Discussions on Quoting Jefferson

Submitted on Nov 18, 2016 by UVA Alumni Association

A recent letter signed by nearly 500 faculty and students at the University of Virginia calling on President Teresa A. Sullivan to refrain from quoting Thomas Jefferson has received considerable attention in recent days. President Sullivan’s response to the letter recognizes the important contributions of Mr. Jefferson to the founding of our democracy and UVA while also reaffirming the University’s commitment to inclusion and free speech. Below are a number of media stories covering the matter in recent days.

Students, faculty ask UVa president not to quote Jefferson (Washington Post)

University of Virginia president refuses to scrub Thomas Jefferson from speech (Washington Examiner)

Opinion/Editorial: Don’t censor wisdom of Jefferson (Daily Progress)

Editorial – P.C. silliness at U.Va. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Jefferson is now banned at UVA??!! (The Roanoke Times)

Comments (11):

  1. Thomas M. Neale c/o UVA Alumni Association on said:

    Dear Ms Sullivan et al,
    I am a 1974 alumnus of the College and have closely followed the post-election turmoil on the Grounds, as have thousands of University alumni/ae along with millions on TV. I would like to address the two major issues we confront – student protest and anti-Jefferson sentiment. On the former, I come from the perspective of a conservative alumnus who is neither racist or xenophobic, just fiscally conservative and did not want our nation to further decline into progressive socialism, the path on which we were inexorably headed. On the latter, my opinions are formed by my UVA History major, four decades of further historical readings, and love of Jefferson and the University.

    Regarding the Trump victory, it is time to accept the results and move on. I too was despondent after Sen. McCain lost in 2008 and Gov. Romney in 2012, but for very different reasons than our aggrieved protesting faculty and students. However, I did not seek a safe space at work, march on Baltimore’s City Hall, whimper and moan, disrupt public gatherings with signs denying President Obama’s presidency, much less destroy property and assault Obama’s supporters (which is happening across the nation, albeit not on the Grounds). I feared for the future economic stability of our nation, and for my three daughters since I believed President Obama’s policies would be destructive to their ability to buy a home, and save for their retirement as well as their children’s college educations. Some if not all of you will no doubt disagree, but my fears were well founded. We have more than doubled our Federal debt to over $20 trillion, and have not exceeded 3% growth in GDP for 8 years, a worse record than even FDR’s after the Great Depression. The President’s signature piece of legislation – the “Affordable Care Act” (sic) – is imploding before our eyes and bankrupting families unfortunate enough to be covered by it.

    In response to McCain and Romney’s defeats, conservatives worked harder and voted for change. Anarchy was not an option for us. Prior to November 8, Secretary Clinton’s supporters, Democrat leadership, and the media pleaded for Trump and his supporters to accept the “inevitable” results of her election and ascendancy. Now that the reverse has happened, the Left cannot seem to accept the law of the land. That is beyond utter hypocrisy, it is antithetical to our constitutional Republic and rule of law. Protest is fine, but violence is not. Our students are not committing acts of violence, to my knowledge, but they need to grow up, study, go back to class, and work for change as conservatives did for the past eight years.
    Regarding the “demands” of hundreds of students and faculty signing an open letter condemning you, President Sullivan, for quoting Thomas Jefferson when calling for civility, I simply find that beyond the pale. Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President, and founder of our University. Yes, like ALL southern Founding Fathers, he also owned slaves. Presumably, the students who attend UVA and led those protests know this; same for the faculty who signed the letter and are accepting salaries and benefits from the University. If they believe Mr. Jefferson’s status as a slaveholder outweighs all of his other incredible accomplishments and service to our country, then they should leave the University. I would not attend a University or work for a company whose founder and guiding principles I could not abide by.

    Do these students and faculty possess absolutely no knowledge of history? Can they not put actions from 225 years ago in any sort of historical context? Do they not know that virtually every civilized nation along with African tribes practiced slavery in the 1700’s and early 1800’s? Absolutely no one I know would say slavery was anything but morally indefensible and repugnant. One simply cannot judge our prior leaders by today’s moral precepts. However, if these protestors insist on consistency, will they condemn Democrat President and UVA Law alumnus President Woodrow Wilson who, despite his then progressive political philosophy and admirable championing of the League of Nations, was a defender of Jim Crow and by today’s standards a racist? Let’s also include Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt, who presided over a racially segregated military in WWII and illegally imprisoned hundreds of thousands of US citizens of Japanese descent. We cannot be selective by Party if we are supposed to condemn anyone who was racist in the past.
    Where on earth does the madness end?

    President Sullivan and Rector Goodwin, I implore you to not just placate the protestors, but come out strongly and affirmatively in support of our founder, Thomas Jefferson. Explain to the howling mob that of course he had what by the standards of the 21st century were unconscionable practices, but so then did dozens of other otherwise well-meaning southern Founding Fathers. The vast majority of alumni/ae agree with me, as I would hope the vast majority of UVA students and faculty. It is time for the majority to defend Mr. Jefferson, as well as for the protesters to accept Secretary Clinton’s defeat, return to academic pursuits, and work for change.

    Thank you for listening.

    Thomas M. Neale, College ‘74

    • Donald C. Simon, SEAS, 1981 on said:

      Bull’s eye! Mr. Neale, your letter expresses my sentiments exactly. This alumnus agrees with you and no further elaboration is necessary.

    • Andi Coates on said:

      Bless you! Merry Christmas

  2. John Fornaro Arch '76 '79 C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:

    If Mr. Jefferson cannot be the last slaveholder, who then?

  3. FORREST L. FRAZIER (Educ ’50, parent ’89) C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:


    UVA NEEDS TO WISE UP!!!!!!!!

    Please note that the 500 have faults just as the founders had. the founders gave us the freedom to express our opinions. Jefferson probably had more ability than the majority of the 500.

  4. Frank Strauss '53 College C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:

    Well done Madam President on your defense of Thomas Jefferson.

  5. Pierce Salguero (Col ’96, Grad ’05) C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:

    As an alumnus of the University of Virginia, I would like to call upon the university alumni association to denounce the sexist, racist, xenophobic, and bigoted language and policies forwarded during the presidential campaign and the violence and hate crimes carried out since that time. As UVa has a history of inclusion and multiculturalism, the alumni need to hear this message expressed loudly and clearly so that we understand that the institution stands with women, Muslims, Mexican, people of color, people with disabilities, and all others who have been targeted by hate in this election season.

  6. Larry Drew (Col '52) C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:

    It would be funny if it weren’t so sad, that the students who petitioned President Sullivan to stop quoting Thomas Jefferson because he was a slave holder, are the very same students that pay and possibly rack up enormous debt, to be educated at a slave holders University.

  7. Donald C. Simon, SEAS, 1981 on said:

    Bull’s eye! Mr. Neale, your letter expresses my sentiments exactly. This alumnus agrees with you and no further elaboration is necessary.

  8. Karen Van Neste Owen (COL '73) C/O UVA Alumni Association on said:

    It was with great sadness that I read about the 469 students and professors at the University of Virginia taking exception to university President Teresa Sullivan quoting founder Thomas Jefferson in her comments asking for patience, calm and unity in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent electoral victory over Hillary Clinton.

    By now, we all know that–as with all humans–Thomas Jefferson had feet of clay. His writings on race, his ownership of slaves, his paternity of Sally Hemings’ children, and his spendthrift habits and financial situation that resulted in his inability to free his slaves upon his death–assuming he would have done so if he could–are serious detractors to his place in history. No one is denying this.

    But this misguided outrage overlooks his huge accomplishments that Americans too often take for granted. I’m referring to the self-selected words on his tombstone mentioning his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statutes for Religious Freedom, and, yes, his founding of the University of Virginia. That these were the three he considered worthy of mention showed remarkable restraint. He accomplished and contributed so much more, and we should never forget it. Without Thomas Jefferson, our country would not remotely be what it is today.

    This is political correctness run amok, and I am writing from my personal perspective as a bleeding-heart liberal who is also broken-hearted by the recent election results. The form of political correctness I prefer is one of kindness and respect for our fellow man–not using the N-word, not calling Obama or any president hateful names, not yelling “not gay” in the singing of The Good Old Song, not feeling duty-bound to insult people whenever we feel like it.

    None of us should be afraid of ideas. To be so inclined as to want to control an opinion contrary to what one personally thinks is the very antithesis of what Jefferson intended when he founded our great university.

    I’m proud of Thomas Jefferson. I would be appalled if his statue were removed from the Grounds, if the Jefferson Memorial in Washington were torn down, or if President Sullivan or any future leader at U.Va. refrained from quoting Thomas Jefferson at any given opportunity.

  9. Mark - CLAS 1996; LAW 1999 on said:

    It’s time for the politically correct, hyper sensitive students in search of safe spaces and the professors who coddle them to grow up. If you engage in this type of conduct when you are employed outside of academia, you will be terminated. When Obama was elected, I was devastated because I knew the economy would suffer but I went to work every day and worked hard to build a business to provide jobs. We didn’t lay off a single employee eventhough it would have been easy to do so (starting with those who had Obama bumper Stickers).

    Now we have a president who wants to put Americans back to work and empower those of you in academia to get high paying jobs so you can move out of your parents’ houses. How anyone can call him a racist or a xenophobe for putting Americans first baffles me.

    It’s time to say farewell to Ms. Sullivan and recruit a candidate who is a graduate of UVA with real world experience in managing large organizations and fundraising to help UVA recover from the declines that have occurred on her watch.