Longitude & Attitudes: Vox Alumni Special Report

Cover of the Winter 2021 issue, featuring our Vox Alumni Special Report

I found your article “Longitudes & Attitudes” very interesting, especially the section regarding openness to conservative and progressive ideas.

Conservatives have long argued that higher education inculcates liberal, or “progressive,” ideas at the expense of their own. It has been my experience, after more than 40 years of involvement with higher education, that students (and very likely alumni) are not judged by their values but by their arguments.

For instance, arguing that the 2020 national election was stolen by Mr. Biden is a poor argument because the facts do not reflect the conclusion. Is such an argument truly a conservative idea? I would say it is not.

On the other hand, the argument that transgender women should compete in women’s athletics is not an issue where the facts are clear. Although pigeonholed as a progressive idea, I would argue that this is neither conservative nor progressive. Arguments for and against this idea defy political categorization.

Our categories do not reflect accurately the complexity of argument in today’s society and are problematic in that they promote the extreme polarization of political thought.

Evan Cantor (Col ’78)
Boulder, Colorado


I have felt for a long time that Virginia is an excellent informative magazine, but the latest issue just received is exceptional.  The presentation of the survey results is outstanding:  well presented, clear, informative and a consummate example of how results of a survey such as this one should be presented when you know the audience covers extreme opinions and feelings across the entire spectrum.  Particularly, you were able to avoid any bias or interpretation in the presentation, an enormous and necessary accomplishment. Just the results. It is what it is. Well done!

Lucien Bass (Engr ’63, Darden ’65)
Crozet, Virginia


I wasn’t part of the survey, but I enjoyed reading about it. The story was among the more useful and relevant ones that I have read (on any topic) in recent years.

I was a member of the School of Medicine class of 1970 and I served on the Honor Committee. Although I liked the ideal of students holding each other accountable for their behavior, I remember cringing at the ambiguity—the downright difficulty—of many of the cases that I heard. Despite the committee’s strenuous efforts to render the best verdicts that it could, I doubt that all of our verdicts were correct. Of course, the same problem occurs beyond the Grounds—juries in civil and criminal cases don’t always get it right. But that’s why there’s a system of appeals. The lack of an appeal process within the Honor System always concerned me.

C. Cooper Pearce (Med ’70)
Alexandria, Virginia


Thank you for this excellent article. I think I was one of the survey responders.

With respect to the Honor System, while I appreciated the community of trust, I felt like we were brainwashed with fear at first-year orientation. I remember a stern lecture from an upperclassman who must have been on the Honor Committee. We had barely moved in before he warned us that Honor must come before anything else—most significantly personal relationships. I have never forgotten that frightening introduction; even as a 63-year-old I can report it was frightening, misdirected, inappropriate. I was terrified to even look up during an exam for fear I would be expected to see something and report it or someone would falsely accuse me.

Great work on the survey and other endeavors. As someone with a Ph.D. in research, I know that it is HARD to conduct valid surveys.

Cobie (Silverman) Whitten (Col ’80) 
Olympia, Washington


Despite what the survey showed, I don’t recall the Honor System being particularly popular in the early 1970s. Yes, some students “liked” it because it was a part of UVA’s rich heritage and “mystique.” But my impression was that the great majority of students viewed the Honor System as simply a fact of life, and not a particularly attractive one. It wasn’t that they supported “lying, cheating and stealing,” but rather that they doubted the justness of a system that had a single sanction, no appeal, no provision for mercy, and complete dependence on the wisdom of people who were barely out of their teenage years and who had yet to be challenged and tempered by having to make their way in the real adult world. Indeed, I recall a pervasive undercurrent of discontent with the system that perhaps some of my fellow septuagenarian alumni had forgotten by the time that they responded to your excellent survey.

George Tyson (Med ’73, Res ’80)
Setauket, New York

Admissions Interview

Vice Provost for Enrollment Stephen Farmer (Grad ’86)

I was surprised to learn that UVA went test-optional this year. The vice provost was quoted as saying, “It’s an ax and not a scalpel.” Of course, we have always known this to be true.

Not one word is mentioned in your article about the damage this policy has meant for countless generations of students and applicants [of color]. I implore you to undertake a study to assess all dimensions of this harm. That policy fed a culture on Grounds that was hostile to African Americans and other students of color.

The use of average SAT scores in admissions and promotion materials shaped perceptions and defined UVA culture that marginalized students of color. It was assumed that African American students on account of their lower SAT scores, on average, were less deserving. Our experiences on Grounds were directly connected to that poor policy. UVA ignored the evidence and African Americans’ legitimate arguments that the SAT was not predictive of performance or career prospects. Now that UVA has changed course, it minimizes these harms. What a shame.

Chris Williams (Col ’07)
Washington, D.C.

Graduation Rates Propel UVA in Rankings

The article by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall shows that the University has improved, but still is below where it stood in years past. The information about rankings in the individual categories is useful, but more useful would be an addendum to the article that discussed how the state legislature can help, how the president’s office can help, and how the alumni can help improve the rankings.

Being the top or second-best public university was a source of immense pride and selling point to high school students who asked about my alma mater.

Ken Harkavy (Col ’67)
Potomac, Maryland

Letters to the Editor

A letter in the Winter 2021 Virginia Magazine declared this year’s removal of statues and memorials around the Grounds to be “historical vandalism.” As a historian whose career began as an undergraduate at UVA, I disagree. History cannot be erased, and statues and memorials are not history. They are symbols of triumphalist myths from ages past. We do not need them to recall and critically reflect upon the deeds of white men like Jefferson and George Rogers Clark.

The alumnus who authored the letter to which I respond says he has ceased contributing to the University because of this policy. To the contrary, I am inspired by the courage and thought it took to take this necessary step. I am proud to be a UVA alum, and I am increasing my annual giving as a result of this policy.

Holly Hurlburt (Col ’93)
Raleigh, North Carolina

Send Us Your Thoughts

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We welcome your letters.

The Virginia Magazine letters section is part of the UVA Alumni Association’s broader Vox Alumni initiative, aimed at gaining greater understanding of alumni views and sharing insights. For letters intended for publication, please limit your remarks to 200 words and include your name, school, class year, city and state. We may not be able to publish all submissions, and we edit for length, clarity, style and civility. We give preference to letters that address the content of the magazine. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alumni Association.

Editor, Virginia Magazine
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Email: uvamag@virginia.edu