IF diversity is our strength, the glaring lack of it at the University of Virginia is a significant weakness, as evidenced by the reaction to the recent hiring of Marc Short, former legislative affairs director for President Donald Trump, at U.Va.’s Miller Center for Public Affairs.
“Marc is widely respected in both parties,” center CEO and director William Antholis said in announcing Short’s yearlong paid academic fellowship. Short “can help Miller Center scholars better understand the Trump presidency and the challenges facing American politics.”
He added that “we had the privilege of getting to know Marc through the presidential transition and the Trump administration’s first year, and have been impressed by his professionalism, effectiveness, and collegiality.”
But collegiality was not on the menu at U.Va. History professors William Hitchcock and Melvyn Leffler resigned in protest, and more than 2,500 faculty and alumni signed a petition protesting Short’s hiring.
“While we do not object to dialogue with members of this administration, we do object to the use of our university to clean up their tarnished reputations,” the petition stated. “No one should be serving at the highest levels of this administration, daily supporting and defending its actions one week, then representing U.Va. the next.”
The petition specifically noted the signers’ anger at Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year, when a woman and two state troopers were killed. However, Antholis said that the violence was one of the reasons he hired the longtime Republican operative and alumnus of U.Va.’s Darden School of Business.
“Last year’s abhorrent events in Charlottesville were a regular point of reference. They remain searing, as I personally witnessed the hate and hurt brought to our community. Our Governing Council issued a sharp denunciation of the perpetrators of those events—one that Marc has read and embraced,” Antholis explained in a statement. “Indeed, that context drove me to make this appointment.
“Obviously, this appointment is squarely in our core work of studying the presidency. Marc’s experience and expertise only strengthens our ability to understand and explain this administration, including in its most difficult and divisive moments. It is particularly important that, at a moment of intense political polarization, we try to better understand one another’s viewpoints and, if possible, work to bridge our political divide.”
Instead of working to bridge the political divide, media studies professor Siva Vaidhyanathan told the Washington Post that Short “is not a decent moral person and he has acted dishonorably. People who support family separation on the border should not be welcomed in what we used to call polite society, let alone be members of this university community.”
But families were also separated at the border during the Obama administration. Does that mean that former Obama administration officials, such as the Miller Center’s Melody Barnes and Chris Lu, should not be welcome at U.Va. either?
Despite the backlash, Antholis bravely defended his decision, noting that Short brings “a missing critical voice” to the center’s scholarly pursuits, which focus on presidential history and to that end, employs former members of the last five administrations.
However, it’s disturbing that so many other members of the U.Va. community apparently do not believe that a university should be a place of spirited civil debate and intellectual and ideological diversity, but rather an exclusive club that admits only people who think the way they do.
That kind of close-mindedness tarnishes the reputation of Mr. Jefferson’s university as well as their own.