Back in Vogue at UVa: Viewpoint Diversity

Douglas Wetmore

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia leadership normally keeps its Board of Visitors meetings running on such a tightly scripted schedule that board members rarely get an opportunity to engage in free-wheeling discussion. But Rector Whitt Clement and President Jim Ryan made an exception Friday during the board’s June meeting: They set aside nearly an hour to talk about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Board member Douglas Wetmore, a Richmond businessman appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin, set the tone as soon as the discussion began. On paper the administration values “viewpoint diversity” along with demographic and other forms of diversity, he noted. But unlike the meticulous statistics it compiles on the racial and gender breakdown of students, faculty, and staff, he said, the university does not track viewpoint diversity at all.

“We want a wide range of competing ideas,” Wetmore said. “One hundred percent of statistics are related to race and gender. I haven’t seen one reflecting viewpoint diversity,” he said.

While a few board members suggested that viewpoint diversity was not a serious issue at UVa, the ensuing discussion revolved mainly around how to define viewpoint diversity, how much of such diversity was desirable, and how to measure it while respecting individuals’ right to privacy.

The Board conversation was unprecedented at UVa, where the DEI bureaucracy dedicated to advancing the interests of “marginalized” minorities has grown to 55 employees by the university’s own count. Continue reading

UVa Board Trims Next-Year Tuition by 0.7%. Big Whoop.

by James A. Bacon

Responding to a Youngkin administration request for Virginia’s public colleges and universities to curb tuition increases, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted this morning to reduce a scheduled 3.7% tuition hike next year to 3.0%.

As explained by Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, the shaving of $5.5 million from the budget represents a “good faith” effort to comply with the administration’s request. But in response to a question, she acknowledged that it only “partially” complied.

“This is very late in the budgetary cycle,” which closes June 30, said former Rector and the board’s financial guru James Murray. “We’re supposed to have a budget number in March. It’s very difficult in this point the year to say, ‘Go find millions of dollars.'” He described the partial rollback as “a concession to political reality.”

In other business, the Board also approved a $5.4 billion operating budget for Fiscal 2023-24, which begins July 1. The budget encompasses the academic divisions of the University of Virginia main campus, the campus in Wise, and the UVa Health System. The UVa main-campus operating budget amounts to $2.3 billion.

To an outside observer, the proceedings were remarkable — for the lack of oversight. Board input into what is arguably the most important vote of the year was inconsequential. Aside from praise for the UVa financial staff and a few requests for clarifications, board members had little to say. They offered no substantive questions. They provided zero pushback. Continue reading

Team Ryan Defends UVa Commitment to Free Speech

Leslie Kendrick (wearing a mask and recovering from a cold) and Melody Barnes address the Board of Visitors.

by James A. Bacon

Jim Sherlock, a Bacon’s Rebellion columnist, offers his take on the Diversity, Equity& Inclusion presentation to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors scheduled to take place this afternoon. Based on the PowerPoint deck to be used as the basis of the presentation, he concludes that the administration intends to deflect the conversation from the main issue, which, he maintains, is using the DEI bureaucracy to impose political and ideological control.

Read his essay here. You might want to check out the comments section in which Ryan administration sympathizers and critics engage in a lively (and mostly civil) back and forth.

Sherlock published his essay yesterday before another important presentation took place. Anticipating criticisms like Sherlock’s, the administration stressed the value it places on “free speech,” “free inquiry” and “diversity of viewpoints.” Continue reading

Baucom Lays Out Priorities for UVa’s R&D Growth

Ian Baucom

by James A. Bacon

R&D at the University of Virginia’s has increased at roughly double the rate of Duke, the University of North Carolina, and other peer institutions over the past ten years, Provost Ian Baucom told the Board of Visitors this afternoon during its June meeting. Admittedly, UVa started from a lower base and its R&D expenditures are still only half those of its Research Triangle rivals, he said. “We should feel really good about the trend. But we’re still behind.” 

A university’s research ranking is important for several reasons, Baucom told the visitors. Research discoveries on maladies from autism to Alzheimer’s “literally change lives.” Research enables students to develop personally so they can participate in the economy as innovators and knowledge creators. And research rankings can affect institutional prestige. “Our reputation and standing depend upon it.”

Research funding from external and internal sources amounts to about $650 million a year. Much of the research — 63% — occurs in traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields, where the big money is, but UVa’s comparative advantage is in the social sciences, humanities, quantitative research and computational science. Rather than copying strategies that worked for other institutions, UVa needs to create its own vision, Baumon said. Continue reading

Equity: Equal Outcomes or Equal Opportunity?

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by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan begs to differ with critics of “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” The term “equity” has become a lightning rod in the debate over DEI, he writes in an essay recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Somehow, he muses, people got the idea that equity means “equal outcomes” as opposed to “equal opportunity.”

“I have no idea where this idea came from, but it ought to be rejected out of hand,” he says. “I know of no college that assures equal outcomes.”

Where, oh where, could critics of UVa’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion policies have gotten the idea that equity stands for equal outcomes?

Perhaps they got it from “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” which summarized the 2020 findings of UVa’s Racial Equity Task Force established by Ryan. The document was endorsed by the Board of Visitors, and never has Ryan, the Board, or anyone else in authority at UVa distanced themselves from its goals and objectives.

The task force reports makes abundantly clear what “equity” means to the authors of the report (my bold face). Continue reading

Ryan Calls for a Kinder, Gentler DEI

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by James A. Bacon

As the University of Virginia Board of Visitors gears up for a discussion of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in its June board meeting, President Jim Ryan has made the case for a kinder, gentler DEI in an essay recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Forgoing the rhetoric of “anti-racism” theorists such as Ibram X. Kendi, Ryan argues that DEI is misunderstood. There is no talk in the essay about “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “structural racism” or other leftist buzzwords.

Indeed, Ryan argues that the most contentious element of DEI — equity — does not mean striving for equal outcomes, as many conservatives say it does. Sounding very much like Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, Ryan contends that “equity” really means equal “opportunity.” Unlike Youngkin, who renamed the state’s office of DEI to the office of Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion, however, Ryan is satisfied to retain the equity label and redefine it in more benign terms.

The tone in Ryan’s essay is moderate and reasonable. Political conservatives and moderates would not find much to argue with. The problem is that the words are largely divorced from reality. One is driven to conclude either that UVa’s president, insulated by layer upon layer of management, does not know what is occurring at the institution he leads or, worse, he does know and he is doing his best to obscure it. Continue reading

Ryan: Supreme Court Ruling Will Not Diminish UVa Commitment to Diversity

by James A. Bacon

If the United States Supreme Court rules in June that colleges and universities may no longer use race as a factor in admissions, the University of Virginia will continue to “do everything with our legal authority to recruit a student body that is both extraordinarily talented and richly diverse across every imaginable dimension including race,” said President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom in a statement issued to the university community.

Arguments before the Supreme Court are now underway on legal challenges at Harvard and the University of North Carolina to block racial preferences in university admissions. Such policies, the plaintiffs argue, violate the Constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race.

Ryan and Baucom said they are committed to “serve the Commonwealth and beyond by making a UVA education as accessible as possible for all, including historically underrepresented students.”

While there is broad support across the political spectrum for recruiting Blacks, Hispanics and other racial minorities to UVa, there is considerable disquiet about setting numerical goals for minority representation, which, for all practical purposes represent targets to be achieved. UVa assiduously tracks the racial make-up of its student body, faculty, and staff. Continue reading

How UVa Offsets Bureaucratic Bloat

by James A. Bacon

College Simply‘s 2023 Best Value Colleges in America ranks the University of Virginia as the 2nd “best value” among public colleges and universities in the United States in 2023. The best-value distinction is conferred upon institutions that provide students the most academic prowess for the money (defined as net tuition after financial aid to the student).

When critics of UVa governance accuse the university of supporting excess administrative overhead, a common response is: If UVa is so bad, how come it’s the second-best value among all public institutions?

That’s a fair retort and well worth exploring. In this column, I suggest that UVa has restrained the highly visible and politically sensitive metric of undergraduate in-state tuition not through budgetary belt-tightening but by pursuing two strategies: (1) maintaining a favorable ratio of students who pay the full freight versus those who require financial assistance, and (2) increasing enrollment for out-of-state post-graduate students who pay higher tuition than in-state students. Much if not all of UVa’s perceived superior value comes from tuition-and-admissions engineering. Continue reading

More Great Events for Your Viewing Pleasure

Our friends the Princetonians for Free Speech recently hosted two exciting events on the Princeton campus . . .

Both of these events were recorded and are now available on the Alumni Free Speech Alliance’s YouTube site.

DEI Has “Gone Off the Rails”

by James A. Bacon

Finally, we’re getting an open debate about “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” in Virginia — not an honest debate, mind you, but a debate which, whether honest or not, is long overdue.

Last month, Virginia’s chief diversity officer Martin Brown proclaimed that DEI was “dead” at the Virginia Military Institute. Various parties, from Democratic legislators to Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, lambasted Brown.

“Make no mistake: Brown did not merely threaten to terminate equity, but the entirety of DEI. And Youngkin has his back in pushing for its destruction,” wrote Williams. “Somewhere, Jim Crow is smiling.”

Ah, I see. Brown, an African-American, is bent upon dragging Virginia back to the era of lynch mobs, eugenics, and state-enforced racial segregation. With insights like that, no wonder Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Continue reading