Last February, we criticized several unsolicited changes that Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration implemented on Grounds. Today, we again speak out against the actions of state leaders and stand in staunch opposition to Youngkin’s appointment of Bert Ellis to the Board of Visitors. It is worth noting that the Board of Visitors governs not only the University’s long-term planning, but also the approval of a more than $4.5 billion annual budget, operations of the College at Wise and the U.Va. Health system. In short, Ellis’s appointment affects more people than the 30,000 students who go to class here every day. All the people who live, work and study here have entered the University knowing that its mission statement reads it is committed to supporting a “collaborative, diverse community bound together by distinctive foundational values of honor, integrity, trust and respect.” Bert Ellis is anything but that, and Youngkin’s appointment of him only confirms what he has already demonstrated so far throughout his governorship — a blatant disregard for the University’s core values.
Let’s begin with a central aspect of this mission statement — respect. Last fall, Ellis traveled across state lines to harass a Lawn room resident, arriving with a razor blade intending to cut away sections of the sign hanging on her door that he did not agree with. He left after two University ambassadors explained that doing so would be considered “malicious damage.” Bringing a blade to the front door of a student’s home is not “respect” — it is a complete disregard for the student’s safety and privacy. Moreover, this hypocrisy does not promote the University and its founders belief in the “free and collegial exchange of ideas” that Ellis supposedly holds so dear. This incident demonstrates an incapability of respecting the law, understanding social boundaries and exercising good judgment, but it is far from the only reason why Ellis was the wrong call for the Board of Visitors.
As of late, Ellis’ behavior shows negligence for the University’s unique reliance on student self-governance. Following the historic referendum passed by more than 80 percent of students voting last year, Ellis characterized the Honor system as “effectively dead” and vowed that “new BOV members can change this.” Student self-governance does not exist just so members of the Board and administration can take the power back whenever they want to. We would know — that’s how we became independent. Our point is that Ellis has demonstrated an explicit will to attack the very principles we pride ourselves on as a community of trust and self governance. We believe this inability — or rather, this unwillingness — to respect the balance of power between the University and its students disqualifies him from consideration for a seat on the Board.
Should you require more evidence of Ellis’s ignorance, note that the University’s mission statement explicitly embraces a “diverse community.” Ellis has equated diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives with assault and indoctrination attempts, writing that serving on the Board is his opportunity to “reverse the path to ‘wokeness' that has overtaken our entire University.” While the rest of us work towards University President Jim Ryan’s 2030 Strategic Plan, Ellis and Youngkin appear to be stuck in 1979. The University that Ellis attended 40 years ago is not the same one we know today. This is not your University. It is ours. It is and will continue to be an increasingly diverse place — whether or not Ellis and Youngkin choose to embrace that is up to them.
Let us be clear — we are not disagreeing with Ellis on an ideological basis. The governor is entitled to appoint individuals he agrees with politically. Rather, we find it hard to believe that Youngkin appointed Ellis without so much as a simple Google search that doubtlessly would have revealed these flaws. We are not naive, however. Recent news demonstrates that this move was not unique, nor accidental. The governor is taking advantage of his political position to politicize higher education across the state. Youngkin, this is not a golf club or your Carlyle Group — it is the No. 4 public university in the country. If this is his idea of governance, we should be very worried about who will be appointed to the Board next. Ellis is beneath the bare minimum of what we should expect from a Board member. We deserve someone who respects student self-governance, embraces the University's commitment to diversity and at the very least, leaves their razor blades for shaving.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, their Senior Associate and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.