The head of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center says the controversial offer of a fellowship to a former Trump official will help the center’s presidential studies program understand and explain the current administration.
Miller Center Director William Antholis said Friday that he’d received significant backlash for hiring UVa alumnus and Trump legislative affairs director Marc Short.
However, Antholis said, the Trump administration’s unique and disruptive style and technique makes it important to have someone from within its camp working with the center.
“This appointment is squarely in our core work of studying the presidency,” Antholis said in a statement on the Miller Center’s website. “Marc’s experience and expertise only strengthens our ability to understand and explain this administration, including in its most difficult and divisive moments.”
The backlash included a petition signed by more than 800 faculty, students, staff and alumni asking the university to revoke Short’s appointment and review its hiring process.
According to the petition, Trump’s administration does not align with the values of a university. The petition notes Trump’s statements about white supremacists after the deadly Charlottesville rally on Aug. 12, in which he said “there were very fine people on both sides.”
“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,” the petition reads. “We are a community still in the process of healing, and someone who defended the president’s remarks after the violence here is a barrier to that process, a source of trauma in a still-traumatized community.”
The petition also questioned having a Trump administration member and supporter at a university-affiliated organization.
“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,” the petition reads.
Antholis said Short will serve his one-year appointment in the presidential studies program, offering insight into the current administration. He also will offer guest lectures in university classes.
The petition received support from students and faculty across the university and from Miller Center staff and fellows, but Antholis said the social division caused by Trump’s presidency makes it important for the center to have access to experts who have been directly involved with decisions.
“Marc will help us think through how to capture the Trump presidency through our signature presidential oral history program,” Antholis said. “In addition, he will contribute to an ongoing research undertaking and conference that will explore how the presidency, Congress and political polarization are combining to create policy and legislative gridlock. His contributions will help keep Miller Center scholars at the cutting edge of their research field.”