A Virginia State Senate committee voted to remove College and Darden alumnus Bert Ellis from the list of appointees to the University’s Board of Visitors Tuesday. The General Assembly is set to approve the list of appointments in the coming days — the Committee’s decision is not the final word on Ellis’ appointment but signals potential for Ellis’ removal.
The Privileges and Elections Committee — in part tasked with considering the governor’s nominations — voted unanimously to strike Ellis’ name from SJ 297, the resolution which confirms a number of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s appointments to state agencies, including the University’s Board.
Youngkin appointed Ellis to the Board July 1 alongside three other new members. Ellis is a business executive who holds leadership positions in three Atlanta based companies — Ellis Capital, Johnson Energy Storage and Ellis Communications.
Ellis also serves as president of the Jefferson Council — a conservative group of University alumni and other stakeholders who are “dedicated to preserving the legacy of Thomas Jefferson.”
Ellis has been the subject of controversy on Grounds since his initial appointment. In 2020 Ellis was involved in a conflict when he visited Grounds to see a controversial sign a resident had hung on her Lawn room door. In a statement published by Ellis himself, he said he was “prepared to use a small razor blade” to remove the sign.
Archives of Ellis’ time at the University in the 1970s place him at the center of a controversy in which he invited William Shockley, a prominent eugenics supporter, to speak in a debate on Grounds. As a chair of the University Union, Ellis also denied a request to co-sponsor an event on Grounds with gay rights activist Frank Kameny which came from the Gay Student Union.
Other organizations on Grounds — including the Student Council representative body, University Democrats and the Faculty Senate — have called for the General Assembly to block Ellis’ appointment.
Following the Committee’s vote, Ceci Cain, president of Student Council and Graduate student, said that the Student Council Executive Board was “encouraged” by the removal of Ellis’ name.
“We hope our elected officials recognize that Mr. Ellis’ conduct is not fitting of someone with the responsibilities and powers of those on our Board of Visitors,'' Cain said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the advancement of our LGBTQ+ and Black peers at the University, which is threatened by the presence of Mr. Ellis on our [Board].”
University Democrats said Wednesday that the organization is thankful for the state Democrats who have taken action against Ellis’ appointment and members of the student body who have been contacting legislators regarding Ellis.
“While yesterday’s action in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee marks one step in the right direction, we students will not quite lobbying our legislators until the General Assembly fully spurns the nomination of Mr. Ellis,” the statement reads.
At time of publication, Ellis has not responded to a request for comment.