Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

You Support Free Speech? Show It.

We support free speech… unless it’s hate speech… and hate speech is anything that offends us.

by James A. Bacon

The leaders of Virginia’s colleges and universities are sensitive to the public’s distrust of higher-ed’s ability to protect freedom of speech and “cultivate robust and divergent viewpoints.”

“Today’s students may hesitate to discuss difficult topics for fear of retribution or ostracism,” write four Virginia higher-ed presidents in an op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Yet free expression and academic freedom are essential to the tripartite mission of learning, discovery and engagement.”

To address these fears the Virginia Council of Presidents has issued a statement expressing support for free expression:

As presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, we unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity on our campuses. Free expression is the fundamental basis for both academic freedom and for effective teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom. Our member universities and colleges are bound to uphold the First Amendment. We are committed to promoting this constitutional freedom through robust statements and policies that are formulated through shared governance processes and through actions that reflect and reinforce this core foundation of education. We value a scholarly environment that is supported by a diversity of research and intellectual perspectives among our faculty and staff. We pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences. We will protect these principles when others seek to restrict them.

Noble words. But I won’t believe the presidents’ commitment to “free speech and viewpoint diversity” until I see massive changes in the way they run their institutions. Continue reading

Cabrera Speaks to Congressional Free Speech Roundtable

Nick Cabrera, president of the University of Virginia Chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom and member of the Jefferson Council Board of Advisors, participated in the second Congressional Free Speech Roundtable yesterday. The event was organized by Congressman Greg Murphy (R-N.C.).

In his remarks, which begin at the 1:11:00 mark in the video above, Cabrera discussed the free speech environment at UVa. We post his more extensive written commentary below.


Good morning, thank you Congressman Murphy and everyone for inviting me to this year’s 2nd annual roundtable. I am Nickolaus Cabrera, current third-year student at the University of Virginia. There I serve on the advisory board of The Jefferson Council and President of the Young Americans for Freedom. I also serve on the National Board of Governors for Young Americans for Freedom.

I chose to attend the University of Virginia because it was and is Mr. Jefferson’s. Now, Thomas Jefferson is frowned upon and seen as evil by many. His founding principles of a university that simply sought to advance human knowledge, educate leaders and cultivate an informed citizenry seem to vanish as we speak. Continue reading

UVa GOP, Dems Back on Speaking Terms

College Republicans, University Democrats pose with President Jim Ryan and Institute of Democracy Executive Director Melody Barnes at the “Talking Across Differences” dinner.

Kudos to the Karsh Institute of Democracy for organizing an event, “Talking Across Differences,” that brought young Republicans and Democrats together for a bridge-building dinner of conversation at the Colonnade Club. Kudos also to President Jim Ryan for giving his imprimatur to the initiative by dropping by, and kudos to UVA Today for highlighting this example of pluralism at the University of Virginia.

On Oct. 10, five members of the College Republicans’ executive board and five members of the University’s executive board met to get to know each other as people, not political foes.

“Politics is very important to me and of course I have strongly held beliefs and things like that, but, at the end of the day, we are all Americans,” said College Republican President Jack Forys. “And in this instance, we’re all students at the same university.” Continue reading

Third-Year Student Defends Free Speech in Oratory Competition

by James A. Bacon

Occasionally, we spot signs of pluralism and diverse thought at the University of Virginia, and we applaud them when we see them. Such is the case with an oratory competition organized by faculty adviser Mary Kate Cary and a committee of students in the second annual Oratory Competition.

This event showed a very different side of UVa than what we’ve come to hear from the Student Council and Faculty Senate, which are heavily populated by far-leftists intent upon squelching viewpoints they find problematic (the views of half the U.S. population or more).

The topic was, “Is free speech important at a public university in our democracy — and why?” The winner of the competition and $500 prize was Jered Cooper, a third-year government major from Fort Washington, Md.

Cooper gave a ringing endorsement of free speech in the age of cancel culture. You can find a transcript in this UVA Today article. But a few passages struck me as especially profound and worth highlighting. Continue reading

Va. Colleges Fare Pretty Well in Free-Speech Rankings

Click on table for more legible image.

by James A. Bacon

Three Virginia Universities scored in the top 25 institutions in the 2022-23 College Free Speech Rankings published this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The College of William and Mary scored 12th among the 203 institutions ranked in the national survey of 44,900 undergraduate students. George Mason University ranked 17th, and the University of Virginia 24th.

Washington & Lee University ranked 70th, placing it in the top half, but Virginia Tech achieved a dismal 150th-place ranking, making it among the worst in the nation for free speech.

Institutions with the best rankings tended to score well in their formal, written speech codes, as determined by FIRE research based on formal university policies. Those policies are not necessarily honored in practice, however. Of potential concern to Bacon’s Rebellion readers, for example, W&M and UVa students expressed far less tolerance for conservative outside speakers than liberal speakers. Continue reading

Woke Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

by James A. Bacon

The bar for triggering Virginia Democrats gets lower by the day. The latest limbo contortion is a call by the Democratic Party of Virginia and the University Democrats at the University of Virginia for the resignation of Bert Ellis, a recently appointed member of the UVa Board of Visitors, who has yet to utter a single public word in his capacity as a board member. In a joint statement, the two organizations cite three particulars, each of which exceeds the other in triviality.

According to the joint statement, Ellis’ sins can be traced back to the 1974-75 academic year when he was chairman of the University Union, which put on concerts, brought in speakers and organized other events at UVa.

That year, the Union and Ellis held an event entitled The Correlation Between Race and Intelligence, featuring William Shockley, an unabashed racist, white supremecist (sic), and eugenicist. This event is a stain on the University’s past, especially due to the event’s intentional scheduling during Black Cultural Week. As the University continues to grapple with its history of slavery, racism, and eugenics, Mr. Ellis’ appointment is not only regressive, but also directly insulting to countless students and student organizations who have worked relentlessly to make Charlottesville more equitable.

Neither the Cavalier Daily, in its article raising the controversy, nor the Democratic Party, in its joint statement, acknowledges that Shockley, whose theories were widely circulated in the 1970s, was invited to debate Richard Goldsby, an African-American biologist. Neither Ellis nor the Student Union endorsed Shockley’s racist views; they invited public scrutiny. Continue reading

Bhattacharya Case Dismissed

by James A. Bacon

A federal judge has dismissed a case against the University of Virginia by a medical student who charged that university officials had retaliated against him for disputing the speaker’s logic in a panel discussion about microaggressions.

The plaintiff, Kieren Bhattacharya, “has nothing more than speculation to support his claim,” wrote Judge Norman K. Moon with the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville. “He has not unearthed even a scintilla of evidence that would demonstrate that Defendants took any adverse action against him because of his protected speech.”

Bhattacharya’s case generated a flurry of attention among conservative media when it was filed more than a year ago. The med school student described an event at which he critiqued the logic of a faculty member opining on the subject of microaggressions. He expressed the view that “a microaggression is entirely dependent on how the person who’s receiving it is reacting” rather than how the statement was intended. The incident prompted a colleague to file a “professionalism concern card,” after which ensued a train of administrative hearings, Bhattacharya’s involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, the issuance of a no-trespass order banning him from the university grounds, and his subsequent expulsion from med school. Continue reading

Free Speech Discredited Racism Better Than Cancel Culture Ever Could

Photo credit: Cavalier Daily

by James A. Bacon

The attacks on Bert Ellis, newly appointed member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, continue without letup. The Cavalier Daily, the UVa student newspaper, has published an article resurrecting an event from the 1974-75 academic year in which Ellis, who led the University Union at the time, invited IQ theorist and eugenicist William Shockley to speak at the university.

The article follows a call by Student Council for Ellis’ resignation from the Board of Visitors for the offense in 2020 of thinking about using a razor blade to remove the infamous “F— UVA” sign from the door of a room on the Lawn.

The CD piece does not call Ellis a racist outright, but it invites readers to draw such a conclusion by recounting how he was instrumental in bringing a prominent racist to the university despite the vehement opposition of some African-American students. Continue reading

UVa’s YAF Chapter Recognized

The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) has been honored by the Young America’s Foundation as the 2021-22 National YAF Chapter of the Year. Accepting the award is YAF President Nickolaus Cabrera, who also serves as a student representative of The Jefferson Council. Last year the UVa chapter organized hosted three events with conservative speakers, topped off by former Vice President Mike Pence. The Jefferson Council is delighted to have co-funded the speakers, and we extend our congratulations to Nick and his fellow Yaffers who made it all happen.

Outrage Is No Substitute for Thought

UVa students push back against learning about other viewpoints.

by Shaun Kenney

WARNING! This is a long one . . . so pour your favorite scotch or cup of coffee and be prepared to consider alternate viewpoints that may offend. As the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick remarks, “My thoughts do not aim for your assent, just place them alongside your own for awhile.”

One of the things I deeply appreciated about my time at the University of Virginia was its treatment of the humanities writ large. In short, everyone — no matter what their intelligence or depth — should expose themselves to something more than just their profession. “What good is it to earn your first million at the age of 30,” opined one professor, “only to find out you can’t have a conversation because you are a boring person!

I had the privilege of encountering not just one but two generations of Virginia students. The first was among my peers during the late 1990s; the second when I darkened the towers to pursue my own academic career, which remains an ongoing project to be sure. Continue reading