I’m writing to extend my compliments on your magazine’s excellent coverage of the debate that occurred last fall when President Sullivan invoked Mr. Jefferson’s words in an attempt to provide guidance and calm the emotional turmoil many felt surrounding the election [“Unquoting Jefferson,” Spring 2017]. … I was struck by the remarkable poise and erudition of the viewpoints exchanged, and even more by the courteous tone and aspirational themes presented by all sides of the discussion, a quality sadly lacking in public discourse of late. The thoughtful commentary was wonderful, and made me even prouder than normal to be a graduate of the University.
The discussion was especially poignant for me personally, as I am currently serving in Afghanistan. Those same questions the Founding Fathers strove to answer, and Mr. Jefferson so elegantly described, regarding governance and fundamental human rights are very much at the heart of the struggles I see every day here in Kabul. Moral complexity is abundant in our work in this theater, as the burdens of history weigh heavily on the Afghan people. Many of their heroes and leaders were, or are, complicated persons with legacies that defy easy categorization. A disinterested observer might be forgiven for giving in to cynicism and only seeing the systemic corruption and machinations of the various power brokers, but this would be a disservice to the millions of Afghan men and women who wake up every morning and, in the face of incredible hardship, strive to make a better future for their children. So instead of giving in, I tell my team to focus on the good works being done.
… It makes me smile to realize that even 24 years after leaving UVA, I can still hear the echoes of the lessons learned there in my everyday work now. I can only hope that if I were called on to take part in an exchange similar to that which occurred on the Grounds last fall, I could do so with a quarter of the wisdom and insight of President Sullivan and Professor [Noelle M.] Hurd.
Capt. H.W. Weinstock
USN (Col ’93) Kabul, Afghanistan
I just read the wonderful article “Unquoting Jefferson” for the second time. As contretemps go, this one seemed to be substantive and well-handled. To the disagreement: I think UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan’s quoting Jefferson was appropriate, although why she found the need to do so in the days immediately before and after the election of President Trump reflects unfavorably on the university she leads. And UVA Assistant Professor Hurd’s (and her 468 co-signers’) response to Ms. Sullivan had merit, but it illuminated the continuing erosion of tolerance in our time. …
I wonder if Ms. Hurd or any of her 468 co-signers have ever quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a tribune of all things good and righteous, a “moral compass” of his day. If so, did they do so “because” of his legacy, which included serial plagiarism and adultery, or “despite” it, to use Ms. Hurd’s words?
Sticky stuff here, this deconstruction of our heroes and heroines, those who helped build this great country into one where such discourse is not only allowed, but encouraged. Personally, I hope we can all learn to lighten up a little bit, and cut others a little slack now and again. On that note, I’m going to fix myself a mint julep and repair to the porch to reflect on all this. I’m confident Messrs. Jefferson and King would approve. I only wish they could join me.
Alan W. Featherstone (Col ’72)
Miramar Beach, Florida
… I agree with Professor Alan S. Taylor, who pointed out that many of our country’s founders—great men all—and other world leaders were holders of enslaved individuals. … [A]ll U.S. presidents and all great leaders have their flaws. … John Adams endorsed laws that curtailed civil liberties; James Madison and James Monroe held enslaved individuals; Andrew Jackson committed genocidal acts against Native Americans; Abraham Lincoln was a racist who curtailed civil liberties; Woodrow Wilson curtailed civil liberties; Franklin Roosevelt sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps and refused to admit Jews to the country to save their lives; Harry Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan. I won’t even get into the actions of recent presidents. Admiring individuals for the good they did while acknowledging their flaws is a sign of mature thought. I admire President Sullivan for sticking to her guns. His flaws notwithstanding, we derive much wisdom and guidance from the thoughts and writings of Mr. Jefferson.
James T. Currie (Grad ’69, ’75)
To quote or not to quote Thomas Jefferson, the most prolific writer of the founders, is a false dilemma demonstrating the frivolity of discourse to which academic institutions have descended. Although not the physical hedonism of the “Rot, Riot and Rebellion” (and even later) years, which so distressed Jefferson after the University’s founding, it is just as meaningless a pursuit of self-indulgence. It is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ (UVA is the home of the largest collection of his manuscripts) Library of Babel describing an institution of books so vast that it contains every possible combination of letters which might have been written or might be written all equally presented. It (the library and the University) has become so diluted with drivel as to become useless.
Richard Jacoby, M.D. (Engr. ’64)
Castle Rock, Colorado
Your article “Unquoting Jefferson” … provides a good lesson in historical relativism: that our moral standards are not necessarily those of the past. Of course, even by standards of moral relativism, Jefferson was a particularly vile and egregious hypocrite; as Dr. Johnson said, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of [N]egroes?”
Bob Emery (Grad ’73)
Albany, New York
I can only imagine Mr. Jefferson might be looking down, chuckling about all the debate over this issue and even urging it on. … Doing things that draw us all together instead of separating us helps us have a more compassionate view of history. Debate on, UVA!
I am so glad that this is being discussed so openly and with such civility. Universities and colleges should be havens of exchanges of ideas. I’m happy that UVA’s past is not being swept under the rug and that we do not worship Mr. Jefferson as an absolute hero but rather acknowledge him as a flawed human being who was still quite exceptional in many ways. I hope that this open discourse continues and that it spreads to the general population sooner rather than later!
Sheila Miller (Col ’86)
I would like to join James Lesher’s remembrance and celebration of Joseph Blotner, [Spring 2017 Letters] whose presence was felt in more than just his English classes. Mr. Lesher’s memories go back to 1957, and mine go back to 1962–63 when William Faulkner was the irascible guest of one of John Coleman’s writing classes, which included me. I too have sharp memories of William Faulkner’s blunt and disappointingly terse responses to students’ questions, but those memories are in stark contrast to the memories I have of Professor Blotner’s conversations with me in 1995 or ’96 at Cary’s camera shop (now defunct) on Ivy Road.
Prof. Blotner was bringing old photos of Robert Penn Warren’s life to the shop for copying, and had to wait until they were completed, as they were too valuable to be left unattended. It fell upon me to entertain Prof. Blotner while he was waiting, but as you would expect, I was the one entertained. I had no idea then that he was finishing a seminal biography on Robert Penn Warren (1997), as he made everything we talked about so ordinary and information-dense at the same time. All the Kings Men was the first novel I had to read upon arrival at the University, and the first one in my life, but Prof. Blotner still seemed overly pleased to chat about my old impressions and memories of the book.
… I may have taken a degree in English from the University years ago, but Professor Blotner graciously and generously reminded me, as just one human to another, of how deeply appreciative inquiry can enrich our inner lives, no matter where we are in life with each other.
(John) Clay Moldenhauer (Col ’63)
The girls on my hall in Lefevre [House] led the first coed streak on [Grounds] in the spring of 1974, after Ray Stevens’ song “The Streak” was released in March 1974. One of my dorm mates was freaked out when she realized her picture made the front page of the Cavalier Daily, because she was worried about her parents finding out.
Betty Thomas (Col ’80)
My 9-year-old daughter is using the young reader’s version of Hidden Figures for her book study in [fourth grade]. As a UVA graduate, an engineer and the father of two girls, I am proud to be able to serve as her guide to this important story, as told by fellow Wahoo Ms. [Margot Lee] Shetterly.
Jonathan Ho (Engr ’01)
Richmond, BC (Canada)
Home to the Struggle
For a UVA alumnus and a professional photographer residing in Alexandria, Virginia, it was fascinating to take day trips to view the construction of the National Museum of African American History. …
Bravo to these very gifted UVA alumni who helped bring this project to fruition.
John Pearson Wright (Col ’76)
An In Memoriam notice in our Spring 2017 edition for Robert W. Stone (Grad ’55) erroneously listed him as a member of ATO fraternity. That may have caused some readers to confuse him with Robert W. Stone (Engr ’56), who is an ATO and is also very much alive. We regret the error.