‘This bloated bureaucracy has got to be slashed:’ UVA governing board member’s secret fight against ‘incessant’ highlight of Virginia’s sordid slave past: Alumnus appointee once tried to slash anti-slavery posters outside student dorm with razor blade
- UVA Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis’ text messages were released Thursday
- Ellis has been vocal about defending Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at the school
- In 2020 he attempted to slash down anti-slavery posters outside a dorm
Newly released text messages have shed new light on the unfiltered opinions of a controversial University of Virginia Board of Visitors member who was recently appointed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The text messages released Thursday through a public records request show board member Brett Ellis railing against UVA faculty and students for ‘incessantly’ highlighting the school’s historical connection to slavery.
Ellis in the messages declared a ‘battle royale for the soul of UVA’ and slammed attempts to distance the school from Thomas Jefferson, the third US president and UVA’s founder, over Jefferson’s enslavement of black people.
An Atlanta businessman and UVA alumnus, Ellis has faced stiff 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 dorm.
Ellis freely admitted in an open letter that he had carried a ‘small razor blade’ to cut down part of the sign that read ‘F*** UVA’ but was halted by two university staffers, who warned him it would be consider criminal property damage.
Text messages released Thursday through a public records request show UVA board member Brett Ellis railing against faculty and students for ‘incessantly’ highlighting the school’s historical connection to slavery
In 2020, Ellis tried to remove part of this anti-slavery sign outside a dorm, saying he planned to use a ‘small razor’ to remove the words ‘F*** UVA’
Though Ellis has been vocal about his views in defending Jefferson, the text messages reveal his behind-the-scenes rants to other members of the Board of Visitors, which oversees UVA’s long-term planning, budget 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 one message, Ellis slammed Academic Outreach Vice Provost Louis P. Nelson, who is also a professor of architectural history who has studied buildings connected to slavery in Africa and the US.
‘Check out this numnut who works for [Provost Ian] Baucom and has nothing to do but highlight slavery at UVA. This bloated bureaucracy has got to be slashed,’ wrote Ellis in a message to two other Youngkin appointees to the board.
In another message to a fellow Youngkin appointee, Ellis wrote: ‘We have to raise hell with the BOV about this whole “Get Jefferson” movement by the CD [Cavalier Daily student paper] and the super liberal faculty…’
Statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of The Rotunda on the campus of the University of Virginia. Jefferson was UVA’s founder but his connections to slavery have drawn 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 civil 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 since had many opportunities to witness firsthand the many ways this institution, and its employees, contribute to the Commonwealth of Virginia, our nation, and our world,’ the university added.
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 by Youngkin’s Democratic predecessor, Ralph Northam, retain a majority on the 19-member board.
Ellis leads the Jefferson Council at 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.