Two days before Marc Short — the former director of legislative affairs for President Donald Trump — begins his paid senior fellowship with the Miller Center at U.Va., History Profs. William Hitchcock and Melvyn Leffler announced their resignations from their professorships at the Center. Both professors will remain in their roles at the history department in the College of Arts and Sciences.
In their letter to the Center’s Director William Antholis, the two professors wrote that the decision to hire Short “runs counter to the Center’s fundamental values.”
“Mr. Short has been a partisan activist during his entire professional career,” they wrote. “He has associated himself with people and institutions who disregard, circumvent, and even violate the norms and laws that are fundamental to civil discourse and democratic politics.”
The two professors added the timing of the announcement — shortly before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rallies last August — takes particular significance.
“These riots took place in our community and at our university,” the letter reads. “In the wake of those tragic events, President Trump failed to repudiate the alt-right and its street thugs. Until his appointment to a fellowship at UVA, Mr. Short did not distance himself from President Trump’s remarks about August 11-12. By not speaking out at the time,by not emphasizing the threats to human decency posed by the public display of Nazi symbols and racist diatribes in our own neighborhood, Mr. Short was complicit in the erosion of our civic discourse and showed an appalling indifference to the civility of our own city and university.”
In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Leffler said he will no longer coordinate symposia and colloquia for the Center.
“For example, last year Will Hitchcock and I organized two immensely successful conferences on 100 years of Russian-American relations and another on the meaning and legacy of ‘America First,’” Leffler said. “For these conferences, as for other symposia, we invited people of all political stripes and ideological predilections.”
In a statement to The Cavalier Daily last week, the Miller Center’s Director of Communications Howard Witt defended the appointment as academically sound.
“The addition of Marc Short, a senior Trump Administration official with intimate knowledge of interactions between the White House and Congress, deepens our scholarly inquiries into the workings of the American presidency,” Witt said. “We understand and respect those UVA faculty members and other critics — even some from within the Miller Center — who disagree with the decision to name Marc Short a senior fellow.”
Leffler and Hitchcock did not dispute the idea that Short has something valuable to say — they invited him to speak at the Center — but disagreed with Short’s partisanship and lack of faculty input.
“It violates the practices of the Miller Center to hire such a notoriously partisan political appointee as a paid distinguished fellow, and to do so without any open discussion – prior to his appointment – with the faculty and staff. This seems all the more true because Mr. Short will be joining the powerful Washington lobbying firm, Guidepost Strategies, an explicitly partisan organization.”
Antholis said in a statement he’s disappointed by the loss of Center faculty, but that he must remain focused on nonpartisanship and academia.
“The loss of any Miller Center faculty or staff member saddens me,” Antholis said. “As much as I respect the depth of feelings on this issue, the Miller Center’s core focus on the presidency, our commitment to nonpartisanship, and our demonstrated ability to promote civil discourse must remain our principal responsibility, especially in trying times.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Prof. Leffler.