With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Texts by Youngkin UVA Appointee Full of Culture War Grudges, References to Faculty and Administrators as "Numnuts"

After Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) named him last summer to the University of Virginia’s governing board, Bert Ellis had a platform to influence the school’s administration. He spotted a potential target, a vice provost named Louis P. Nelson, tasked with community engagement, public service and academic outreach programs.

Nelson, who reports to U-Va’s chief academic officer, Provost Ian Baucom, is also a professor of architectural history and an award-winning scholar and teacher. He has researched buildings and landscapes that shaped slavery in West Africa and the Americas, including at the prestigious public university that Thomas Jefferson founded in Charlottesville.

Ellis was unimpressed.

“Check out this numnut who works for Baucom and has nothing to do but highlight slavery at UVA,” Ellis wrote on July 22 in text messages to two other new board members, Stephen P. Long and Amanda Pillion. “This bloated bureaucracy has got to be slashed.”

That and other text messages from Ellis were obtained last week through Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act by Richmond-based author Jeff Thomas, who provided them to The Washington Post. They provide an unfiltered window into the conversations of a controversial board newcomer who has voiced skepticism of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, been protective of the legacy of Jefferson and advocated for a new course for the flagship university.

They also underscore mounting political tensions throughout public higher education as Republican governors and their appointees challenge university culture, norms and operations. Tenure protections for faculty and diversity offices are top targets of those who believe campuses are in thrall of a liberal indoctrination machine. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently appointed a slate of trustees that is engineering a major overhaul of the public New College of Florida.

The Virginia legislature voted this month to confirm Ellis, Pillion, Long and another Youngkin appointee, Douglas D. Wetmore, to four-year terms on the U-Va. Board of Visitors. For now, appointees from Youngkin’s Democratic predecessors continue to hold a majority of the 19 board seats. That will change as members rotate off and Youngkin fills openings.


Thomas faulted U-Va., Youngkin and Ellis. “The University squandered taxpayer money in court for six months and illegally withheld these documents from the public because they demonstrate Governor Youngkin’s Board appointees are ignorant reactionaries consumed by hatred and neo-Confederate fantasies,” he said in an email to The Post.

Read entire article at Washington Post