A letter signed by 469 students and professors at the University of Virginia on Friday objected to President Teresa Sullivan quoting Thomas Jefferson in an email.
The email in question came from President Sullivan on November 9th and urged for students to unite after such a contentious presidential election cycle that has caused discord and a wave of demonstrations across campuses nationwide.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” Sullivan stated in the email. “I encourage today’s UVa students to embrace that responsibility.”
Several professors who didn’t agree with Jefferson being quoted because he owned slaves wrote the letter, which garnered a total of 469 signatures from students and faculty. The letter represents students and faculty from many different disciplines, including psychology, history, political science and sociology, reported The Cavalier Daily.
“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”
Jefferson, who served as the third President of the United States, a U.S. vice president and secretary of state, founded the University of Virginia in 1819 and was involved with the University until his death in 1826. Although one of the professors stated that their intention was to “start a dialogue about how to be more inclusive,” many on campus and even political commentators on national television have criticized the letter as what one student called “another attempt at forcing political correctness.”
On Monday afternoon, President Sullivan responded to the letter, affirming her support for members of the university community to express their opinions.
“I fully endorse their right to speak out on issues that matter to all of us, including the University’s complicated Jeffersonian legacy,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We remain true to our values and united in our respect for one another even as we engage in vigorous debate.”
“Quoting Jefferson (or any historical figure) does not imply an endorsement of all the social structures and beliefs of his time,” Sullivan stated.
For their part, the Charlottesville campus has seen several incidents of violence or discord this election cycle, including two UVa police officers who were put on administrative leave after yelling “Make America Great Again” at students on campus.
Here at Wise, the election cycle remained rather calm, with little political involvement in general. Several debate watch parties and voter registration drives were held by the UVa-Wise Young Democrats and Phi Alpha Theta, but the campus remained uninvolved in the contentious cycle as a whole.
Post election, there have been several demonstrations on campus, including two Friday before and during the post-election forum held by Chancellor Donna Henry.