The University of Virginia’s decision to hire a departing member of the Trump administration is prompting a furious rebuke by some faculty and students still angered by the president’s response to a deadly rally by white supremacists last year in Charlottesville.
An online petition posted Thursday and signed by more than 1,000 people from the university community calls on U-Va. to revoke the teaching appointment of Marc Short, who until Friday served as Trump’s legislative affairs director.
“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 petition read. “While we do not object to dialogue with members of this 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.”
Short was hired to serve as a senior fellow at the Miller Center, a nonpartisan affiliate of the university that focuses on presidential scholarship and public policy, and may give guest lectures at the university’s Darden School of Business, from which he received an MBA.
In a statement he provided Friday, Short expressed dismay over opposition to his appointment.
“There is an irony at Thomas Jefferson’s university that professors are seeking to silence debate instead of fostering civil conversation,” Short said.
A longtime Republican operative, Short worked on Oliver North’s unsuccessful 1994 Senate campaign in Virginia and served as chief of staff for Kay Bailey Hutchison when the Republican from Texas was a senator. He later became president of Freedom Partners, a political nonprofit group with ties to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who built a powerful conservative network. Trump named Short director of legislative affairs at the outset of his administration.
“Marc is widely respected in both parties,” William J. Antholis, director and chief executive of the Miller Center, said in the statement announcing Short’s hiring. “We had the privilege of getting to know Marc through the presidential transition and the Trump Administration’s first year, and have been impressed by his professionalism, effectiveness, and collegiality.”
But many at the school were taken aback and expressed disappointment that the Miller Center would bring in someone it considers to be fiercely partisan. Opponents voiced their displeasure Wednesday in a meeting with Antholis. Dissension over the hiring was first reported by Politico.
Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at U-Va., said he opposes the appointment because of measures that Short supported, including ending immigration that is driven by family reunification, as well as the decision to separate migrant children from their parents at the border, a policy Trump later froze.
He said Short’s support of family separation “shows me that Marc Short is not a decent moral person and he has acted dishonorably. People who support family separation on the border should not be welcomed in what we used to call polite society let alone be members of this university community.”
Vaidhyanathan said that his opposition was not a matter of party or ideology and that he is not opposed to Short simply because he worked in the Trump White House, but because of what he did in the administration.
“Someone who has worked directly for Donald Trump to execute policies that are basically inhumane and racist is beyond the line,” he said.
William Hitchcock, a professor and presidential historian at the Miller Center, said he would welcome a speaking visit by Short, but doesn’t think that he should have a paid position at the school.
“The objection is that the Miller Center is a nonpartisan, scholarly institution for the study of the presidency and politics and we have a very clear statement of purpose that we foster nonpartisan inquiry and civil discourse,” Hitchcock said. “Marc Short, and the appointment of Marc Short with insufficient faculty commentary, violates the principles of nonpartisanship and he has violated the principles of civil discourse over the past 18 months.”
Hitchcock said that others at the center oppose Short because he defended Trump’s statements following the white supremacist rally last summer.
Trump was roundly criticized for saying there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, equating the actions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis with those who protested against them. Trump also said the participants in the white-supremacy march and rally included “some very fine people.” The president’s statements drew condemnation from leaders across the country including some in his own party.
In his statement Friday, Short addressed the administration’s response to last August’s events in Charlottesville: “There is no doubt we could have handled it better,” he said. “We must all be outspoken and unambiguous in our denunciation of white supremacy and racism.”
Gregory Fairchild, a Darden School professor who has known Short for 15 years, said the former Trump aide is not a “cultural warrior.”
“Relative to some of the boldface names that have spoken on behalf of the administration, I have found Marc to be less hyperbolic,” Fairchild said. “He’s a guy who comes to business school and says you should think about public service. He’s never said you should be a staunch right-wing Republican.”
Miller Center spokesman Howard Witt said Short’s appointment builds on a commitment to bipartisanship.
“We understand and respect those UVA faculty members and other critics — even some from within the Miller Center — who disagree with the decision to name Marc Short a senior fellow,” Witt wrote. “One of our core values is fostering robust, but civil, debate across our nation’s bitter partisan divide. . . . We believe it’s not really genuine nonpartisanship if the only contrary viewpoints you are willing to allow are the ones you can personally tolerate.”