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November 21, 2016

Jefferson’s Enduring Creation

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Take a trip to Monticello, the home and final resting place of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America. Really, if you haven’t already, take the trip!


The cultural, historical, architectural and agricultural lessons to be learned are equal parts inspiring and humbling. That it all sprang from the mind and heart of one man may be the most impressive aspect of the visit.


A must-see is his final resting place. This man-of-enumerable talents, this true renaissance figure, lies beneath a tomb inscribed with the following epitaph:


"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."


No mention of his two terms as president, his governorship, time in the Virginia House of Burgesses or his experiences abroad as Secretary of State or trade minister.


It seems logical that someone of Jefferson’s intellectual stature would want to represent his most important accomplishments in granite, if for no other reason than to inform future generations of his own sense of priority.


This genius, who spent his adult life in the pursuit of knowledge, educated debate and individual liberty and freedom, was likely most proud of the establishment of the University of Virginia, visible from certain locations on the grounds of Monticello. Stories abound of his campus visits, and his interaction with both students and faculty.


One can only imagine the deep and abiding sadness, the utter sense of academic and philosophical failure he would feel were he to visit that quiet campus in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in central Virginia today.


He would find a university president under assault by the staff and student body for merely quoting the school’s founder in an email discussing the recent presidential election. That’s right, this isn’t The Onion.


UVA President Teresa Sullivan added her thoughts in a post-election email commentary to remind students of the importance of their legacy. The quote, included below, has ignited a firestorm.


“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,’”


Sullivan said in the November 9, 2017 email. “I encourage today’s U. of Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”


If this seems even remotely provocative, it could only be to the most politically-correct, safe-space advocate. Read how a professor from the UVA Psychology Department felt compelled to respond:


“We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson's legacy, others of us came here in spite of it,” the letter read. “For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”


To what might this idiotic statement refer when it mentions those who came to UVA in spite of Jefferson’s legacy?


Racism, of course! Because Thomas Jefferson employed slaves, and our culture has now decided that such historical references no longer justify the assignation of honor to those so inclined, UVA staff and students would rather not be reminded of the teachings, ideology and accomplishments of the University’s founder.


To quote Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady: “Well, isn’t that special!”


Four hundred sixty-nine (469) students, professors and university employees signed onto this objection. Each and every one of them should be ashamed of themselves, they have collectively lowered the bar of academic standards carefully crafted through centuries of study and contemplation.


Thomas Jefferson’s enduring national legacy will survive far beyond the insignificance and intolerance of one professor and 468 signatories to their idiotic letter. Of that, you can be sure.


Of greater concern is the dumbing-down of our national institutions of higher-learning. On one hand, we bemoan how we no longer can compete on a world stage of academic excellence.


On the other hand, our own academic institutions fritter away time censoring history, worried more about how we feel than what we learn.


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