UVa Needs to Shut Down the Echo Chamber

Joel Gardner, Undergraduate class of 1970; Law School class of 1974.

The following passage is the second excerpt from a letter written by Joel Gardner, author of “From Rebel Yell to Revolution,” to University of Virginia President Jim Ryan. We published the first excerpt  yesterday. — JAB

Without being able to accurately substantiate the following with specific facts and figures … I believe there are virtually no Republicans or conservatives among the top members of your administration. including deans. Our faculty is probably not much more diverse. I have heard renowned former University professor Jonathan Haidt speak … at a Jefferson Scholar event at Darden about four years ago. At that time he had a chart that showed that about 60% of college faculty are liberal/far left, 30% moderate and 10% conservative/ far right. I have no reason to believe the breakdown is any different at UVa. This is way out of line with the breakdown of thought diversity in the population at large.

This was not always the case. When I was a student, the faculty was split about 50/50 in ideology. In fact, a vote to ban ROTC from the Grounds drew a tie vote in the faculty senate. Until recently, there were a number of deans who were in the relatively conservative camp — Law, Batten and Commerce. This no longer the case. Until recently there was a mix of Republicans and Democrats on the BOV. But with Democrat governors in the statehouse since 2014, there are no longer any Republican appointees on the Board. The result in effect is one party rule on Grounds — and as we all know, one party rule is never healthy. Without meaningful debate and exchange of opposing ideas there is little opportunity to digest other viewpoints and even less motivation to compromise.

A clear example of the above is the history of the Racial Equity Task Force. After the tragic death of George Floyd, you initially issued a statement that was measured and well balanced. But measured and balanced was not what the woke mob wanted. After being attacked by the social justice multitudes, you quickly folded, reissued a new compliant statement and created the Racial Equity Task Force to redress the alleged inequities of alleged systemic racism at the University. In determining what, if any, systemic racism exists and how to address it, you appointed three like-minded members of the faculty and administration to head the task force. Incredibly, two of the three appointees had not been at the University for even a year at the time of their appointment. Their institutional knowledge of the University was basically non-existent.

The resulting recommendations of the task force — the renaming of four spaces at the University, removal of a statue of an American hero who had no nexus to slavery or segregation, the contextualization of Mr. Jefferson, the request for millions of $$ to go to that new cottage industry known as diversity and equity, etc. — represented the holy grail of the political social justice agenda. Not surprisingly, the echo chamber that constitutes your administration and the BOV essentially rubber stamped the recommendations.

Having been in communication with a multitude of alumni in recent weeks, I can tell you that the anger directed at these unnecessary political actions runs as deep or deeper than the reaction to the Lawn door fiasco. Of course, this does not by any means represent all or perhaps even most alumni reaction — and that is as it should be. Well meaning and intelligent people have different points of view. But that is my point here — the task force leadership did not represent a meaningful diversity of points of view. Sure, they asked for community input, but we all know what weight that has. It was important that real differences of opinions be seated at the table for that discussion — and that was not the reality. Perhaps if that had been, the task force recommendations would have been more balanced and would not have divided our community the way it has. And that is true for all major committees and task forces going forward. They should be well balanced and non-political.

So here are my recommendations in this regard:

  1. You should commit to ensuring thought diversity at the University by setting goals for hiring a significant number of more conservative faculty members and senior administrators. A goal of reaching a third of those bodies is very realistic. DO YOU AGREE? IF NOT, WHY NOT?
  2. You should make sure that diverse viewpoints are  meaningfully represented on all major committees and task forces. In addition to faculty members and administrators, you have a deep reservoir of committed and loyal alumni who I am sure would be willing to serve the University.
  3. While you have no control of BOV membership, you should recommend that diverse views be presented in person to the Board on all major issues. Again, there are many alumni who could fill this roll if there is a dearth of faculty members or administrators to do so.