I read with dismay that unnamed William and Mary students defaced the statue of alumnus, Founding Father and former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Earlier in the week, Princeton students demanded that alumnus Woodrow Wilson’s name be expunged from the university. Yale and other institutions of higher learning (sic) have had similar protests. It is clear to me that our universities are under attack by fringe radicals devoid of tolerance and an understanding of what “liberal” arts in the classic definition of the term are all about.
I suggest that the William and Mary students who disgraced themselves in these acts take a few more history courses, and also study the First Amendment. Jefferson was a slave owner, as were all of the southern Founding Fathers. If we impose the moral standards of our times on all historical figures, virtually none will survive unscathed. African tribes sold rival tribes’ men and women to slave traders for hundreds of years. Should we now picket Kenyan, Nigerian, Liberian and other African universities whose halls bear these tribal chiefs’ names? Franklin Roosevelt presided over a segregated U.S. military in World War II, and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese citizens in internment camps during the war in retaliation for Pearl Harbor. Should we purge FDR’s name from all roads, buildings and monuments, and deface his statues for being a racist? Where in God’s name does the madness end?
I would have hoped that my graduate alma mater was comprised of students of more tolerant views than Yale, Princeton, and other colleges nationwide. Thomas Jefferson was a flawed man, as were all the Founding Fathers, as are all men and women of any time in history. Jefferson’s accomplishments as a statesman and President were almost superhuman. If the offending William and Mary students do not understand this, and cannot perceive the greatness of this man and alumnus, I suggest that they attend a college other than William and Mary. They have disgraced the tradition of tolerance at the College, and done a terrible disservice to one of America’s greatest leaders, as well as tolerant William and Mary alumni/ae of all political beliefs.
Thomas M. Neale, MBA ‘78
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