Students at the University of Virginia, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, are asking administrators to pass a resolution that would prevent faculty from quoting the third president of the United States.
Students at the University of Virginia drafted a letter in response to the use of a Jefferson quote in a recent community email sent by University President Teresa Sullivan.
In the email, Sullivan referenced a remark Jefferson made to a friend in a letter, in which he wrote that University of Virginia students would become influential leaders in American society. “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.”
Many in the University of Virginia community rejected the use of Jefferson’s writing in the email, arguing that he should be left out of university procedures all together because of the fact that he owned slaves.
The letter argued that quoting Jefferson undermines the school’s value of unity, equality and civility: “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.”
“I think that Jefferson is often celebrated for his accomplishments with little or no acknowledgement of the atrocities he committed against hundreds of human beings,” said assistant psychology professor Noelle Hurd, who helped to draft the letter.
University of Virginia Politics professor Lawrie Balfour felt that the use of Jefferson’s quote was insensitive, especially given Donald Trump’s victory in last week’s presidential election. “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 the administrators and others are trying to do,” Balfour said.
Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity for Breitbart. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org