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‘Wokeness’ critic on UVA Board of Visitors had odd problem with UVA Strong signs

Chris Graham
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The self-styled “Wokeness” fighter appointed to the UVA Board of Visitors by Gov. Glenn Youngkin last year, and somehow got two Democrats to go to bat for him earlier this month, affixed his attention, for some reason, to UVA Strong signs on the doors of Lawn residents honoring three slain football student-athletes.

“Examples of the mess on the Lawn doors,” Ellis, a UVA alum, CEO of Ellis Communications, an Atlanta-based, early-stage venture capital firm, and an investor in The White Spot, a popular Corner restaurant, wrote in a Jan. 20 text to UVA Vice Rector Robert Hardie.

The text was among a trove from Ellis uncovered by transparency advocate Jeff Thomas in two public records requests.

Ellis, the president of a group called The Jefferson Council, a far-right alum organization whose members claim to want to preserve free speech, promote intellectual diversity and protect the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, was appointed to the Board of Visitors last summer.

Cloaked in the lofty ideals of The Jefferson Council is a push from the far right to reverse the push led by previous BOVs and UVA President Jim Ryan for increased diversity, equity and inclusion on Grounds.

Ryan, who was appointed to serve as the university’s ninth president in 2018, convened a Racial Equity Task Force in 2020 that set out among its goals that UVA double the number of underrepresented faculty by 2030 and develop a plan for having a student population that better reflects the racial and socioeconomic demographics of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The task force also encouraged UVA to assist related organizations in the development a scholarship program for the descendants of enslaved laborers who worked to build and maintain the University, and to develop a series of educational programs around racial equity and anti-racism, including leadership development programs focused on equity, including racial equity.

Ellis wrote in a blog post after Youngkin’s victory in the 2021 gubernatorial election that the Board of Visitors was “responsible for letting the University make the outrageous changes that have been made over the tenures of Presidents Sullivan and Ryan,” and that UVA is “overrun with courses that exist for no other purpose but to make a big deal about race and gender and other issues that can only create more oppressed parties trying to tear down anything and everything and everyone that helped create our University.”

The UVA Student Council and the Faculty Senate had both opposed Ellis’ appointment, which was blocked by a State Senate committee, but then won approval on the Senate floor with the support of two Joe Manchin-style Senate Democrats, Lynwood Lewis and Chap Petersen.

Their votes look uglier for their political futures considering what Thomas uncovered in his public-records requests.

Ellis tried to cast his objections to the UVA Strong signs on doors on the Lawn in the context of a regulatory request, texting Hardie, the vice rector, that the signs “should be made to fit the message boards,” and following up with a lengthy text spelling out the “official Lawn regulations.”

Other messages had Ellis calling UVA administrators “schmucks,” specifically referring to Vice Provost Louis P. Nelson as a “numnut” and claiming Nelson “has nothing to do but highlight slavery at UVA,” and vowing to fight a “battle royale for the soul of the school.”

The move by Lewis and Petersen to join Republicans in approving the appointment of Ellis earlier this month means Ellis gets a full four-year term on the UVA Board of Visitors.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].

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