Update: As Washinton Examiner’s Philip Wegmann reports, U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan acknowledged the protest against her quotation of Jefferson in a statement released Monday. She rejected the idea, however, that quotation is tantamount to endorsement of Jefferson’s shortcomings.
“In my message last week, I agreed with Mr. Jefferson’s words expressing the idea that U.Va. students would help to lead our republic,” Sullivan said in a statement posted on the university’s website. “He believed that 200 years ago, and I believe it today.”
The first female president of the university that Jefferson founded, Sullivan did something her faculty could not. She made a distinction between intrinsic principle and historical personality. Those perfect ideals transcend even the flawed third president.
“Today’s leaders are women and men, members of all racial and ethnic groups, members of the LGBTQ community, and adherents of all religious traditions,” Sullivan explained. “All of them belong at today’s U.Va., whose founder’s most influential and most quoted words were ‘all men are created equal.'”
The bookish social justice mob probably won’t be receptive to that transcendent message. They’re not interested in passing intellectual judgment. They want to hold past leaders to current standards and delete mentions of any character they find lacking.* * *
I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet. Whatever he may have lacked, if he could have had his former colleague, Mr. Franklin, here we all would have been impressed.
– John F. Kennedy, at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere, 1962
Snowflake university culture in America may have just hit peak safe-space stupidity.
Here’s what happened according to the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily:
Several professors on Grounds collaborated to write a letter to University President Teresa Sullivan against the inclusion of a Thomas Jefferson quote in her post-election email Nov. 9.
In the email, Sullivan encouraged students to unite in the wake of contentious results, arguing that University students have the responsibility of creating the future they want for themselves.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that 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,’” Sullivan said in the email. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”
Note that Jefferson was specifically addressing the UVA student body in the chosen quote. It’s pretty obvious why she chose that particular one.
Some professors from the Psychology Department — and other academic departments — did not agree with the use of this quote. Their letter to Sullivan argued that in light of Jefferson’s owning of slaves and other racist beliefs, she should refrain from quoting Jefferson in email communications.
“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 garnered 469 signatures — from both students and professors — before being sent out via email Nov. 11. Signees included Politics Prof. Nicholas Winter, Psychology Prof. Chad Dodson, Women, Gender and Sexuality Prof. Corinne Field, College Assistant Dean Shilpa Davé, Politics Prof. Lynn Sanders and many more. Asst. Psychology Prof. Noelle Hurd drafted the letter.
“The intention of the email was to start a conversation with our administration regarding ways to be more inclusive,” Hurd said in an email statement. “In the current climate, we must seize every opportunity to communicate that this university welcomes individuals from all backgrounds.”
Politics Prof. Lawrie Balfour said she believes everyone who signed the letter, including herself, was grateful that Sullivan responded to anxiety following the election — however, many felt it was the wrong moment to turn to Jefferson, following incidents of identity-related hate speech.
“I’ve been here 15 years,” Balfour said. “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.”
Not all signees believe the University should move away from quoting Jefferson in all email correspondence, including Balfour.
How generous of them. What’s more incredible, is that apparently some signees do think there should be a blanket shadow ban on Jefferson quotations.
“I think we have an opportunity to think about the contradictions that Jefferson embodied,” Balfour said. “The point is not that he is never appropriate, but the point is that the move that says, he owned slaves, but he was a great man, is deeply problematic, and I think it will continue to prevent us from being the kind of inclusive, respectful community that President Sullivan and the rest of us envision.”
Let’s review what just happened. 469 people, including many professors who should know better, are taking offense because the head of their university quoted the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, who also happens to be the 3rd President of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence, in an email asking for unity in the wake of a contentious presidential election.
This act of quoting Thomas Jefferson now qualifies as a triggering event amongst the nation’s so-called “best and brightest,” and those who are supposedly guiding them into adulthood.
I’m finally starting to understand why so many schools simply resorted to treating students like preschoolers in the election’s aftermath, they simply can’t handle anything else. As we learned in last week’s Wall Street Journal article, Colleges Try to Comfort Students Upset by Trump Victory:
Dozens of students at Cornell University gathered on a major campus thoroughfare for a “cry-in” to mourn the results of the 2016 presidential election Wednesday, with school staff providing tissues and hot chocolate.
At Tufts University, arts and crafts were on offer. And the University of Kansas reminded students via social media of the therapy dogs available for comfort every other Wednesday.
“People are frustrated, people are just really sad and shocked,” said Trey Boynton, the director of multi-ethnic student affairs at the University of Michigan. “A lot of people are feeling like there has been a loss. We talked about grief today and about the loss of hope that this election would solidify the progress that was being made.”
There was a steady flow of students entering Ms. Boynton’s office Wednesday. They spent the day sprawled around the center, playing with Play-Doh and coloring in coloring books, as they sought comfort and distraction.
I’ve written extensively on the dangers of safe-space college culture.
* * *