Board of Visitors Issue Statement on Safety, KKK Pledge

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Money donated to the University of Virginia by the Ku Klux Klan will go toward helping heal the Charlottesville community.

UVA President Teresa Sullivan made the announcement on Thursday, September 14, during the university's Board of Visitors meeting.

In 1921, the university received a $1,000 pledge from the KKK.

That money, adjusted for today’s inflation, is $12,500.

Those funds are going to the Charlottesville Patient Support Fund, which is helping victims of the August 12 rally pay for medical expenses.


University of Virginia Office of University Communications Press Release: 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Sept. 14, 2017 — University of Virginia Rector Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III delivered the following remarks at Thursday’s Board of Visitors meeting:

Previously, this university condemned the vile view of humanity that invaded Charlottesville and these Grounds on Aug. 11. It is easy to condemn the contemporary version of the abhorrent behavior for which history has sacrificed millions of lives to eradicate. The harder part is to ask, and to answer for ourselves, “How did it come to pass in the symbolic center of our University? And how are we to respond not just to its occurrence, but to its origin?”

As to the first question, let me be clear. The torch-lit march down our Lawn intending to intimidate was deeply unacceptable. And we will not allow its recurrence. In good faith, members of this board and others, independent of the events of that Friday night, have reviewed our response that evening and, as we have shared with the University community, there are areas where our response could have been better.

A significant factor implicating nearly all of the tactical decisions made is the mental framework with which we approached that assemblage. We have long been a University that has welcomed and promoted the free exchange of ideas, regardless of their repugnancy, as a basic tenet of a free society.

And we have policed numerous demonstrations, marches and forums with that mindset and, perhaps naively, with trust that that mindset was shared by those demonstrating.

But this march was different, and the country and other communities and universities took note. What we witnessed was far more than a march protected by the First Amendment, but rather one that weaponized the First Amendment with the intent to intimidate and terrorize our community and our values.

Across the nation, universities are dealing with the role of the First Amendment on campus. As a result of recent events, we have lost our innocence and are in a different place today. We were not sufficiently nimble in adjusting to this reality on Aug. 11, but we have taken stock of the judgments made then and the policies guiding our response that night.

Let me also be clear with respect to another issue regarding safety. We as a University have as our highest priority the safety of all in our community.

I heard it in the voice of our president when she called at midnight that Friday evening to share with me what had transpired. I learned it from our dean of students, Allen Groves, as he recounted his experience surrounded by the terrorists at the Jefferson statue, protecting and standing with our students and others who in turn were courageously protecting our values.

I saw it in the tired faces of the first responders and our staff on that Sunday afternoon at our emergency management center as they coordinated our response efforts. And we all are aware of the remarkable effort made by our medical professionals to care for the injured.

So while there is deserved criticism, there is also deserved respect and appreciation for the dedication and courage of the many in our community who make creating a safe environment their life’s purpose.

To the second question of how we respond not just to the occurrence of abhorrent behavior, but to its origin: What has become known, as both a lament and a call to arms, as “Charlottesville” lays bare once again the intractable challenges that our society faces with respect to racial reconciliation, social justice and economic opportunity. Will we listen this time? Will we dialogue civilly with one another to achieve progress? Will we act? I would hope that we follow the admonition offered recently in the Wall Street Journal by James Baker and Andrew Young:

“The country faces a stark choice. Its citizens can continue screaming at each other, sometimes over largely symbolic issues. Or they can again do what the citizens of this country have done best in the past – work together on the real problems that confront everyone.”

At this University, we choose to work together. And you will hear from our president and the chair of the Deans’ Working Group as to how we will proceed in bringing new urgency to our previously defined mission for our third century.

There are some who believe that the history of this University is a barrier to achieving real change. That the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is one of racism and not equality. It is impossible to reconcile Jefferson’s words with his deeds.

That the author of the religious freedom statute in Virginia and the fundamental aspiration of our democracy that “all men are created equal” could also enslave his fellow human beings rightfully leads to cynicism and rejection of his moral standing. Thomas Jefferson, like many, was flawed in many of his personal affairs.

He embodied the flaws of the origin of this country. Reflect on the Constitution, principally crafted by James Madison, which denied any participation in the political process to women and valued the life of an African-American at 3/5’s of the value of others. And yet, it was ratified by all 13 original states before the Bill of Rights and 17 other subsequent amendments were enacted to begin to address the sins of this revolutionary experiment in democracy.

The genius of Jefferson and Madison and the other founders is that they began a journey for future generations to determine the concept of equality without restricting its scope, and created a government wary of the flaws of humanity that allowed for a dynamic process to address the original deficiencies.

And they did so in a political process that created a nation with a revolutionary governance system that is monumental in its achievement. We will not turn our back on this history, but we are keenly aware of its shortcomings and have learned and will continue to learn as we move forward.

As Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French diplomat, wrote in “Democracy in America,” the “greatness of America lies not in it being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

We embrace the entirety of our history – all of the good and, yes, all of the ill. Our history as a university is inextricably woven into the history of this country. No other university has had three former presidents lay its cornerstone, two of whom were the intellectual inspiration and principal authors of contemporary democratic principles.

Our history is bound up with that of this nation’s founding, the Civil War, and the system of Jim Crow that followed. It is equally bound up with the great transformations of the mid-20th century that renewed the nation’s democratic promise and opened up its universities through the GI Bill, desegregation, and co-education. We reflect, for better and for worse, the great accomplishments and the great failures of this nation.

Despite the nation’s progress, fundamental faults remain. If we really want to improve the history of our past, we must improve the history of our future by continuing to acknowledge and repair our faults and bending the arc of history to provide real justice and equality for all. In the eloquent words of Maya Angelou, “[H]istory, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

A critical first component of repairing our faults is ensuring the completeness of our history. What President Sullivan has been leading over her tenure through the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University is an effort to do just that – to recognize the contributions of those who previously were not recognized, and to honor in our community the contributions of those such as Gibbons, Martin, Foster, Willis and the enslaved laborers.

In doing so, we enrich ourselves and create a more united community that reflects all of its participants. Similarly, we will address those symbols on our Grounds that undermine our community in a manner that is holistic, thoughtful and inclusive and calls upon the expertise of thought leaders in the relevant disciplines.

The hate demonstrated on Aug. 11 and 12 awakened the country to the continuing issues of our time. Let us not squander the energy that now exists. As Elie Wiesel once stated, “[T]he opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” We cannot afford an approach of indifference. Otherwise, future generations will judge us as we judge prior generations.

So I ask each person in this community – each student, each faculty member, each staff member, each administrator and each member of this board: How will you improve the history of our future?

Sullivan Stresses Safety, Urges Focus on Defending Values, Addresses 1921 KKK Pledge 

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan delivered the following prepared remarks during the Board of Visitors meeting on Thursday:

I want to begin by thanking the Rector for his words, and I want to echo one of his comments:

Safety is our top priority, as a University and as a community, and it’s my top priority as president. The torch-lit march on our Lawn on August 11 was something darker and more depraved, disguised as a protest march; it was an attack – an attack on our values; an attack on our University; and ultimately an attack on our people.

The work before us now is to learn from what happened and to defend our values, our University, and our people from any such future attacks.

Let me be clear:  At the University of Virginia, we denounce white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and every other form of bias and hate that the August 11marchers brought to our Grounds, no matter which group espouses them.

Those beliefs belong in the “ash heap of history.” Diversity and inclusion make us a stronger nation and a stronger University.

Today we speak as a unified and diverse community to denounce those who would seek to divide us, but we know that words alone are not enough. We are committed to taking the measures necessary to prevent any similar attack from happening here again.

This week, the Working Group chaired by Law Dean Risa Goluboff issued its report assessing the events of August 11, with suggestions for how the University could have improved its response. You will hear from Risa tomorrow.

The report acknowledges the things we did right, such as increasing the number of UVA police on duty on the night of August 11 and working with our state and local partners to coordinate resources. It does not mention, but I wish to acknowledge, the mobilization of our hospital and Health System to handle a mass-casualty incident on the next day.

The report also makes several recommendations. During this board meeting, we are asking you for action on several related issues. They include:

• our “open burn and open flame” policy;

• the classification of the Academical Village as a facility, to allow for increased regulation of weapons and explosives;

• consideration of how we memorialize our history;

• support for the concert scheduled for Sept. 24 at Scott Stadium;

• a new scholarship program for underrepresented students in Engineering;

• and plans to memorialize Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed when a car crashed into a crowd of people who had gathered to oppose the “Unite the Right” rally.

Parenthetically, I also want to note that yesterday, we celebrated the naming of Pinn Hall for a distinguished African-American alumna and physician.

Prior to the Working Group’s report, we had already taken immediate steps to make UVA safer. These have included:

• Expanding police coverage across Grounds;

• Extending the Ambassadors program to provide on-Grounds coverage, including the Lawn and residential areas;

• Hiring Margolis Healy & Associates to conduct a comprehensive review of our safety and security infrastructure, policies and tools;

• Hiring MSA Security to provide a security-risk assessment for large events such as athletic events, the concert for Charlottesville and the Bicentennial Launch Weekend; and

• Conducting three separate “hot-washes” of the events of August 11 to evaluate our performance.

We will be taking more steps in the days ahead to create a safer, and more equitable and inclusive University community.

As we continue working toward greater diversity and inclusion, we must also continue to uphold the principles of the First Amendment, as the rector mentioned. We must continue to foster free speech, open discourse and the clash of ideas. Any restriction on free expression is incompatible with the values of higher education and our University’s commitment to the freedom of the human mind.

These two commitments – to free speech, and to inclusion – sometimes come into conflict with each other, but we cannot sacrifice one to preserve the other. We must uphold both, because both are essential to the excellence we seek.

What we absolutely cannot do, however, is allow the practice of free expression to cross the line into intimidation and violence and all-out attack on UVA and its people, as it did on August 11. We must and will take all necessary steps to prevent that escalation. 

For decades, peaceful protests and demonstrations have played out on college and university campuses across the country. As bastions of free speech, universities have been natural gathering points for such expressions of the First Amendment. Those generally peaceful protests are the type of event that universities have prepared for. 

August 11 marked a new day for UVA, and for universities across the country, and this new day will require a shift in our mental framework. In our policies and planning, we need to prepare for situations in which demonstrations spill over into intimidation and intentional violence. Our policies need to help us prevent such spill-over, and our planning needs to prepare us to act when such spill-over threatens to happen.

We will protect the Constitutional principles of free speech, because free expression is a core value of higher education. But we will vigorously protect our people, our University and our values when they are threatened by attack.

Last Friday, at the request of Congressman Bobby Scott, I spoke before the minority members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in Washington. The committee held a forum on “Affirmative Action, Inclusion and Racial Climate on America’s Campuses” – an issue that’s central to our discussion this morning.

I spoke about our efforts to build inclusion at UVA, including the work of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. I’m pleased that the commission has accomplished so much in a relatively short time. We have:

• Established a nationwide consortium named “Universities Studying Slavery,” which includes 25 institutions that are working together on research and commemoration.

• Created the Cornerstone Summer Institute, a camp for high school students who are interested in learning about slavery and its legacies at UVA and in the region.

• As part of the Bicentennial commemoration, we will present a symposium titled “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape,” which follows another symposium we held here last year titled “Universities Confronting the Legacy of Slavery.”  

• Thanks to board approval at your last meeting, we are moving forward with plans for the new Memorial for Enslaved Workers at UVA.

• We named Gibbons House and Skipwith Hall.

While the Commission on Slavery continues its work, we need to address other troublesome aspects of UVA’s history. For example, we know that in 1921 President Alderman received a pledge of $1,000 from the KKK. We have a newspaper account in which he acknowledged the pledge, but no evidence that the pledge was ever paid. The KKK began to wither as an organization by mid-decade, so it’s possible that they never fulfilled that pledge.

But we’re going to acknowledge the pledge, and we’re going do so in a way that would be as disagreeable as possible for any remnants of the KKK who may be watching.

That $1,000 pledge, if inflated to today’s dollars, would be worth about $12,400. With that number in mind, I have allocated $12,500 from private sources to the “Charlottesville Patient Support Fund,” which is managed by the UVA Health Foundation, to pay medical expenses for people who were injured during the violence in August. Any leftover funds will support care for other members of our community.

In other words, we are allocating that century-old pledge from white supremacists to heal the wounds inflicted by the dying vestiges of white supremacy that struck Charlottesville last month. I hope any remaining members of the KKK will appreciate the irony.

We will continue to see issues arise on our Grounds. On Tuesday night, some community members and students held a protest at the Thomas Jefferson statue by the Rotunda, and several protestors covered the Jefferson statue in a black shroud. Although I recognize the rights of those protesters to express their opinions, I strongly disagree with their act of covering the Jefferson statue.

The history of the Jefferson statue helps to explain why I disagree with the shrouding. The statute was designed by a Jewish sculptor named Moses Ezekiel. Ezekiel was born in 1844 in Richmond and faced anti-Semitism through much of his life. He built into the sculpture a tribute to Jefferson’s contribution to religious freedom. The names of deities – God, Jehovah, Allah and others – are carved into a tablet held by a figure on the statue that symbolizes religious freedom.

Ezekiel explained that he carved the deity names to show that “under our government, they … are all God and have … equal right and protection of our just laws as Americans.”

This reminds us that, in spite of our founder’s faults, he made monumental contributions to religious freedom and other kinds of freedom, and we risk losing sight of those contributions if we shroud him in darkness because of his shortcomings.

This part of the Jefferson statue story holds special relevance because the white supremacists who marched on the statue on August 11 shouted anti-Semitic slurs, and because unknown others put up anti-Muslim signs on our Grounds on the day of the statue shrouding.

Thomas Jefferson was imperfect, but he also contributed to the religious and other freedoms that we uphold against those who would seek to divide us.

The events of the last several weeks have put UVA and Charlottesville in the national spotlight – once again. This attention is not coincidental.

What happens at UVA matters because UVA matters. Because of our unique history among American universities; because of our elevated position among the best universities in the country; because of the excellence of our teaching, research, and scholarship – for all these reasons, all eyes are upon us, watching what happens here and how we respond.

Our obligation now is to use this moment of focus and attention to provide leadership, once again. And working together, that’s what we will do.