UVA’s Miller Center for Public Affairs ignited controversy in July when it announced it had appointed a former Trump administration official to a senior fellowship. In the ensuing outcry, two nationally renowned history professors resigned from the center, and a petition protesting the appointment gathered more than 3,400 signatures.
The official, Marc Short (Darden ’04), served until mid-July as President Donald J. Trump’s legislative affairs director; prior to that he was VP Mike Pence’s chief of staff.
The resulting petition, signed by UVA faculty, staff and alumni, among others, cited the white nationalist violence of August 11-12, 2017, saying, “It is unconscionable that we would add to our university a person who served in a high-level position for the administration that first empowered, then defended, those white nationalists.”
Miller Center Director & CEO William J. Antholis (Col ’86) has stood firm. “Marc brings a missing critical voice—one that represents members of Congress and the Republican Party who continue to support the president in large numbers,” he wrote in a statement defending the appointment and acknowledging its divisiveness within the center. “Our focus on the presidency, our commitment to nonpartisanship, and our demonstrated ability to promote civil discourse are worth defending, especially in trying times.”
Two weeks after the initial announcement, scholars William I. Hitchcock and Melvyn Leffler, who will remain in the history department in the College, severed their ties with the center. “[T]he issue at stake is larger than Short, who is just a foot soldier in this destructive presidency,” they wrote in a joint resignation letter. “We refuse to reward and honor people who have spent their time in public service working only to elide the truth, to bend facts to serve partisan purposes, to mock the free press and to scorn the very act of free thinking.”
Confronted with the controversy his first day in office, UVA President James E. Ryan (Law ’92) told an Aug. 1 media gathering that he supports Antholis’ decision as consistent with the Miller Center’s mission of studying the presidency. “It’s also consistent,” he added, “with the idea that some find passé but I think is as deeply a part of the University’s core as anything; that is, that we should be willing to engage with those with whom we disagree, even if we disagree with them very strongly.”
Short began his one-year paid fellowship at the nonpartisan center in August, where he will participate in events, engage with members of the UVA community and contribute to Miller Center publications, according to the original announcement. —Judy Le