RICHMOND, Va. (7News) — Former Democratic Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder said it's time for new leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) after the college ultimately chose not to fire a college professor who Wilder said threatened him and disrespected Susan Gooden, the Dean of the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
“It might very well be the President needs to go,” Wilder told 7News On Your Side on Monday.
It all started in January 2022 when Jim Burke, an employee at VCU tasked with working with state agencies, texted Wilder about Republican Glenn Youngkin’s incoming administration.
Burke allegedly told Wilder “Welcome to the Nazis” and “WTF, is this what you wanted, Doug?”
Burke allegedly told Wilder he “f***ed up badly.”
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“First, I thought this is someone who is absolutely off their rocker. Crazy,” said Wilder. "I had to reread it because I couldn't believe it. I could not believe that this was coming from anyone who worked at the school. His [Burke’s] job calls for him to work with state agencies. He doesn't teach a course at our school. His job is to make the services of our school are available for the administration and our state and as well as local levels. That is what he is paid to do. So, I couldn't understand it. I didn't know what he was referencing, in terms of my having 'effed up' so badly. The real question is, what was it that I did? And he still has not said it. More importantly, he went further to say to his immediate supervisor that he's taken down far bigger fish than me, and that I was going to find myself in a bad place.”
Wilder served as an adviser to Youngkin during the transition alongside other former Virginia governors, but Wilder didn’t officially endorse Youngkin or his Democratic opponent during the election.
Later, Burke allegedly told his supervisor: "I stand by what I said. I was right," adding if Wilder “tries to make things worse, he will find himself in a bad place.”
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“Absolutely that’s threatening language,” said Wilder.
The dean of VCU’s Wilder School agreed. The dean obtained a protective order against Burke and fired him.
Burke allegedly told his supervisor that Wilder shouldn’t have “run” to the dean: “No man would do that.”
The dean told VCU that “this language was very intimidating because I now know that he does not view me as the professional Dean of the Wilder School, but rather as a woman that Governor Wilder is hiding behind."
“Has he [Burke] forgotten that she is his boss, she’s my boss, she is the dean of the school, not just a woman who happens to be African American,” said Wilder.
VCU’s Threat Assessment Team said Burke’s actions do not seem to indicate any specific physical threats of violence to individuals.
But the dean disagreed, writing that “many tragedies on university campuses start in this fashion," providing several examples in her letter to the Threat Assessment Team.
Wilder said VCU kept Burke on the payroll even though the Dean fired him. According to VCU sources, Burke earns a $148,839 salary from the state-funded college.
7News reached out to Burke for an interview Monday morning before this story was published and is awaiting a response.
Burke told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he’s negotiating a settlement to leave VCU. Burke also told the newspaper his comments were ranting, not threatening.
“Let’s not beat around it. It’s racism. It’s racism that’s being tolerated by the [VCU] President,” said Wilder. “What the President is doing is undermining the Dean, ignoring threats to her, acting as if I don’t exist. And anyone who knows me knows I don’t wear my race on my sleeve, I have never made a callous accusation on race because I think merit speaks louder and clearer, however, when it’s ignored to this extent, the responsibility lies with the President.”
7News asked Wilder why he’s breaking his silence on this matter now.
“I didn't want to share it,” he said, “I was forced to do so because the [VCU] administration has done nothing. This matter as you know, occurred back in January. And as of today, no one has contacted me from the administration about anything.”
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Wilder's first public comment on the matter was at the VCU Board of Visitors meeting last week.
“I'm speaking to this board of visitors because they need to be reminded they work for the people of Virginia,” said Wilder. “And what I'm very concerned with is for students, faculty, and people in our city and state to believe that the President of a university tolerates an incoming governor and his associates being referenced as Nazis and say nothing and do nothing. That's the straw that broke the [camel’s] back. My back that is."
“Do you think this individual, Jim Burke, should be allowed to teach at a state-funded college in Virginia?” 7News Reporter Nick Minock asked Wilder.
“I don't think he should be allowed to teach anywhere,” said Wilder.
“What would your message be to the President of VCU? asked Minock.
“If the President does not understand that we will not tolerate nor condone these types of activities then somebody has to be changed, and that might very well be that the President needs to go,” said Wilder.
“What would your message be for people in Virginia?” asked Minock.
“I've had a lot of confidence in the people of Virginia,” said Wilder. “I know that they are not going to tolerate this. They are not going to condone this. The people of Virginia don't support this. I'm hearing from people at VCU, senior members, or people who serve on the board, and people who served in high positions at our school. They cannot understand why this man is on the payroll. And no one has told you nor will they tell you why he is still on the payroll.”
On Monday, Wilder also told 7News his thoughts on the mass shooting that happened in Buffalo on Sunday that left ten people dead and several others injured.
“It was racial and why was it necessary to kill the people If they were Black? What have they done? And what have I done to be threatened to be found in a bad place?" asked Wilder. "Because I might be working with and had been appointed to serve on the advisory panel with three white governors? Me being the only Democrat. Racism needs to be addressed at every level and the issue in Buffalo could happen anywhere unless we as a nation come to grips and to come to understand, that it's not to be tolerated. But the only way you can show that is to do it. Words mean nothing. Make It Right.”