‘This bloated bureaucracy has to be cut:’ UVA board member’s secret fight against ‘relentless’ highlight of Virginia’s sordid slave past: Designated alumnus once tried to cut anti-slavery signs out from the student dormitory with a razor blade
- Text messages from UVA Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis were released Thursday
- Ellis has spoken about upholding Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at the school.
- In 2020 he attempted to cut down anti-slavery signs outside a bedroom.
Recently released text messages have shed new light on the unfiltered views of a controversial University of Virginia Board of Visitors member who was recently appointed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Text messages released Thursday via a public records request show board member Brett Ellis criticizing UVA faculty and students for “incessantly” highlighting the school’s historical connection to slavery.
Ellis in the messages declared a “royal battle for the soul of UVA” and criticized attempts to distance the school from Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and founder of UVA, over the enslavement of blacks by Jefferson.
Ellis, an Atlanta businessman and UVA alumnus, has faced harsh backlash from UVA faculty and staff since Youngkin appointed him last summer, in part due to a 2020 incident in which he tried to remove an anti-slavery sign outside a bedroom.
Ellis freely admitted in an open letter that he had brought a ‘small razor blade’ to cut part of the sign reading ‘F***GRAPE’, but was stopped by two university staff and warned that it would be considered criminal damage to property.
Text messages released Thursday via a public records request show UVA board member Brett Ellis criticizing faculty and students for “incessantly” highlighting the school’s historical connection to slavery.
In 2020, Ellis attempted to remove part of this anti-slavery sign outside a bedroom, saying he planned to use a “small razor” to remove the words “F***GRAPE.”
Although Ellis has been outspoken about his views on defending Jefferson, the text messages reveal his behind-the-scenes tirades to other members of the Board of Visitors, which oversees UVA’s long-term planning, budgeting and policies.
The messages were obtained through Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act by Richmond-based author Jeff Thomas, who specializes in analyzing the state’s political culture.
In a message, Ellis sharply criticized vice chancellor for academic outreach Louis P. Nelson, who is also a professor of architectural history and has studied slavery-related buildings in Africa and the United States.
‘Look at this numnut who works for (Provost Ian) Baucom and has nothing to do but highlight slavery at UVA. This bloated bureaucracy needs to be cut,” Ellis wrote in a message to two other Youngkin board members.
In another message to a fellow Youngkin appointee, Ellis wrote: ‘We need to make a fuss with the BOV about this whole “Get Jefferson” movement of the CD (the Cavalier Daily student newspaper) and super liberal faculty…’
Statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of The Rotunda on the University of Virginia campus. Jefferson was the founder of UVA, but his connections to slavery have sparked student protests.
In a statement to The Washington Post, the university said: “These text messages demonstrate a disappointing disregard for the hard work of UVA faculty and staff, as well as the University’s core values of civic discourse and honor.” .
‘It is important to note that the messages were sent before these members attended their first Board meeting, and that they have had many opportunities since then to witness firsthand the many ways in which this institution and its employees contribute to the Commonwealth of Virginia, our nation. , and our world,’ added the university.
Ellis is one of four board members appointed by Youngkin last year and confirmed by the Virginia State Senate earlier this month.
The others are Stephen P. Long, Amanda Pillion, and Doug Wetmore.
Still, appointees of Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam, retain a majority on the 19-member board.
Ellis heads the Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia, which has sought to protect the founder’s legacy as well as other traditions.
His appointment to the school’s board of visitors has significantly amplified the group’s voice.