Slavery at UVA

The discovery of 67 poorly marked and unmarked graves ("Unearthing Slavery at the University of Virginia," Spring 2013) of African Americans formerly associated with the University and buried outside the University Cemetery presents us with an uncommon opportunity.

These individuals were judged unworthy of inclusion in our community at the time of their deaths and [were] purposely separated, walled apart and ultimately eradicated from memory. Now in a very real sense they have returned and we must decide what place they will occupy.

I believe it is time the old wall separating them from other burials is torn down and a new one built. One that encompasses all the burials in and near University Cemetery. In the area where the 67 lie, a memorial honoring their contributions should be erected.

To leave these graves an archaeological curiosity, or worse, a historic monument to separation on the basis of race and social status, would be an injustice unworthy of our continuing commitment to a diverse and inclusive University.

Richard W. Dulee (Educ '77, '80)
Alderson, W.Va.

 

Rather than profaning cemeteries, it might be more effective to engage our students in genuine activism. Slavery still exists today, not in the sepulchral confines of a historical burial ground, but at this moment in contemporary Africa. Scores of 12-year-old boys and girls are abducted daily and traded across the borders of Sudan for less than $50 each. Thousands of helpless children disappear every month into a horrifying existence of bondage and abuse in Ghana, Togo and Benin, while others are brutally fed to the human traffickers of Angola. When was the last time some of our concerned academics took their outrage to Congress or petitioned on behalf of the victims of modern-day slave traders? When was the last presentation or fund drive organized on our campus to help eradicate the slave markets in the Sahel states of Mauritania, Niger and Mali? If they really wish to educate students, perhaps our solicitous faculty could engage in truly edifying instruction, publishing, teaching and working against the scourge of modern slavery that is dehumanizing much of today's Africa.

Eric H. du Plessis (Grad '79)
Radford, Va.

 

I attended UVA as a graduate student. As a Californian, I found it difficult to stomach the social do's and don'ts of UVA's and Charlottesville's treatment of African Americans (both students and community members). Race relations were awkward at best. I was occasionally asked by white students which side of the Mason-Dixon line I was born on. I had African-American friends and teachers in California and tried to socialize with peers of color at UVA. I was told that it was OK to speak to African Americans in class, but not to do so outside. (I am white/Hispanic.)

So it was with great interest that I read your article, "Unearthing Slavery at the University of Virginia." Thank you for writing sensitively about a topic that is difficult for so many still. I feel a lot better about UVA after reading about the efforts of Ford, Bond, McInnis, Jordan, Dukes, McDowell and Eltahir. I admire their work to bring this part of history to light and to place high value on the efforts of those enslaved.

Marguerite Wilbur (Arch '87)
Millbrae, Calif.


Your article did not emphasize that many slaves who worked for independent contractors also helped to build Mr. Jefferson's Academical Village at his "Central University." Among these contractors was my great-great-great-grandfather, Dabney Cosby. His skilled staff of "slaves and free men" would be included among those commemorated by the plaque placed near the Rotunda. Cosby, who wanted to build the Rotunda (as expressed in his letters to Jefferson and his managers), also offered to supply and lay hundreds of thousands of bricks each year from his manufacturing operation in Staunton on land now comprising part of the Mary Baldwin College campus. In 1824, he did build Hotel D, Hotel E and all of the dormitories on the West Range (with numerous collaborators).

Arthur Hazen Burnet (Darden '69)
Fort Pierce, Fla.


On Honor

The recent student vote that amended the University's Honor Code unfortunately overlooked significant consequences the changes will likely cause in the months and years to come. The Honor Committee's proposed change represented an effort to deal with the apparent student apathy in reporting violations of the Honor Code and to identify a solution to remedy the problem [see more here].

It was reasoned that by including the informed retraction option in the Honor Code, students and faculty will be more likely to report violations, as the student charged would not be faced exclusively with the single sanction of expulsion. The charged student could acknowledge guilt and absent himself or herself from the University for only one year and then return with essentially a clean slate. Whether this change in the Honor System will bring about a significant increase in reporting by students of Honor Code violations, of course, at this point is conjecture.

The logic behind the informed retraction is also flawed, as the Honor Committee's analysis emphasized that many students proceeding to trial under the single sanction, by definition, lied about their activities, which brought about the charges. Understandably, a charged student, who in fact is guilty, may successfully avoid a finding of guilty by lying about facts, and consequently prevail, but this would not be the case of a student wrongfully accused. But apart from the debate as to whether such a change will improve reporting significantly, modifying the Honor Code in this manner will pull asunder the fabric of an institution that has been firmly embedded in the culture of the University since 1842.

Much has changed since 1842, including the use of electronic means for gaining knowledge and undertaking testing. In many respects electronic advancements have made it easier to cheat—for those so inclined to pursue such a course of action. If anything, in today's world, the Honor Code with a single sanction is more important than ever to maintain the higher standard from which University students are able to enhance their critical moral values and carry such traits with them beyond the sanctity of Grounds. Upon leaving the University for worlds of commerce, academia, government, entertainment or other fields, the mantra of having graduated with the "honors of Honor" (James Hays' 1903 immortal words) remains a permanent part of the individual's lifetime pursuits. Despite what cynics claim, there is still a need for honor in the world of the 21st century. Society has long recognized that meaningful sanctions for violations of law, rules and honorable conduct serve in many respects to see that such norms are followed by those subject thereto.

While students are presumed to be honorable in all respects once being admitted to the University and consenting to be subject to the Honor System, the single sanction, in large part, looms mightily to steer anyone away from temptation. Consequently, it is difficult to fathom that a "punishment" of a sojourn from the University for merely one year will even remotely serve as such a powerful deterrent as expulsion, particularly when students all too frequently, for a variety of reasons, take "a year off" from studies at the University.

The one-year suspension essentially becomes a free pass and would allow a student who committed an Honor Code violation to return to the University without any indication of the incident appearing on record. In the real world, an offender is not given a guaranteed free pass for committing a transgression.

The informed retraction change, adopted by the student body without understanding its consequences, will significantly weaken the Honor System and result in a complicated state of affairs that at the end of the day will not benefit anyone.

Harry R. Marshall Jr. (Col '61)
Chevy Chase, Md.

Whitney W. Johnson (Com '11)
Former vice chair of the Honor Committee
New York, N.Y.

 

The Honor System in my years was a pure single sanction system. Trials were performed by Honor Committee members, steeped in the system and caring about the outcomes: no "informed" or "conscientious" retractions. This was also an era when the president lied to the U.S. citizenry; it was a given he had to resign. That presidential presumption changed two decades ago under President Clinton, so I guess I should not be surprised that the University student body and faculty consider moral absolutes to be anachronisms from a quaint past.

I read the numerous letters to the editor in the spring issue with interest, but found most of them very disturbing. Let me quote from one, which encapsulates the moral relativism that apparently drives many of the objections to the Honor System: "The real issue is the same as it has always been: what is a 'significant' act of lying, cheating or stealing? What would really help the system is a much more clearly defined concept of 'significance,' based on the views of the current generation of students in consultation with the faculty."

I understand that the definitions of Honor Code violations have evolved over the past 40 years. However, lying, cheating, and stealing should not be subject to various definitional nuances of "significance." Is lying on a quiz less "significant" than lying on a final exam? The distinction is rubbish. If the "current generation" thinks lying is OK only when concerning matters they unilaterally deem "significant" in an academic setting, they grew up in a much different ethical milieu than I did. I pity them.

I would offer that the Honor Committee has been more than accommodating in its flexibility. If the faculty and students still believe the committee's compromise, far beyond what I would have recommended, is too harsh, then I have a suggestion. The students and faculty harboring these objections should transfer to one of the thousands of other universities where lying, cheating and stealing are not condemned, but are perceived to be an acknowledgment of the sign of the times.

The University of Virginia is founded upon Jeffersonian principles. It is not meant to be a haven for the average student or professor. I hope the University holds to the revered tenets of the Honor Code, and does not further diminish one of its most cherished traditions.

Thomas M. Neale (Col '74)
Baltimore, Md.


Informed retraction is a joke. Leave of absence? How nice—a couple of semesters off. No single student body ought to be allowed to control these matters. The entire living population of [former] UVA students ought to be offered a vote of equal weight to currently enrolled students. Else travesty happens. Like this.

Keith W. Reiss (Col '66)
Wilmington, N.C.


War Stories

I enjoyed reading "War Stories" in the last issue of the UVA Magazine and was surprised to find my article on Vietnam written in 2000 had been resurrected online. The alumnus shown on the front cover of my article is the late Tom Rainey (Col '68), a UVA roommate and good friend. With the support of Tom's brother, Gordon F. Rainey Jr. (Col '62, Law '67); and his family, an Army ROTC award at UVA was established in 1996 in Tom's memory. The saga of 1st Lt. Andrew [A.W.] Simmons (Col '09) in Afghanistan has a tie-in. Andrew earned the Tom Rainey ROTC Award while at UVA. After six months in country, Andrew came home on leave. Fellow Vietnam veteran Wayt Timberlake (Col '67) and I took Andrew to lunch at the Boar's Head. Though our particular conflicts were 41 years apart, we all enjoyed exchanging our own war stories. Within weeks of his returning to Afghanistan, I received the news Andrew had been wounded and sent back to the states. Gordon Rainey and I visited Andrew at Bethesda Naval hospital, and we were thankful to learn he was in good spirits and on the road to recovery. Sadly, Andrew's replacement in Afghanistan was killed shortly thereafter. Andrew is an exemplary leader. I know Tom Rainey would join me in commending the current generation of UVA students who have chosen to be in ROTC and serve their country.

Lawrence "Laurie" M. Croft (Col '67)
Richmond, Va.


State Support and UVA Buildings

I would like to put to rest the old canard that the taxpayers of this Commonwealth provide only about 10 percent of the University's budget. All University property—real, personal, tangible and intangible—is used in University operations.

A more accurate percentage of the budget shouldered by the taxpayers can be determined by imputing an annual rent to the value of these assets. Without much investigation, it is my opinion that these assets have a current value in excess of $5 billion. If we apply an annual rental rate of 10 percent, yielding an annual rent of $500 million, and add this to the 10.2 percent that the Commonwealth currently provides, we can determine the actual contribution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

J. Randolph Segar Jr. (Com '56)
Midlothian, Va.

The conservatively estimated replacement value of UVA's 557 buildings is $4.1 billion. Of those, 313 are used by the University's Academic Division, which spends $129.4 million per year on operations and maintenance of these buildings. Additionally many University buildings were built with non-state funds, including private philanthropy and research funds. —Ed.


Helping Newtown

There are two places in my life that have mattered to me more than any other: the University of Virginia, and Newtown, Conn., my home for the last 33 years.

No one in this closely knit community or in our nation has not been marred by the tragic events of December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, just four miles from our home, and where my wife once worked. Our sadness and disbelief continues, particularly for our friends, neighbors and the families who lost loved ones on that eventful Friday morning.

But we continue to look to the future, and the possibilities that exist, and the healing that now envelops and sustains us. A person whom I respect in the University community asked me recently, "What, if anything, can the University do to help?" I have thought a lot about this question, and there are two answers that I would offer at this point.

First, I pray that our nation can come to grips with the scourge of violence and death that has become too common. I ask that everyone, particularly those at great universities, including our own, be part of the solution to this state of affairs. It cannot be debated enough, or researched enough, or analyzed enough, or prayed about enough, or just plain talked about enough until all children, regardless of their circumstances, are safe and sound.

Second, please find and support an initiative in Newtown (or another town that has suffered senseless violence to children) that promotes the long-term healing of the thousands of affected young people, and that does so in a culture of nonviolence and caring. Ben's Lighthouse Fund is an endowment fund for Newtown's children in honor of the angels of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Its programs of open discussion, community outreach and support, and cultural diversity are open to every child and young person here, and in surrounding communities, regardless of religious affiliation or belief.

For any of you who have any questions, please contact me at crlewis304@aol.com.

C. Randall Lewis (Col '67)
Newtown, Conn.


Quality of Souls

I was moved by Audrey Davidow Lapidius' poign-ant and emotional article,"The Quality of Souls" in the spring issue. She presents a side of parenting that is often difficult to express to the world outside of the special needs community. I have an 11-year-old daughter, Kelly, who was born with spina bifida and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two (the two are unrelated).

The plain and simple truth is that Kelly is here to show people how to love, be kind and how to give of oneself so that others may be helped. The quality of Kelly's soul is far beyond anything I will ever be, and I feel immeasurably blessed that God has entrusted her to us. Audrey so eloquently says, "I know that Cal has made my life immensely more meaningful. He is a constant reminder to look not at human deficiencies but at the quality of souls. Perhaps it's just the desperate hope of a mother trying to make sense of it all, but I like to believe that his brain, unclouded by judgment and ego, knows only light and love."

Our children teach us so much and I remain steadfast in always believing in happiness, health and hope. Choose happiness every day, take care of each other in health and never give up hope that there will be a cure. Thank you, Audrey, for never giving up on hope!

Anne O'Donnell Harmody (Col '91)
Solon, Ohio