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Once an Alumnus Critical of Diversity at UVa, Now He Sits on the Board

Bert Ellis, with two degrees from the University of Virginia, is a loyal alumnus. He has donated more than $10 million to his alma mater, and even co-owns a campus hangout, the Spot.

But he thinks the university is headed in the wrong direction. He objects to its emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion programs — saying the university is already diverse. And he loathes the university’s recent portrayal of its founder, and his hero, Thomas Jefferson.

Mr. Ellis co-founded a dissident alumni group, the Jefferson Council. And when Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, was elected governor of Virginia in 2021, largely on a pledge to overhaul education, Mr. Ellis saw an opening.

“This is our only opportunity to change/reverse the path to Wokeness that has overtaken our entire university,” he wrote in a post for the Jefferson Council.

Now Mr. Ellis, 69, is on the university’s board of trustees, appointed recently by Governor Youngkin.

Mr. Ellis is part of a growing and forceful movement fighting campus programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, known as D.E.I.

Politicians, activists and alumni who oppose the programs say they enforce groupthink, establish arbitrary diversity goals, lower standards and waste money that could go to scholarships. Lawmakers in 19 states have taken up legislation to limit or block university D.E.I. programs.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has waged an all-out campaign to dismantle D.E.I. initiatives, calling them “hostile to academic freedom” and demanding their defunding. In North Carolina and South Carolina, lawmakers have demanded that public universities report the costs of D.E.I. In Texas, a new $300 billion state budget approved by the Legislature prohibits university spending on D.E.I.


It reported that, when he was in charge of campus speakers during the 1970s, Mr. Ellis had helped host a debate titled “The Correlation Between Race and Intelligence,” featuring a prominent eugenics supporter, William Shockley, over the objection of some Black students.

Another story revealed that, as a student, Mr. Ellis had turned down a request for a gay speaker.

Mr. Ellis, responding in an interview, said that the newspaper “spun” its coverage to present him as a “racist, a homophobe and a eugenicist.”

In fact, he says, Mr. Shockley debated Richard Goldsby, a Black biologist, who completely undermined his premise. “Goldsby absolutely slaughtered William Shockley in the debate,” Mr. Ellis said.