by Walter Smith
A few months ago, Jim Bacon wrote an article asking, What’s the Matter with Charlottesville?
My answer: UVa.
Charlottesville used to be the proverbial sleepy, college town in a beautiful setting, blessed by a rich history centered around a giant of the Western world. The University of Virginia stuck to educating students and making sure they didn’t unduly embarrass the school. Town-gown tension was real. Townies would go to frat parties. Students would venture off Grounds where “real people” lived. But bad things rarely happened. And when they did, as when Katie Worsky was abducted and murdered, the whole area came together. No, Charlottesville wasn’t perfect. No place with humans can be. But it was a good place to be.
Today, UVa under President Jim Ryan purports to be “great and good,” determined to make an impact on the world around it. Through lavishly endowed programs, the university actively exports its new religion of Wokism to Charlottesville and points beyond. The race-obsessed progressives who dominate local politics have turned the once well-run city into a showcase of government dysfunction.
The “transformation” of UVa has been gradual and a long time coming, but under Ryan it has reached an inflection point. You don’t erase racism by judging everything by race. You don’t build a community by separating people over their differences. All the while, a feckless Board of Visitors rubber stamps Ryan’s lunacy, allowing him to destroy the very institution they are entrusted with governing.
I graduated from UVa with three degrees “earned” over the period 1975 to 1984. I remember only one overtly political comment in any class. It occurred the day after Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. The contracts professor teaching first-year Law students consoled himself with the observation that at least the local Congressional representative had won. (Dan Daniel was the only Congressional Democrat to win in Virginia that year.) Nearly the entire class applauded his statement.
Reticence about openly expressing one’s political views is as antiquated as the coats-and-ties dress code.
I have searched the Federal Election Commission (FEC) contributor database for individuals listing “University of Virginia” and “UVA” as their employers. (Note: the same individual can account for more than one contribution.) Here’s what I found.
1980 election cycle: ZERO contributions.
1984 cycle: 2 Democrat contributions, 1 Republican.
1988 cycle: five contributions totaling $5,000. Two went to Chuck Robb from two different individuals. One went from an individual to Porter Goss. One individual made two contributions to Amory Houghton. Total: 3 Rs, 2 Ds.
1992 cycle: 20 D contributions for $11,050 and 5 R for $3,500.
1996 cycle, 11 D contributions for $3,710 and 36 R (23 by one individual) for $14,100.
2000 cycle: 47 D contributions, 53 R, and 9 Libertarian for a total of $56,308.
For subsequent elections, I searched only for those listing “University of Virginia” as their employer. Those searches yielded the following:
2004 cycle: 510 D contributions for $121,992, 2 L for $1,000 (same lonely guy as the previous cycle!), and 38 R for $19,238.
What could have possibly caused at least a 5X increase in contributions? Bush v. Gore? Remember Democrats contesting the 2004 election? “Stealing” Ohio?
2008 cycle: 2,135 D for $359,404, 30 L for $11,860 (our Lonely Libertarian had company this cycle), and 101 R for $32,061.
2012 cycle: 4,276 D for $521,861, 33 L for $3,694 and 153 R for $63,464. Obama inspired ActBlue as a collection vehicle and Republicans later would create WinRed.
2016 cycle: 8,370 D for $446,956, 2 lonely Green, our Lonely Libertarian, and 144 R for $27,057.
Judging by the surge in campaign contributions, one can fairly conclude that UVa morphed over this period into an institution no longer focused on education and the dissemination of knowledge, but an institution absolutely riven with politics as its raison de etre.
Jim Ryan’s “Great and Good” opus is a political document. It starts from the implicit, unstated assumption that prior to him UVa may have been “great,” but it wasn’t “good.” To be “good,” UVa must be transformed into Jim Ryan’s vision of an educator of global citizens. The object is no longer to follow truth wherever it may lead, but to erase all the past “sins” of UVa and its founding and founders, as determined by the Woke religion.
As John McWhorter has noted in “Woke Racism,” Wokism is a religion without forgiveness. It is not intended to heal or to improve the condition of the so-called “victims” of systemic racism, it is to stoke division and to wield power. If there isn’t a wound to pull the scab off of, Wokism creates new ones.
Ryan created a Racial Equity Task Force, and the Board of Visitors agreed to commit nearly $1 billion to “racial equity,” including renaming buildings, removing statues and “contextualizing” those few bits of history allowed to remain. When 4th-year student Hira Azher posted an obscene message on her Lawn door, the Ryan administration defended on free-speech grounds, going so far as to have “ambassadors” defend her door. The resulting outrage among alumni prompted Ryan to appoint a “free speech” committee, which created a lukewarm defense of freedom of speech that Ryan and the feckless Board “unequivocally” adopted.
The “unequivocal” support for free speech is a fig leaf. I have been to court three times to obtain documents from the committee, with no luck so far. Meanwhile, in the last two years since COVID-19, have we seen any faculty or staff protesting intrusive COVID policies, Big Tech censorship, the unilateral rule of Governors and bureaucracies, the violation of civil liberties — my body, my choice anyone? — the DHS classification of MDM as a domestic threat, and now Justin Trudeau’s unilateral suspension of contracts and banking over a real peaceful protest? Law school students would have raised a ruckus in my time. But today? Nary a peep. Politically, UVA is a monolith. The few professors who are not “Woke” fear that speaking will lead to professional destruction.
And now, aggravating the imbalance in “political affiliation,” UVa is implementing a DEI component in faculty peer review. Where is the outrage at the compelled speech? Where is the oversight? Where is the respect for Jefferson’s legacy? The 5% or so of professors who have not adopted Wokism as their religion and have somehow slipped through the cracks either will be forced to lie or endorse statements with which they do not agree to survive in a position they worked extremely hard to get.
UVa is awash in money, but it is being destroyed historically and as an educational institution. The BOV has been derelict, particularly over the last 20 years. UVa is not alone. Other Virginia universities I checked showed similar imbalances in political contributions.
That imbalance is also reflected currently in the ungovernability of Charlottesville. UVa dominates the city academically and culturally. Ideologies originating in the “gown” have spilled into the “town,” generating rancor and solving nothing.
UVa needs to get back to education. The political imbalance must be addressed, free speech and vigorous debate must be re-instated, bureaucratic bloat must be cut, and costs must be brought down. It took 40 years to reach this nadir; let us hope correction will not take as long. If for no other reason for the “Townies” of Charlottesville!
Walter Smith is an attorney living in Henrico County.