Two historians have resigned in protest from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, saying the center did not adequately consult with faculty or protect the center’s mission before hiring a former Trump White House staffer.
Melvyn P. Leffler, a professor of history and policy and the former dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and William Hitchcock, a professor of history and policy, notified the center’s director of their immediate resignations Monday morning.
The resignations follow two weeks of furor over the appointment of Marc Short, President Donald Trump’s former legislative affairs director, to a one-year fellowship at the center. Faculty members contend that the hiring process was incomplete and that the Trump administration’s values are detrimental to the center’s research and mission.
“I believe as a historian that the Trump administration is different than any other administration,” Hitchcock said in an interview Monday. “It’s consistently violated civil discourse and democratic politics.”
Short has associated himself with attacks on the media and with rhetoric that emboldens white supremacists and did not quickly distance himself from Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville after Aug. 11 and 12, according to Hitchcock and Leffler.
The center, which is a nonpartisan think tank that studies American presidencies, has maintained it has a duty to fully examine each administration.
“I made a judgment with this individual that he falls within the legitimate band of civil discourse in this country,” William Antholis, director of the center, said in an interview. “He is not an active agent in undermining press freedoms and civil discourse.”
Antholis said he consulted with more Miller Center faculty and leadership than is usual for fellowship appointments, and believes Short understands the importance of the center’s nonpartisan research.
“It’s important that our political opponents not become political enemies,” Antholis said.
Leffler stressed he still respects the center’s leadership, but fundamentally disagrees with Short’s qualifications and doubts his ability to distance himself from the White House’s policies. He decided last week to resign, he said.
“My problem with Marc Short being designated as a senior fellow is that it rewards actions and words that are fundamentally opposed to the Miller Center and to democracy,” Leffler said in an interview. “I’m not opposed to having Marc Short at the Miller Center as a speaker; I’m opposed to rewarding and normalizing and legitimizing actions that are opposed to the values of the Miller Center.”
Leffler and Hitchcock signed a July 19 petition to stop Short’s hiring. As of Monday evening, the petition had about 2,600 signatures.
In the petition, and in their joint resignation letter, Leffler and Hitchcock also criticize Short’s lack of response on Trump’s statements on Charlottesville in the wake of white supremacist rallies last August.
“Until his appointment to a fellowship at UVa, Mr. Short did not distance himself from President Trump’s remarks about August 11-12,” they wrote in their letter. “By not speaking out at the time, by not emphasizing the threats to human decency posed by the public display of Nazi symbols and racist diatribes in our own neighborhood, Mr. Short was complicit in the erosion of our civic discourse and showed an appalling indifference to the civility of our own city and university.”
Hitchcock and Leffler will keep their appointments in UVa’s Corcoran Department of History.
Short could not be reached for comment Monday. His fellowship begins Wednesday.