The University of Virginia Comes Up Short

Recently, a senior aide to the Trump Administration named Marc Short left the White House. The reasons for his resignation were not obscure. According to one former official, Short had one of “the two toughest jobs in the White House” and was “tired.” (One can imagine getting House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to harmonize with the president might be draining.) Having decided that it was time for a change of scenery, Short then made the most egregious error of his career: he accepted a position at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, as a senior fellow at the Miller Center for Government Affairs.

A bit of a simpleton, this Marc Short. For though he had served as the White House director of legislative affairs, and was Trump’s key man on Capitol Hill, he quite clearly mistook the snake pit of academia for a sinecure. He thought he was joining the Miller Center (a supposedly nonpartisan think tank that “specializes in public policy and presidential scholarship”) to talk about his fresh insights, meet some students, and catch a few football home games.

Instead, poor Marc Short has become the unwitting symbol of all that is wrong with America’s universities and colleges.

An Angry Response
On July 19, a petition started circulating online that denounced Short’s appointment and called upon the university to withdraw it. The petition read in part:

The university should not serve as a waystation for high-level members of an administration that has directly harmed our community and to this day attacks the institutions vital to a free society – the very thing that the University of Virginia, as an institute of higher education, is meant to protect.

While we do not object to dialogue with members of the administration, we do object to the use of our university to clean up their tarnished reputations. No one should be serving at the highest levels of this administration, daily supporting and defending its actions one week, then representing UVA the next.

What were the petitioners doing exactly? They were inventing the heretofore unwritten “You Can’t Hire Trump People at UVA Because…” rule. Now, when you invent such a rule—a rule that has never before existed because it undermines most of the other rules of a free society—you have to be careful to explain why this is a very special case. You are pleading, in other words, for an exemption because the situation or the threat is unique. This kind of special pleading often leads people who write petitions to play fast and loose with the truth.

First, exactly how had Marc Short (or anyone from the Trump Administration) directly “harmed” the community of Charlottesville? The answer is that Short, and others, were somehow “complicit” with the Unite the Right Rally in August 2017 where white supremacist groups gathered and violence broke out. Really? It was actually a UVA graduate, Jason Kessler (B.A. psychology, 2009) who organized the rally to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the local park. What’s more, the ACLU sued the city so that the white supremacists could go ahead and march. The liberal news organization ProPublica blamed the police for the violence. Are these pro-Trump organizations? The city of Charlottesville even hired a former U.S. attorney to sort out the people responsible. In his report, Timothy Heaphy pointed the finger at the real culprits, which included the Charlottesville Police Department, the Charlottesville City Council, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia State Police.

Lest you think I’m joking, I would recommend to you the “Final Report of the Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia” except the link is down on the city’s website. Quite a coincidence. You can get the gist of the malfeasance here. Needless to say, you will search in vain for the name “Marc Short” anywhere in the report.

Political Hacks Disguised as Academics
Who is behind this fraud? The people who have been most interested in forwarding this pathetic petition and whining to the newspapers about it have been current members of the Miller Center like William Hitchcock, Melvyn P. Leffler, and Douglas Blackmon. These men fall into a very undistinguished group that we shall call “the sore losers of the 2016 election.”

Turns out, Blackmon is working on a book with the infamous former Attorney General Eric Holder, according to his latest bio. Leffler was a “Randolph Jennings Fellow” of the United States Institute of Peace, an organization so ineffectual that even Michael Kinsley made fun of it. (What’s so wrong with USIP? Kinsley: “Answer: nothing is wrong with it, except that all of human history suggests that it cannot work.”) The “sour grapes” leftist leanings of these three are hiding in plain sight.

Political hacks posing as scholars and professors have seen fit to behave as the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror. Not content to advance a lie by signing the petition against Short and promoting it, Hitchcock and Leffler resigned from the Miller Center in protest when UVA decided not to cave to their demands.

“We must not normalize or rationalize hateful, cruel and demeaning behavior” these two affirmed in their protest letter. Stirring words, but they thought nothing of blaming an innocent man in print with no supporting evidence, and then agitating for him to be denied employment without anything resembling due process. But this is the way of the world now.

The triumph of Trump has unbalanced the minds of many. Some of those minds should know better. “Democracy in the United States today is in peril,” Hitchcock and Leffler insist. Indeed it is. When men posing as professors in a free society proceed to agitate against someone in order to deny them their rights of free speech and free association, then we are in trouble. The American university’s ideals of truth, inquiry, reason, decency, civility, and humanity are harassed daily by students and professors who shout down right-leaning speakers and ideas wherever they find them. Obviously, people who engage in such behavior are not “protecting” free speech but actually working to destroy it.

Real Academics Would Have Welcomed the Argument
It is not a crime to work in the Trump Administration. It is not a crime to disagree about politics with your fellow citizens. That Hitchcock, Leffler, and Blackmon tried to do this to Marc Short is a blot on their names, and any decent university would censure them.

As the leftist academic Noam Chomsky has memorably said, “If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” These three are an embarrassment to the American university precisely because they will not tolerate views which differ from their own.

Real professors who disagreed with the Trump Administration’s policies would still have welcomed Marc Short—in order to debate him publicly and for the edification of their students. That’s why we have universities. Perhaps UVA should go and explain that to some of its faculty.

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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