he can be eventually removed from the history of the University of VA. This will happen. 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 DEI organization of the University 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 cannot be debated or challenged. Whatever they say is gospel. To disagree at any level is prima facie evidence that you are a racist. Like the communist official on the Russian submarine Red October, they have to 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 thrown out of UVA Med school for questioning what a micro-aggression in the Q&A session is following a panel discussion on such. Simple intellectual debate of many DEI tenets is just not permitted.
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.
Not only does DEI affect almost every new hiring decision, it subjects everyone at UVA to anti-racist training ad nauseum even when there is no indication that racism. 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 and never was anything racist in our library. The facility and the books are available to anyone.
We also know that in the midst of this massive multi-million-dollar renovation of our library, there is a major movement afoot by these same DEI dictators to remove the Alderman name from the library. His legacy now offends the DEI crowd as does so many other of our prior faculty and administrators that happened to live in the pre-woke world of today.
The Lawn Doors are 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.
In spite of clear rules to the contrary, rules that we at 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 who were told the rules and will not abide by them and have to 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 plenty of places to put up signs. However, it is not their right to put up any sign they want on 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; they are invited to live in one of the original rooms of the University’s facility subject to certain rules.
I do not understand the Lawn selection process that would choose so many students to live on the Lawn that have no respect for the University. This also needs to change.
BUT….my biggest concern of all of 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 at UVA totally distinguishes us from all other schools, if we can maintain it. Without Honor, we are just a state school with a Lawn and lots of red brick.
The Honor Committee is comprised of 29 representatives from the various schools, 5 of which 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 him many times and support what he is trying to do. Unfortunately, Andy was significantly outvoted within the Honor Committee 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 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 BOV 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 going to propose very radical changes, nonetheless. The student body has to adopt the changes for the changes to go into effect, but only 10% of the student body has to vote in favor…i.e., as few as 2,600 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 have to 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? Does 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 President Ryan and his staff. Call and send letters to every member of the Board of Visitors that you know. I refer you to the web site for the Board of Visitors as to their main function clearly stated on the front page:
“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 of 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.
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. I, for one, and not afraid to go on record and fight.
Honor is Honor is Honor. Without the Honor System we have nothing left to support at UVA
President, The Jefferson Council