UVa Staff, Students to President: Stop Quoting Jefferson

Teresa Sullivan was trying to unite community after election, but quote backfired
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 15, 2016 8:43 AM CST
UVa Staff, Students to President: Stop Quoting Jefferson
UVa president Teresa Sullivan during a University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting on May 19, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va.   (Andrew Shurtleff/The Daily Progress via AP)

"Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today" was one of Thomas Jefferson's "canons of conduct," and so faculty and students at the college he founded, the University of Virginia, wasted little time in responding to an email from the school's president that quoted POTUS No. 3. Per the Cavalier Daily, the school's student paper, President Teresa Sullivan sent out a Nov. 9 email to address the presidential election, calling on the university community to unite after the contentious election. "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,'" she wrote in her message, imploring students to "embrace that responsibility."

But while the quote itself may be inspirational, its source owned slaves and espoused other racist views. A rebuttal letter crafted by university professors that garnered 469 signatures (from both faculty and students) was sent noting that Sullivan's inclusion of the quote from Jefferson "undermines the message of unity, equality, and civility that you are attempting to convey," especially in the wake of what the Richmond Times-Dispatch calls "identity-related hate speech" incidents that have taken place recently. Sullivan's response: her use of a Jefferson quote doesn't mean she endorses "all the social structures and beliefs of his time." Still, she acknowledges the letter-signers' "right to speak out on issues that matter to all of us, including the University's complicated Jeffersonian legacy." (Got $325,000? Buy a Jefferson letter.)

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