The University of Virginia is awash in controversy. The President of the school, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, has come under attack for quoting Jefferson in a post-election email of November 9th. Teresa Sullivan had the audacity (of hope?) to urge students to unite in the wake of the election. She further irritated many young scholars and faculty members by stating that University students have the responsibility of creating the future they want for themselves. Apostasy!
The included (but apparently not inclusive) quote was a description of (early) University of Virginia students by the school’s stupefyingly gifted founder. Jefferson wrote to a friend saying University of Virginia students “are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes.” President Sullivan had the unabashed temerity to add: “I encourage today’s U Va. Students to embrace that responsibility.” 469 professors and students- who would apparently rather embrace their ‘ordinary significance’- signed a letter demanding that she refrain from quoting Jefferson because he owned slaves.
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson's legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.” The letter was drafted by Assistant Psychology Professor Noelle Hurd (there’s a shock!), and was signed by other psychology professors, professors of politics (imagine that!), Women, Gender and Sexuality Professor Corinne Field (knock me over with a feather!), and Assistant Dean Shilpa Davé.
Hurd said via an email statement that the intention of the letter “was to start a conversation with our administration regarding ways to be more inclusive. In the current climate, we must seize every opportunity to communicate that this university welcomes individuals from all backgrounds.”
There are students and faculty of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, and genders on campus. There are, however, several things that these students and faculty refuse to be inclusive of: Jefferson quotes, an open commitment to excellence, and differing opinions.
Perturbed Politics Professor Lawrie Balfour exclaimed: “I’ve been here 15 years. Again and again, I have found that at moments when the community needs reassurance and Jefferson appears, it undoes I think the really important work that administrators and others are trying to do.” So, Lawrie, the former Secretary of State, Vice-President, President of the United States of America, U.S. Minister to France, purchaser of the Louisiana Territory (doubling the size of his nation), drafter of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, author of the Declaration of Independence, abolisher of the slave trade, and founder of the very school you are blessed to bloviate at… undoes the really important work that current university administrators such as yourself do? You can’t make this up! That is bureaucratic hubris on a herculean scale, comparative valuation gone satanically awry, and self-importance run comically amok. (Please reread the first two sentences of this paragraph and let the preposterous remark of the disturbed professor truly sink in).
For her part, Hurd said she believes the University should consider ways to better express inclusion. “I drafted the e-mail because when Jefferson was referenced in emails related to the election, it communicated to me a message of exclusion,” Hurd said.
Hurd drafted the letter/email admonishing Teresa Sullivan. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Equality and inclusiveness? Thomas Jefferson stood astride a world that had only known monarchy and totalitarianism. He saw and wrote- and rose up to proclaim- that “All men are created equal, and are endowed by their creators with certain inalienable rights…” With this foundational belief, he and his fellow Founders changed the world. It isn’t possible to be more inclusive than to believe all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. This means that every human being is equal in the eyes of God, and has been divinely granted rights that no other human being or government has the right to take away. Again, it simply isn’t possible to be more inclusive- and protective of that inclusivity- then Jefferson was. But facts and reason never stopped a progressive from launching vicious, idiotic attacks on those who have any desire for excellence or any standards of decency… whatsoever.
Teresa Sullivan responded to the attack on her judgment and character by affirming her support for students and faculty to express their opinions. She said that quoting someone simply recognizes “the potency of that person’s words” and that she agrees with Jefferson’s message of University students helping to lead the country.
“Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time,” she said. Good for her. That should be blatantly obvious to all. That it isn’t… is a sad commentary on the times in which we live.
That I may quote FDR from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean I’m fond of court-packing or big government…or the internment of Japanese-Americans. In similar fashion, if I quote a figure from the 1970’s, it doesn’t mean I approve of orange shag carpets, mismatched apparel, or long gas lines.