AVU students denounce new board member
Reckless. Insulting. Objectionable. Below the bare minimum.
This is how the University of Virginia student government, the student newspaper and a group of students, the University Democrats, described a new member of the university’s board of visitors, Bert Ellis, in separate statements. but critical in recent months. They see Ellis, CEO of a private equity firm and president of UVA’s conservative alumni organization, the Jefferson Council, as a threat to the progress the university has made in recent years. All three groups have called for Ellis’ resignation.
“As the University continues to grapple with its history of slavery, racism and eugenics, the appointment of Mr. Ellis is not only regressive, but also directly insulting to countless students and student organizations who have worked without release to make Charlottesville fairer,” said the University Democrats wrote in a statement co-signed by the Virginia Democratic Party.
Ellis and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who nominated him, have so far resisted calls for his removal from the board. Ellis was one of the first four Republican governor nominees to the university’s board of trustees this summer. The majority of the 17 board members could be appointed by Youngkin within the next two years. Board members serve four-year terms under appointments by the governor that are subject to confirmation by state lawmakers.
“Our school is a place to ‘develop the full potential of talented students from all walks of life,’ not a battleground where alumni harass students and wage ideological warfare,” the student council executive board wrote. University of Virginia in a statement. statement referring to an incident involving Ellis confronting a student.
Youngkin dismissed the student newspaper reports, The Daily Rider, which documented how Ellis helped bring eugenicist William Shockley to campus in February 1975 for an academic debate when Ellis was a student and president of the University Union, the group that organized student events. (UVA was the intellectual home of Virginia’s eugenics movement in the early 20th century.) Ellis also turned down a request from what was then the Gay Student Union in March 1975 to co-sponsor a conference by gay rights activist Frank Kameny , according Daily Rider archives.
“His [homosexuality] not a highly valued issue at the University,” Ellis told the newspaper. “It would not help the position and prestige of the University Union.”
youngkin said The Washington Post that he had not seen the articles but suggested that Ellis’ actions in the 1970s should not be judged by today’s standards.
Ellis and Youngkin did not respond to requests for comment.
Some current students say Ellis’ more recent behavior is disqualifying for board membership. Ellis criticized AVU’s efforts to make the campus more inclusive and mocked a student-led effort earlier this year to reform the college honor system and add other sanctions, other than the expulsion, in case of violation.
“This is our only opportunity to change/reverse the path of enlightenment that has overtaken our entire university,” Ellis wrote in a post on the Jefferson Council website. “Meanwhile, we still have a ton of work to do to combat the continued and ongoing onslaught of the entrenched DEI bureaucracy at the AVU.”
When Ellis took issue with a profane poster on a dorm room door in 2020, he decided to take matters into his own hands. The student wrote “Fuck UVA” on the poster, which faced the college quad, along with other college critics.
Ellis described in a post on a conservative blog how he traveled to Charlottesville to speak with the student who wrote the comment on the poster and brought a small razor blade with him to remove the offensive language. Two public safety ambassadors stationed near the hall told Ellis that using the razor would be considered malicious damage to university property and a violation of the student’s First Amendment rights. Ellis then did not use the razor.
“Whether Ellis used his blade or not, whether Ellis threatened the student directly or not, his conduct is reprehensible,” the UVA student council statement read. “Ellis’s erratic behavior and blatant disregard for student welfare is unbecoming of University leadership and has no place in our University community.”
Other newspaper statements and editorials against Ellis also mentioned the razor blade incident.
Eva Surovell, editor-in-chief of The Daily Ridersaid what is happening at AVU is an example of the battles being waged over public education policies and campus culture wars across the country.
“We’re just not unique in that the truly conservative voices are nostalgic for a time when women, blacks and other people of color were either banned or far fewer here at UVA,” he said. she declared.
Walter Heinecke, president of the UVA chapter of the American Association of University Teachers, said he heard faculty members’ concerns about Ellis’ appointment and how it might affect academic freedom on campus. The chapter has not yet adopted a formal position, but Heinecke expects the issue to be discussed at an upcoming meeting.
“From my personal perspective, not representing the AAUP Chapter, I am concerned about this issue and fully support the students’ concerns and actions they deem necessary to correct the issue,” Heinecke said. .
During his campaign for governor, Youngkin did not give many details about his higher education plans. But since his inauguration, he has pushed for more control over the state community college system’s search for a new chancellor, told college presidents to hire professors “with diverse political perspectives” and called on all public colleges and universities to reverse planned tuition increases. Only UVA did not acquiesce to this request – a decision that Youngkin called “disappointing”, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Youngkin’s attorney general also fired top lawyers from UVA and George Mason University shortly after the governor took office.
Jon Becker, professor of higher education leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the newly politicized climate at AVU is not unique, and other higher education institutions in the state are also experiencing a similar dynamics under Republican governors who aggressively attack university policies and practices with which they disagree. and administrators and professors they deem too liberal.
“We see in other states, state-level officials, governors and other people who have an unusually high interest in governance and academic affairs,” he said. “Places like Florida, where they get involved in hiring and firing faculty. Although we are not quite there in Virginia, one is beginning to wonder if this is part of an effort by Governor Youngkin and others to take more control of university affairs in a way that the governors hadn’t in the past or state officials hadn’t in the past.
Virginia’s public colleges and universities are overseen by their respective boards of trustees rather than a statewide agency. Becker said this decentralized system makes board appointments more important.
“The boards of every institution are very important and have important work to do, and so they need to be able to do it with as much credibility as possible,” he said. The Board of Visitors will hold its first full business meeting with the four new appointees next week.
Becker said Ellis’ appointment does not appear “well vetted and thoughtful” and that controversy over him could disrupt the functioning of the board, overshadow his work and undermine his credibility.
“Boards have a very important job to do, especially on these days when finances are tight,” he said. “They have a very important fiduciary responsibility to the university, and you want their work done with as much credibility as possible.”