Cavalier Daily Reveals Real Motive for Vilifying Bert Ellis

by James A. Bacon

As a critical vote approaches in the Virginia state senate, The Cavalier Daily has doubled down on its denunciation of Bert Ellis, and in so doing has revealed its real motive for campaigning to block his appointment to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors: Ellis represents a threat to Business As Usual at UVa.

In a Jan. 28 column, the Editorial Board rehashed its absurdly one-sided portrayal of Ellis’ actions as a member of the University Union 50 years ago and the two-and-a-half-year-old thought crime of intending, but never following through, to use a razor blade to cut down the infamous “F— UVA” sign on the door of a Lawn resident. The editors have persisted in their cherry-picking of facts despite the publication of multiple articles providing the full context of these incidents. (To refresh yourself on the details click here.) 

The Cavalier Daily is not engaging in journalism. The editorial, like its previous articles and editorials libeling Ellis as a racist and homophobe, is a partisan polemic. Sadly, as the student newspaper’s charges have been amplified by the UVa Student Council and Faculty Senate and propagated through social media and the rumor mill, they have inspired Democratic Party opposition in the General Assembly to the confirmation of Ellis, who was nominated by Governor Glenn Youngkin last June.

Normally, Virginia’ governors’ nominations for state boards and commissions are lumped together in a single bill and approved en masse. This year, two of Youngkin’s nominations have been stripped out for separate confirmation: State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, who has expressed skepticism of “systemic racism” as a cause of racial differences in racial health outcomes, and Ellis.

Why has Ellis been singled out? Why the grotesque misrepresentations? Why have the CD‘s allegations transmogrified into claims so outrageous that even the CD would not recognize them — for instance, that Ellis used a razor blade to assault the young woman who penned the F— UVA sign?

Militant leftists perceive Ellis as a threat to their stranglehold on UVa’s culture and power structures.

The Cavalier Daily’s editors frame the underlying issue as preservation of student self-governance:

Ellis … poses a threat to this University’s tradition of student self-governance. The Board is responsible for licensing our entire system of student self-governance, in part by creating contracts with special status organizations. Any individual appointed to oversee our system should not be opposed to its basic tenets. When these organizations have strayed from Ellis’ narrow conception of acceptable behavior, he has been quick to undermine and attack their efforts. From the condescending language used to criticize the University Guide Service to his plea to encourage the Board to subvert the will of the student body in last spring’s Honor referendum, it is clear that Ellis only cares about the promulgation of his personal views here on Grounds. Such a self-serving mindset is ill-suited to the work students are doing to push the University forward and prepare ourselves to be citizen leaders in the process.

“We deserve better than Bert,” intones the article’s headline. “It’s time for leaders in Richmond to stand up on our behalf.”

What arrogance. The Cavalier Daily doesn’t speak for the student body. It speaks for the clique of militant leftists that have taken over the institutions of student self-governance. As executive director of The Jefferson Council, I have had the opportunity to interact with many students who dissent from leftist orthodoxy. They’re voiceless and disempowered. One might say, to borrow a word that is au courant on college campuses these days, marginalized.

As an institution, The Cavalier Daily itself answers to no one. Its editorial staff is a progressive clique in which senior editors, as they graduate, hand off power to the next generation of progressives. It now functions as an enforcement arm of leftist ideology on the grounds.

Student Council is dominated by student militants because so much of university culture now revolves around identity groups recognized and subsidized by the university: Blacks, Latinos, Asians, foreign students, feminists, LGBQTs, etc. These organized groups get out the vote for leftist identitarian candidates in student elections, while other student organizations respond to increasing intolerance by retreating into apathy and disengagement. Other institutions of student government, from the Student Judiciary to the Honor Council, come little closer to representing the full spectrum of views held by UVa students than The Cavalier Daily or Student Council.

Ironically, Ellis is the best friend that most students will ever have in the Board of Visitors. He does represent a threat to the status quo, especially to UVa’s bloated administration, its mind-numbing red tape, its rampant inefficiencies, and a cost structure that requires in-state undergraduates to fork over $36,000 to $87,000 a year in tuition, fees, room and board, depending upon year, school, and in-/out-of-state residence. Ellis joins a handful of other board members who are serious about bringing tuition costs under control. If students knew more than the Snidely Whiplash version of Ellis they read in The Cavalier Daily’s screeds, they might even appreciate what he is doing on their behalf.

Meanwhile, you can count on CD editors to ignore the issue that matters to most students — the cost of attendance — while pursuing their ideological agenda.

Full disclosure: Jim Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council, of which Bert Ellis is president.