Darkness Descends upon Mr. Jefferson’s University

by James A. Bacon

In the previous post I gave a chronological account of how a classroom joke delivered by Associate Professor Jeffrey Leopold in University of Virginia business class exploded into a full-fledged racial controversy. The post was a straightforward, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative of what happened. I made every effort to give all sides of the story and to keep my opinions out of it. With this post, I’ll say what I think.

In the scale of injustice, the Leopold incident is trivial. A professor who knocks down a salary about twice the income of the average American household suffered personal embarrassment and was relieved from solo teaching of his class. He will go back to work. His life will return to normal. He did not die with a policeman’s knee pressing down on his neck.

But the story of how the drama unfolded tells volumes about the nature of race relations at the University of Virginia and, by extension, other elite institutions of higher education. The story illustrates the ever-morphing definition of what constitutes “racism,” the narrowing scope of what is permissible to say out loud, and how those who disagree with the cultural Marxist critique of America as a irredeemably racist nation are condemned and silenced as racists.

Those things are indisputable. But I would go farther. The Leopold incident reveals the depth of animosity that many minority students, especially African Americans, bear toward UVa. The young Asian woman who posted, “FUCK UVA” on the door of her lawn residence was not an outlier. She reflected the views of many on the grounds. The intellectual climate at UVa fosters the sense of minority victimhood and grievance. Perceived slights are viewed as acts of intolerable and unforgivable bigotry. Not only have the UVa administration and faculty allowed these sentiments to emerge but they have actively fostered the bitterness and resentment.

The consequences are tragic. Perceiving themselves as under continual assault by racist students and professors, many black students at UVa have retreated into an ethnic cocoon. And many whites, never knowing what innocent remark might cast them in the role of racist, are understandably wary about interacting with blacks. UVa, like many other elite higher-ed institutions, has become an incubator of racial misunderstanding, suspicion and animosity.

No, the joke was not racist. Let’s start with the the jest, which played on national and geographic stereotypes. The United Nations conducted a worldwide survey, asking, “Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?” The survey was a bust, went the gag. The Chinese didn’t know what “honest” means. Russians didn’t know what “opinions” were. Europeans didn’t know what shortage” meant. Americans didn’t know what “the rest of the world meant.” Africans didn’t know what “food” meant.

Leopold did not say “black people” didn’t know what food meant. He referred to Africa, a vast geographic region where, tragically, most of the world’s famines have occurred. According to the Wikipedia list of famines, the world has seen 21 famines in the past 50 years. Seventeen occurred in Africa. That’s just a fact. Maybe the joke was “insensitive,” but it wasn’t racist. And in none of the materials I reviewed has anyone explained how it is racist. Only if one makes the non-factual assumption that Africa = blacks (ignoring the presence of other races and considerable genetic variability among dark-skinned peoples), if one  dismisses the association of Africa with chronic food insufficiency, and if one overlooks the fact that the joke was an equal opportunity offender is it remotely possible to suggest that the punch line was racist.

In the University of Virginia today the person with the most exquisitely delicate sensibilities gets to determine what words are “insensitive” or “offensive.” The snowflakes set the boundaries of acceptable discourse. The boundaries of the impermissible expand by the day, and people often don’t discover the boundaries until after they transgress them and someone decides after the fact to make an issue of them. Of course, only some people’s sensibilities count. No one considers the sensibilities and feelings of, say, patriots appalled by insults to America, or fundamentalist Christians offended by assaults on their religious beliefs, or white people who object to being stereotyped as racist. Only the sensibilities of those on the ideological left are given weight. Anything can be — and is — said of conservatives without fear of repercussion.

Equally distressing, to put “Africans don’t know what food means” in the same category as use of the N-word, a term that is inextricably bound with the history of American racism, is simply absurd. We are witnessing Gresham’s Law (“bad money drives out good”) applied to rhetoric. When anything and everything can be construed as “racist” and can evoke the same emotional response as words that are indisputably racist, the term is as debased as Confederate currency. It ceases to make meaningful distinctions.

Intolerance of dissent. The discussion about the Africans-don’t-know-the-meaning-of-food quip revealed another attribute of contemporary discourse: the intolerance of dissenting views and the quashing of debate. The black militants supporting a resolution to track and punish racist comments by faculty members had no interest in discussing the matter. When Nick Cabrera, a first-year student of Puerto Rican ethnicity, questioned whether the joke could be called racist, other members of the UVa Student Council didn’t bother to explain themselves. Rather, they responded that non-blacks have no business arguing with blacks what racism is. If black people feel that it’s racist… it’s racist. If you don’t understand that… you’re racist.

One woman, Zyahna Bryant, was especially contemptuous. She felt no obligation to explain what was racist about Leopold’s remark. Such a task, she said, was too “exhausting” for her as a black woman to undertake. Cabrera should just “educate himself” by taking courses, of which there were an abundance at UVa. “If you want to be educated on that, don’t ask black women to do it. Take a class.” If you can’t vote in support of the resolution in solidarity with black students, she told Cabrera, “you don’t need to be a student leader. If you can’t talk about racism in a way that’s real and true, you don’t need to be a student leader.”

Cabrera asked how the “strike system” called for in the resolution would be administered. He expressed concerns about due process. Not one person on the 38-seat student council objected to Bryant’s dismissive logic or otherwise rose to the first-year’s defense.

The administration’s role. We have only hints of how the administration handled the controversy. I asked UVa to tell me about the process used to dig into the Leopold matter. Officials are restricted in what they can say about personnel matters, so the University had no comment other than to say that COMM 180 is being restructured as a team-taught course and that Leopold will return as a member of that team.

But there are hints of the administration’s role. In his letter of apology, Leopold said, “Over the past several days, and with counsel from McIntire leadership, I have reflected on my actions.” We don’t know what counsel he was given, but we do know that he made an abject apology.

We also know from Nma Okafor, head of the Organization of African Students, that the OAS received received an email from the Provost’s office “who wanted to open a dialogue for letting us know about the training that they (faculty members) are doing.” The university conducts yearly diversity and bias training for everyone teaching and assisting courses.

We also know from a message posted on the COMM 180 chat board that McIntire’s dean, Nicole Thorne Jenkins, was monitoring the controversy closely. Leopold’s defenders had better tread carefully, one student warned. “Names were given to the professor and the dean. … The university, given its history, does not make light of these situations. … The dean has shared with us that these views are not representative of the comm school. Many of the comments that have been shared (and documented) are in direct opposition to common school values.”

Update: A spokesperson for the McIntire School says that Jenkins had no personal interaction with the students to share views.  “Just because a student wrote so in a chat does not mean it happened.”

Clearly, the McIntire administration sided with the students who found Leopold’s joke “insensitive” and “offensive.” It appears that the dean leaned on him to issue a groveling apology.

Update: The McIntire School spokesperson said that the assertion that Jenkins “leaned on Professor Leopold to issue the apology” is “unfounded.”

Hatred for UVa undiminished. Although the militants can count on the UVa administration to side with them, that favoritism does not endear the institution to them. They have the litany down pat. Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder and a rapist. The university was built by slaves. The university is tainted by decades of discrimination and racism. All the institutional sins to which President Jim Ryan, his predecessors and their acolytes have flagellated the university over the years are thrown back at them. If they thought that they might win the appreciation of militant minorities by digging up and amplifying UVa’s past sins, they are severely deluded.

“We know what UVa is,” said Bryant during the student council meeting earlier this month. “We know that … hundreds of people were enslaved to build this university. We know that professors say the N-word all the time. We know that students say the N-word all the time. We know there hasn’t been a black female student council president since 2003.”

In a similar vein, student council member Jason Evans said, “Tenured professors have power. They cannot be fired unless they violated egregious laws. White men and women say racist shit and do not get fired. … Jeffrey Leopold was not tenured, but most of the professors are tenured. I’m sure a lot of them are racist.”

These are not the words of people who feel appreciative of their UVa experience. Marinating in the intellectual battery acid of progressive ideology, many minority students — by no means all, but enough to elect militants to the student council — have embraced victimhood and grievance. By reliving past injustices and catering to ever-mutating sensibilities, the mostly white UVa administrators have encouraged black students to build their identities around the suffering of their forebears and then bequeathed them moral power on the basis of that suffering. As black conservative Shelby Steele has written, militants see black suffering as a “moral power to be wielded rather than a condition to be overcome.”

Some blacks at UVa — I can’t say how many — self-segregate to seek succor for their wounded feelings. Rather than join mainstream UVa society, they retreat from it. Hyper-sensitive to micro-aggressions that nobody knows are micro-aggressions until after the fact, they discourage white students from taking the risk of fraternizing with them. Sadly, with the possible exception of their enablers in the administration, the African American militants at UVa are their own worst enemies.

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41 responses to “Darkness Descends upon Mr. Jefferson’s University

  1. One loves the little ironies of history as this unfolds at….Mr. Jefferson’s University.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese

    Jim: you did not capitalize “Blacks”…. look before you leave the house… the woke mob may be assembling!

  3. The “joke” told by the professor is off color and in poor taste and I think I would wince if I were in his class. Far more disturbing is the sense of entitlement in Jim Bacon’s critique of the situation.
    Why is it necessary to identify Hira Azher as “Asian?” Is she a U.S. citizen? Why is it necessary to identify another student as of “Puerto Rican ethnicity?” Why doesn’t Jim identify his own “ethnicity?” I don’t identify my own since I could list four different ones.
    Once again, it seems we have an older White man worried that Virginia and UVA are becoming more diverse. There may be a time when they are the minorities and they don’t like that.
    It could be Trumpism (which now seems definitely headed towards an end, Thank God!). Here’s a quote from a NYT column today by Jamelle Bouie that makes the point:
    “The Trump movement has never been about “populism” or the interests of working Americans. It has always and only been about the contours of our national community; who belongs and who doesn’t; who counts and who shouldn’t; who can wield power and who must be subject to it.”
    BTW Jim, you might want to contact the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University. They have an article about Ms. Azher’s sign and they mention Bacon’s Rebellion. If I read this correctly, they have you confronting Ms. Azher with a razor blade in your pocket. I thought that was somewhat else.

    https://freespeechproject.georgetown.edu/tracker-entries/university-of-virginia-defends-explicit-sign-on-students-residence-as-fr

    • The politics of non-people-of-color? No NPOC would dare take such action, have such thoughts!

      But, it is NOT Identity Politics.

      America! Love it or leave it! And when you go take someone with you and drop them off in the s-hole country from where they came!

    • Well, you see, Peter, it seems de rigueur these days for everyone at UVa to announce their social location. Thus, over the course of the student council debate, almost every one of the participants proclaimed their ethnic identity. Also, when speaking for the first time, they announce their preferred pronouns. Get with it, dude, you’re falling behind the times.

    • Peter, you make this harder than it needs to be.

      Jim describes the Orwellian political/social/academic hell into which much of the University has descended. The only difference between you and Jim: he regrets it; you like it. We all get that.

      You conveniently sweep all people that agree with Jim into the bin of “older white men.” Let’s say you forgot older white women, but we’ll clean that up and sweep them up with the same container. Pretty much like making high-achieving Asian heritage students honorary white kids to keep the critical race theory unblemished.

      But what are we to make of the situation:
      “When Nick Cabrera, a first-year student of Puerto Rican ethnicity, questioned whether the joke could be called racist, other members of the UVa Student Council didn’t bother to explain themselves. Rather, they responded that non-blacks have no business arguing with blacks what racism is. If black people feel that it’s racist… it’s racist. If you don’t understand that… you’re racist.”

      A first year. I guess we’ll make him an honorary older white man. Fortunately, he is young enough to be forced into some of Ms. Bryant’s “classes”. One presumes that the students in those “classes” will sit in shame circles, confess and plead for forgiveness. Too Maoist? OK, then they can sit alone in a cold room under a single light bulb and confess. More a Stalinist motif.

      One last note. It is impossible not to feel sad for whatever minority of black students are as “exhausted” and utterly miserable as Ms. Bryant. I hope she is getting help with that.

    • Get a grip Peter.

      The statements of the Student Council representatives shutting down any civil, open discourse are the epitome of Orwellian intolerance. The public groveling apology of Professor Orwell are reminiscent of the Stalin “truth” trials.

      I suggest you read or reread 1984. It was a fictitious novel when written in 1949, a thinly veiled condemnation of Marxism, foretelling what was then a surreal world in America of free speech suppression and monolithic thought control. It appears it is now approaching reality at UVA and our college campuses.

      You are entitled to your opinion, and I respect that. I believe in free speech and open discourse, unlike the UVA Student Council. Make no mistake about it, I strongly agree with Jim Bacon’s core premises. I also strongly believe you are dead wrong.

  4. Baconator with extra cheese

    Peter lectures about identifying people then goes straight to… “older White man”.
    So awesome!

  5. Baconator with extra cheese

    As an “older White man”, but I prefer “Non-POC”, I agree I will stay out of all matters… and so will my money.
    I suggest others do the same.

  6. UVA now reaps what it has very intentionally sown over the past decade, since 2012 at least. The angry students here are confronting UVA with the very same toxic garbage they have been taught at UVA. Even more shameful is the obvious fact that no one at UVA, student, professor, or administrator, knows how to, or has the courage to, respond. The entire institution is held captive by a small group of angry children. This is classic example of a gross failure of leadership. Heads need to roll at UVA.

    • Baconator with extra cheese

      I’ll add that since the University is standing behind students accusing professors of racism then the school and those professors should face a Federal investigation to determine if these claims are founded. If the claims are founded and federal laws were broken then all associated with and enabling these “racist’ professors should be eliminated from the University.
      Dr Governor Coonman and AG DJ Blackface should at once investigate and ask the feds to come in.
      These claims are easily on par with the VMI claims. I mean professors just walking around throwing “N-bombs”… I had no idea UVA was a bastion of White Supremacists.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    When do the politicians weigh in with Mr. Northam and Mr. Herring? Looks like a VMI special treatment in the making.

  8. One woman hangs a sign on a door seen by 100s.
    One blog keeps hanging the same sign dozens of times to be seen by 10s of 1000s.

    Good job!

    Okay the 1000s may have been an exaggeration.

  9. Short anecdote: I have been following this story with interest since I have connections to UVA, both professional and personal. From the portrayal in this blog, you would think that the topic of racial politics is top of mind at the University of Virginia and that everyone at UVA would be aware of the “sign on the lawn” incident. That is not the case. Interested in her opinion, I asked my daughter, a third-year, what she thought of the sign controversy. She was unaware there had been an incident and shrugged at the news. I believe her response was something the the effect that “the lawn rooms had all sorts of signs.”

    • Interesting feedback. It’s encouraging to know that most people are going about their business not embroiled in the culture wars.

      • I suspect Mr. Moore is totally correct and this is a Big Deal only in Bacon’s World and perhaps among some of the donors….It certainly should not be news to any college instructor by now that any joke is dangerous, and jokes about racial identities or national stereotypes are deadly. The one thing obvious about the Woke is zero sense of humor. When they lock us all up the guards will be a serious and humorless lot….Gawd, it may be some of those self-absorbed idiots Bacon quoted at length. They won’t get real jobs….

        We’ll invent a camp code with old routines from the Marx Brothers and Monty Python. Humor goes right past them.

        • “I asked … a third-year, what she thought of the sign controversy. She was unaware there had been an incident and shrugged at the news. I believe her response was something the the effect that “the lawn rooms had all sorts of signs.”

          That of course is quite typical. 98% of us have little idea as to what in fact and of importance is going on around us, even under our nose. Hence the need for a decent college education so that others more aware don’t eat our lunch, thanks to our ignorance.

          Remember Christmas? Has it disappeared at UVA? Have the folks at UVA got their own light show on the Lawn now instead, a kind of flickering, blazing Conley Island Amusement Park that celebrates themselves at UVA, akin to the one that the Great Gatsby made so famous in those earlier times of grand dissolution?

          It seems that way if one considers President’s Ryan’s last year “Holiday Message.” Straight from his den in his mansion just remodeled at public cost for $14 million, it’s a full hour long, and its totally silent. Why? Is it totally silent so we can better adore him, his very select administrators, faculty, and students, whether they be eating cookies, or worshiping their trophies or Ryan’s Book (Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions), as they all otherwise show themselves off, for us all to adore them?

          Or consider the next faculty member who utters on the Grounds his or her seriously considered belief that white folks by nature are not systemic racists, or that Thomas Jefferson was a great man, or that critical race theory takes us back to tribal times before the rise of Western Civilization.

          This is not the Marx Brothers and Monty Python. Humor goes right past them.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            What the Student Council debate at UVA tells us in a nutshell is that the Grounds at UVA are socially toxic and dysfunctional, a cesspool where free inquiry, expression, exchange of views and debate, are utterly impossible. Thanks to UVA’s cesspool environment, these student leaders collectively act as social and civic morons.

            Why would you pay to send your children to such a place for any reason, much less for an education? Much less pay for such a horrible result? The jig is up.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Ask a student active in conservative politics and you will get a different story

    • Politics, for the most part, is a vast, flat, and barren wasteland of minor, mostly unnoticed, irritations.

      It is the job of the political opinion writer to correct this.

      • Minor, unnoticed irritations. So that’s why the President of UVa met with a couple of disgruntled undergraduates and let them chew him out, record the meeting and play it back on the radio. Thanks for clearing that up.

        • Compared to the loss of Open Skies? You tell me.

        • One party consent state.

        • Okay, I get,. Your sensibilities have been smitten. This was all horrible behavior.

          But here’s a question. If you could have your way, march this girl about the quad, have her make an impassioned act of contrition, have Ryan expell her and brush this professor’s joke aside, would you want to be black?

          • Patently absurd question. No one should want to be black? We whites should be happy as clams for our skin color and blacks forever depressed for theirs?

            My God, do you understand how patronizing that sounds? The world cannot and should not be divided any longer into tribes. That works both ways.

            America is also a nation now unequivocally predicated upon equal opportunity. Not equal outcome.

          • So, you’re white.

  10. Baconator with extra cheese

    Nope. They just empower the Culture War through their ignorance or “head in the sand” philosophy of life.
    It is our duty as citizens to pay attention to what our politicians say.
    For instance I think Amanda Chase is just as crazy and politically dangerous as Bernie Sanders. If the GOP nominates her they will get nothing from me.
    People who remain ignorant of the message/ intent of their candidates by default prop up insane and idiotic movements.

  11. Tell stupid jokes win stupid prizes.

  12. Baconator with extra cheese

    My suggestion for all male Non-POCs is to simply try to not engage to the maximum extent possible at work.
    Use no pronouns, do not smile or frown, do not share anything personal, have no stickers on your car or Gadsen plates, nothing personal in your cube or office, no jokes, pretty much wear headphones to and from your desk.
    There is at a minimum one person at work who is actively looking to be baptized into the cult of victimhood…. do not be their ticket. With glee they will burn you at the stake to have intesting banter on social media.

  13. Yes, Jim, you do have a point. I am behind the times. I think the problem is that older people like us assume that people from more diverse backgrounds will assimilate. That makes them more acceptable. But it seems that younger people may not want to assimilate to what is considered the old standard. And, having lived in another country and culture, I remember how the fact that I was an American was not always considered a great thing.
    As far as the “F” word, that stopped being a shocker back when I was in high school. (See Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock). I agree with Nancy Naive that you are strangely giving the matter too much attention. Who cares what a college kid puts up on the door?

  14. Capt. Sherlock. You never heard the “F” word in the Navy?

  15. Capt. Sherlock. You never heard the “F” word in the Navy?

    • Heard? He’s a brown shoe, so just not on the radio.

    • He probably didn’t hear a seaman use the word as a verb applied to his own ship. At least not more than once. That is one amazing thing about this, these are highly privileged students at a prime university taking up slots others would love to have, others who would appreciate what it meant.

      • “these are highly privileged students at a prime university taking up slots others would love to have, others who would appreciate what it meant.”

        Sounds like the choice of workin’ the field, or serving at the table. How Southern!

        For the record, USS Opportune was lovingly called “The Sloppy Tunes” by most of the crew, and a few of the officers. Yeah, I’ll wager some ships get the full noun, verb, and adjective treatment.

  16. Steve, here’s an anecdote if you will indulge me. Back in the 1970s when I was at the Pilot, the USS Detroit, a fast combat support ship, went from its home port in Norfolk to Bath, Me. for an overhaul at Bath Iron Works. Some of the sailors loved Bath because the people were nice to them, invited them to dinner and so on. They hated Norfolk because it was all tacky massage parlors and rip-off bars. So what did they do? They tossed beads into some gears when the ship was set to go back to Norfolk. They delayed the sailing. At the time, the Pilot had money so they flew me to Maine to cover the story. Big Investigation by Navy into “F” this ship.

  17. Pingback: Online Articles That May Be of Interest to JBHE Readers : The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

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