Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

Your Alumni Association Dollars at Work

by James A. Bacon

Above is an ad that The Jefferson Council submitted to run in the University of Virginia Alumni Society, Virginia. Before I tell you the fate that befell this ad, please take a moment to read it, and then ask yourself: Is there anything political about it? Is there anything contentious about it? Is there anything inaccurate about it?

Sure, you might disagree with the thrust of the ad. Maybe you think, like many people at UVa do, that Jefferson deserves to be remembered in history as a slave-holding rapist. But, really, do you find anything objectionable about the facts, the quotes or the tenor of the presentation?

Now, you might think that the association representing the alumni of the university that Jefferson founded might be willing to publish a paid ad defending his reputation. And you would be wrong. Continue reading

UVa Makes Progress in Restoring Free Speech

You know The Jefferson Council and its allies are having an impact at the University of Virginia when you read items like this in “UVA This Month”:

Free speech flourished on Grounds in April. Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at Old Cabell Hall. UVA President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom wrote eloquently about cancel culture. And a panel including students and professors explored the topic in a candid discussion on the West Range.

There’s no mention in this blurb of The Jefferson Council or the Young America’s Foundation, which sponsored the speech, much less the Young Americans for Freedom, the conservative student group that organized the event. Even the in-house news article to which “UVA This Month” linked neglected to credit those who invited Pence and paid the speakers fee.

That’s OK. The Jefferson Council can take satisfaction in knowing that we are helping change the terms of debate. Free speech was not a preoccupation of the Ryan administration a year ago. We’re delighted that it is now — at least in high-profile events like former vice presidents coming to visit.

Now… if we can just get the administration to address compelled speech. We’ll have more on that shortly.

Fisking the Washington Post’s Free Speech Column

by Walter Smith

The Washington Post recently featured an opinion piece, “Why the University of Virginia is becoming a battleground for speech,” which portrayed members of The Jefferson Council as a group of old white guys desiring to preserve their hegemony of white privilege while skirting around the actual facts of the free-speech debate. In this rebuttal, I aim to fill in the missing facts and context.
Let me say by way of preface, that we appreciate the “hit piece” from The Washington Post. If you are drawing fire, you must be over the target. This opinion piece affirms that our efforts are being noticed.

The author, Peter Galuszka, set the scene for his diatribe by recounting the recent speech by former Vice President Mike Pence: “On April 12, hundreds of well-scrubbed, mostly White young people thunderously applauded former vice president Mike Pence as he espoused ‘free speech’ at the University of Virginia.”

That paragraph and the following two were largely true. Pence did say, “I am a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order.” He did say he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior (which is an orthodox statement among people who are evangelical Christians). He did criticize The Cavalier Daily student newspaper for its editorial which wished to deny him the right to speak at the 851-seat Old Cabell Hall auditorium. Young Americans for Freedom at UVA did organize the event, which is part of a national speaking tour for Mike Pence. Perhaps it is accurate to have said the purpose was to push a possible presidential bid in 2024. Continue reading

Free Speech Lives at the University of Virginia!

by James A. Bacon

Former Vice President Mike Pence came to the University of Virginia last night, attended two receptions, and delivered his speech, billed as “How to Save America from the Woke Left,” without a hitch.

The Pence event created a national stir when the editorial board of The Cavalier Daily student newspaper said that Pence should not be allowed to speak because his conservative views would prove offensive and hurtful to many. The editorial generated a tidal wave of response in support of Pence’s right to give the speech and students’ right to hear it. Seventeen faculty members of diverse political views signed a letter in defense of the speech. President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom published an op-ed in a higher-ed trade journal defending free speech.

Political science professor Larry Sabato, perhaps UVa’s best known faculty member, has been highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he hosted a reception for Trump’s vice president in a pavilion on the Lawn before the speech. The veep attended a second reception across the Lawn, hosted by the Young America’s Foundation, which, in partnership with The Jefferson Council, underwrote the cost of the event.

It was a pleasant spring evening, and throngs of students were hanging out on the Lawn, but there was no unpleasantness to be seen. The University had created an area where protesters could gather, which a modest number did, but they were peaceful and barely noticed by the hundreds of visitors as they lined up security checks outside Old Cabell Hall. Continue reading

Inaugural Annual Meeting — Elzinga Speech

Our University: Things That Change and Things That Stay the Same

Kenneth G. Elzinga
Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics
Jefferson Council @ Alumni Hall
April 5, 2022

Professors are always willing to profess, but I do not intend to profess about economics. I plan to talk about Mr. Jefferson’s University, where I have had the privilege to be employed since the fall of 1967. UVA has had nine presidents. I have served under six of them. I am told that I have taught more students than any other faculty member in the history of the school: approaching 50,000. I also am married to a UVA alumna. My wife Terry is a graduate of the Architecture School. The seven letters on her Virginia license plate spell: ROTUNDA.

When I reflect on my experience at UVA, I hold in tension a deep sense of admiration for the University and, at the same time, I can restrain my enthusiasm for characteristics of the school that have surfaced during my time on the faculty. Continue reading

UVa Has Issues, But At Least It Is Not Yale

by James A. Bacon

On March 10 the Federalist Society, a group promoting conservative/libertarian principles in law schools, hosted a panel discussion at Yale Law about freedom of religion and speech. About 120 student protesters descended upon the event, shouted down the speakers, and then, after repeated warnings, continued their noisy demonstration in the hallway. In the aftermath, more than 400 law students, about 60% of the student body, signed an open letter voicing support for the protesters and assailing the presence of armed police. While the protesters were excessively loud and “engaged in rude and insulting behavior,” wrote Law School Dean Heather Gerken, they did not violate the school’s “three-warning protocol.” Heated debate over the contours of free speech continues to this day.

At the University of Virginia, by contrast, the Federalist Society held a symposium on the topic, “The Federalists Vs. the Anti-Federalists: Revisiting the Founding Debates.” The event went off without a hitch. There were no protests, no open letters, and no need for statements by the dean.

The exercise of free speech and free expression leaves very much to be desired at the University of Virginia, but students, parents, faculty and alumni can console themselves: At least UVa is not Yale. (Which is fairly ironic, given the fact that President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom, and law school Dean Risa Goluboff all hold Yale degrees.) Continue reading

Policies at War With Themselves

UVa President Jim Ryan

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom have finally begun to engage in a discussion about university “cancel culture.” In the abstract, they’re against it. Their latest musings represent a step beyond the mere protection of free speech, which the Board of Visitors had endorsed previously, toward respectful engagement of people with different views.

“We can teach our students not only about the right to free speech but also how to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners,” they wrote in the higher-ed trade publication Inside Higher Education. “We should teach them to dismantle arguments, not people.”

UVa Provost Ian Baucom

They even go so far as to acknowledge the value of entertaining a wide variety of viewpoints in academia. “Colleges and universities … could stand to be more intellectually diverse than they are, just as they could stand to be more racially and socioeconomically diverse.”

These are fine sentiments, and the critics of UVa — and higher education in Virginia generally — should welcome them. There may be reason to hope that UVa, after an orgy of self-flagellation for its past, the renaming of buildings, the dismantling of statues, and the blackening of the name of Thomas Jefferson, will live up to the aspiration of its founder to “follow the truth wherever it might lead.” Continue reading

Students Need to Hear Divergent Opinions

It is hard to imagine taking a position more antithetical to Thomas Jefferson’s, and all of our Founding Fathers’ insistence on freedom of expression and freedom of association than that which has been put forward by the Cavalier Daily. Frankly, it is astounding that the University’s student newspaper is in favor of banning free speech and free association. Even if you don’t agree with me, I have the right to speak!

I note that Mike Pence is speaking at no charge to the university, while the U paid Ibram X. Kendi $32,500 to speak for an hour. There was no outcry as to his POV or shutting him down. But, then, he is part of the ill-named “liberal” orthodoxy. Continue reading

What Is Free Speech Without Intellectual Diversity?

by James A. Bacon

Eleven days ago the Editorial Board of the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper, opined that it could not condone the “platforming” of former Vice President Mike Pence by allowing him to speak on the university grounds.

The blowback has been gratifying to see.

While some students have expressed support for suppressing ideas deemed hateful and hurtful, others have denounced the editorial. Crucially, UVa President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom weighed in in favor of free speech, stating in a CD piece that “all views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard, free from interference.”

Let us praise the Ryan administration when plaudits are due. But let us also recognize that at UVa “free speech” is a sub-set of a larger issue: an ever-narrowing range of permissible viewpoints. Threats to free speech spring from intellectual monocultures, which is exactly what UVa is becoming. A defense of free speech would not be necessary in a university that fostered more intellectual diversity. Continue reading

The Mental Anguish Veto

by James A. Bacon

As the debate over de-platforming former Vice President Mike Pence plays out in the pages of the University of Virginia student newspaper, a recent column illuminates, albeit unwitting, the complex interplay between mental illness, sexual orientation, fragility, and intolerance toward views people find uncomfortable.

Mental illness is rampant in American society today, especially in the so-called Generation Z. An increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression has emerged as a major challenge facing colleges and universities in Virginia, and across the United States. A month ago, students at James Madison University staged an occupation of Alumni Hall. Their demands: more resources and special allowances for students suffering from mental illness. UVa is no exception to this trend.

The anxiety and depression experienced by young people are very real, and those who suffer deserve our sympathy and support. But their anguish does not give them the right to cancel the rights of others.

Within that context, a young woman wrote a letter to The Cavalier Daily expressing her reasons for wanting to ban Pence from the Grounds. I do not use her name because I do not want to expose her to ridicule or otherwise add to the burdens she bears. Her story, though, is telling. Continue reading