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Quoting Jefferson Proves Controversial at UVA

University of Virginia

A surprising controversy has erupted at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson.  Some students and faculty members want UVA’s president to stop quoting him. 

On learning that Donald Trump had been elected, many students and faculty members at the University of Virginia were upset, so UVA President Teresa Sullivan sent an e-mail, urging them to unite and create the future they hope to see.  As she often does, Sullivan quoted the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson.  That felt wrong to some professors – among them political scientist Lawrie Balfour.

“Remembering the noble words and forgetting in a way that many of our students, faculty and staff cannot, that Jefferson owned something like 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime and  that he wrote explicitly about black inferiority, and that message can’t be separated from the noble ideals.” 

She and 468 other faculty members and students signed a letter to Sullivan, asking her not to quote Jefferson.

“It did not circulate for very long, so I have heard from many people since the letter was publicized saying, ‘I wish I’d known.  I would have signed it.’  At a moment when there were, in fact, both explicit and implicit threats directed at students of color, at students from minority religious groups and other vulnerable populations on grounds, Jefferson was not only not the appropriate choice but understandably an offensive choice. ”  

Sullivan said she supports the right of students and faculty members to express their views, but quoting someone does not imply an endorsement of the social  beliefs of his time.  

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief