If you’ve been paying attention recently, you know that this paper has had plenty of important news to cover. From the first major change to the Honor code in University history to the fifth anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally, the students at The Cavalier Daily have been working hard to bring facts to the forefront. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly evident that Governor Glenn Youngkin is not committed to the same fact-finding mission. Youngkin has proven himself to be an utterly incompetent leader by failing to genuinely address criticisms we have raised, instead choosing to disparage student journalism by spreading outright falsehoods about our paper.
Last week, a reporter asked Youngkin about a recent article from our publication highlighting Board of Visitors appointee Bert Ellis’ role in inviting well-known eugenics supporter William Shockley to speak on Grounds in 1975. In response, Youngkin “seemed to suggest that it was unfair to judge the 1970s controversy by today’s standards.” The governor attempted to discredit the news story — which he admitted he had not even read — by deflecting, saying it was published by “the same newspaper that wants to remove Thomas Jefferson in all regards from the University of Virginia.”
It is worth noting Youngkin’s latter comment is simply false. While this Editorial Board has recently argued that we must continue working to align the symbolism on Grounds with the values the University claims to support, we have never said that attempting to fully erase Jefferson would be a coherent course of action. We certainly recognize that blindly memorializing Jefferson obscures the significant harm he is responsible for, but we also know that he is an inescapable part of our collective history. It is evident to us that we must become better at properly contextualizing his role as the University’s founder. This means fully committing to teaching our history, in all of its complexities, so that we can continue to grow as a community — not placing people on pedestals and excusing their shortcomings in light of their contributions.
Maybe more troubling, though, is Youngkin’s straw-man response to an important question about the character of the person he appointed to serve on the Board of Visitors. Youngkin has placed himself in a tough position — either he knew about Ellis’ lack of judgment and chose to appoint him anyway, or he had no idea, suggesting that he does not properly vet his nominees. Nonetheless, neither case permits him to attack students with lies in order to shield himself from the consequences of his own poor decision-making. The facts are Ellis chose to platform a eugenicist and Youngkin chose to put Ellis on the Board of Visitors. Making us the boogeyman won’t change any of that. Youngkin’s failure to simply answer the reporter’s question and instead divert attention to this Editorial Board underscores the unfortunate truth that he cannot adequately contend with genuine criticism. Mr. Youngkin, let us be perfectly clear — we will not be your political scapegoat. Our reporting speaks for itself, and we will not allow your efforts at a smear campaign to go unchecked.
Relatedly, it is impossible to ignore that Youngkin attempted to dismiss a 1970s controversy involving eugenics by characterizing it as a product of its time. It would behoove the governor to know that eugenics has been scientifically discredited in the U.S. since the 1930s. Further, if Youngkin had bothered to actually read the article he was so quick to dismiss, he would know that in bringing Shockley to speak, Ellis ignored a wide array of student voices — including that of the Black Student Association and Student Council, both of whom condemned the event. If Ellis didn’t have the moral clarity to see how harmful his actions were then, it seems extremely unlikely that he has the judgment necessary to serve on the Board of Visitors now. It is absurd to suggest that Ellis’ elevation of Shockley was somehow justified by its time period.
Simply put, we are tired of Youngkin’s lack of leadership and find his politicization of higher education dangerous. If Youngkin were a competent leader, he would respond to our criticisms with sound reasoning and solid explanations — instead, we get hollow platitudes. Rather than belittling student journalists, maybe the governor should brush up on the history of eugenics. Instead of mulling over a run for the presidency, maybe the governor should spend more time vetting his nominees. Virginians deserve better. Students at the University deserve better. This Editorial Board demands better. The governor must stop fearmongering and start finding time to actually do his job.
The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors, the two Senior Associates and an Opinion Columnist. The board can be reached at email@example.com.