Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

Alumni Power

Image credit: Brent Nelson, Flickr

by James A. Bacon

The university alumni rebellion, which first took root in Virginia, is going national.

Washington & Lee University was the first higher-ed institution in the country, to my knowledge, where alumni organized to fight the leftward drift of their alma mater. The W&L group, known as the Generals Redoubt, was followed quickly by The Jefferson Council (to which I belong) at the University of Virginia and The Spirit of VMI at the Virginia Military Institute.

Now the W&L and UVa groups have joined with newly formed alumni organizations at Princeton University, Cornell University and Davidson College to form the Alumni Free Speech Association. While each institution has its unique, parochial issues, they share a common resolve to stand up for free speech, free expression, independent inquiry, and intellectual diversity in the face of a doctrinaire “woke” ideology that, in increasingly totalitarian fashion, dictates the permissible range of opinions people are allowed to express.

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Alumni of the World Unite!

The Free Speech Wall in downtown Charlottesville

This press release was issued today by the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, of which The Jefferson Council is a founding member. I serve as vice president-communications of the Council. — JAB

Millions of college and university alumni around the country are dismayed by the intolerance of unpopular viewpoints at their alma maters, and many have begun to fight back.

Alumni have organized groups at five of America’s most prestigious higher-ed institutions — Cornell University, Davidson College, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and the Washington & Lee University – to defend free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity in college campuses. Today those groups are announcing that they have joined forces under the banner of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance to launch a national effort to mobilize alumni.

“Free speech and academic freedom are critical to the advancement of knowledge and to the success of our colleges and universities,” said Edward Yingling, a co-founder of the Princeton alumni group. “Yet these basic principles are under attack today at schools across the country.”

(See the column co-authored by Yingling that was published in today’s Wall Street Journal.) Continue reading

How Not to Create a Diverse, Welcoming Workplace

Michelle Vermillion

by James A. Bacon

Michelle Vermillion was raised an old-fashioned liberal. She grew up thinking that people should be treated as individuals, judged, as Martin Luther King once dreamed, by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. She supports civil rights causes and endorses diversity in the workplace. Getting to know people of different backgrounds at work, she believes, is key for America to move beyond its racist past. When you get to know your coworkers as fellow humans, she says, you learn they want basically the same things you do.

But as a library staffer working at the University of Virginia Library, Vermillion felt increasingly increasingly ill at ease in the past few years. Rather than seeing a person’s race as an incidental part of his or her identity, the UVa Library administration began putting racial identity front and center. Town hall meetings and training programs made race a person’s defining characteristic.

“I’m not the one who changed,” Vermillion says. UVa changed. The traumatizing 2017 Unite the Right Rally in which white supremacists (almost all from out of town) clashed with counter-protestors, precipitated a bout of introspection about the role of slavery and segregation in the institution’s past. The Ryan administration doubled down on a commitment to recruit more Black students and faculty with its “Inclusive Excellence” program. The end result: library administrators today are fixated on race, and they are dedicated to imposing their ideological framework derived from Critical Race Theory upon library staff. Continue reading

Flag Vandalism at UVa — a False Alarm, Ryan Says

by James A. Bacon

A few days ago I reported an alleged act of vandalism against 2,977 tiny American flags, planted in the ground as part of a 9/11 commemoration at the University of Virginia. The evening after the service, which was sponsored by the conservative Young Americans for Freedom and attended by President Jim Ryan, it was discovered that hundreds of the flags had been knocked over. A preliminary review of surveillance tapes suggested that two unidentified individuals had flipped over a table with a banner.

A review by UVA police now suggests that wind might have blown over the flags and that the person in the video might have been trying to set the table right.

The incident had drawn considerable attention at UVa. Two days ago Ryan updated the Board of Visitors about the incident. I republish it here; Continue reading

A Small Victory for Plularism

UVA President Jim Ryan (left) poses with members of the Young Americans for Freedom at the 9/11 commemoration ceremony.

by James A. Bacon

I’m beginning to have a smidgeon of sympathy for University of Virginia President Jim Ryan.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Ryan attended an event sponsored by the Virginia branch of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to commemorate the lives lost in the terrorist attacks. YAF is an avowedly conservative group, and the keynote speaker, retired Col. Dan Moy, is a UVa lecturer but also chairman of the Republican Party of Charlottesville. Nevertheless, the ceremony, which featured 2,977 miniature flags in the grounds, one for each American live lost — was not overtly partisan. Unless you happen to think that remembering lives lost to terrorism is itself partisan.

Ryan tweeted his appreciation to YAF. “Many thanks to YAF @ UVA for organizing this morning’s moving event commemorating the lives lost on September 11th,” he wrote.

The tweet immediately generated blowback. As the Cavalier Daily student newspaper reports, “students and other social media users” critiqued Ryan’s choice to thank YAF. On Instagram, his post generated 52 comments, most condemning the recognition of YAF. On Twitter, Ryan’s post received mostly negative 27 replies. Continue reading

UVa’s Ideological Litmus Test — “Diversity Statements”

by James A. Bacon

In the fall convocation ceremonies at the University of Virginia this week, President Jim Ryan said many things that once upon a time would have been considered unremarkable. The purpose of a UVa education, he said, is to pursue the truth. The search for truth is unending, and progress toward the truth is predicated upon free speech and open inquiry. UVa is a place for honest and respectful conversations between those who disagree, Ryan said. UVa is a place where civil dialogues can take place.

An alumnus in the audience, Bert Ellis, was reassured by Ryan’s words. Ellis is president of The Jefferson Council, a group dedicated to upholding the Jeffersonian legacy at UVa that has catalogued the suppression of free speech and expression and the drift toward intellectual conformity, and he was primed to be skeptical.

“All in all, I liked his remarks,” says Ellis. “I was pleasantly surprised by his references to and respect for Mr. Jefferson and his legacy and with his very strong support for open dialogue and for the Honor System. I hope his actions over the upcoming school year will be as strong as his words.”

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Another Free Speech Fiasco

Charlottesville attorney Charles L. Weber Jr., represented University of Virginia student Morgan Bettinger in legal proceedings involving the University Judiciary Committee, which condemned her for words that allegedly constituted a “risk” to other students. This incident is a case study in how leftist, “anti-racist” students at UVa wield processes and procedures, with the complicity of the administration, to repress free speech and chastise those who offend them. I republish here a letter from Weber to UVa President Jim Ryan asking for redress. We’ll soon find out how sincere Ryan is in his commitment to free speech and expression. — JAB

Dear President Ryan,

I am writing to urge you to correct a grave injustice perpetrated by
the University of Virginia (the University) against a student during this
past academic year.

Morgan Bettinger was unfairly punished by the University
Judiciary Committee (UJC) for speaking words protected by the
Constitution. However, because UJC appeals are limited to process, not
substance, the Judicial Review Board (JRB) concluded that the UJC
decision whether erroneous or not was unreviewable. Continue reading

A Volatile Mix: Sex, Obsession, Microaggressions and Mental Health at UVa

by James A. Bacon

Kieran Bhattcharya, a University of Virginia School of Medicine student who claims he was expelled for challenging left-wing political orthodoxy at the school, has filed new papers expanding upon his allegations. Among the more explosive charges, he asserts that he was twice committed against his will to psychiatric facilities, given antipsychotic medication, and once woke up from his tranquilized state to find himself in a car bound for a private psychiatric hospital in Petersburg.

UVa’s response to Bhattacharya’s “dissident speech” is “reminiscent of the infamous ‘treatment’ of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals in the former Soviet Union,” says the pleading, which was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in support of a request for a jury trial.

Adding another new dimension to the lawsuit, Bhattacharya contended that his ex-girlfriend collaborated with med school officials to drum him out of school after he had broken up with her. He describes her as a controlling, manipulative and vindictive woman who boasted how she had gained revenge against two former boyfriends at Emory University by charging them with rape.

After reading the filing, one is inclined to believe that one of two things must be true. Either the UVa med school is sitting on a biggest scandal in its history or Kieran Bhattacharya is a young man in serious need of help. Continue reading

Can Free Speech Thrive in an Intellectual Monoculture?

Jim Ryan

by James A. Bacon

My fellow members of The Jefferson Council and I are united in our determination to protect the Jeffersonian legacy at the University of Virginia, in particular to champion free speech and expression on the grounds. An internal debate we have is whether we should work with President James Ryan in advancing this goal or rather, seeing him as part of the problem, work to remove him. We have reached no formal conclusion.

Ryan has not been entirely unresponsive to our concerns. Most notably, he appointed a committee to draft a statement on free speech and expression, which it did and which the Board of Visitors formally adopted. But, as Ryan himself conceded, the challenge now is to actually apply those abstract principles to real world circumstances.

I have argued that it is meaningless to champion free speech if all UVa administrators and faculty members hew to the same narrow range of moderate-left-to-far-left worldviews and other voices are systematically weeded out through the hiring and firing process. Creating an institution where a “marketplace of ideas” leads to a vibrant exchange of views presupposes that participants actually have… different ideas. Continue reading

What the Free Speech Committee Should Have Written

by Walter Smith

Last week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved a statement produced by the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry (See “UVa Affirms Commitment to Free Speech…. at Least in Theory.) This is what the statement should have said:

Free speech has been the bedrock of the University of Virginia from its founding and shall be as long as it shall exist.

The right to speak freely, without fear of recrimination for stating an unpopular view, is the exception in history. Tyrants in all aspects of life — governmental, civic, economic and academic — seek to suppress speech with which they disagree. Yet the answer to speech that offends is more speech. Our founder, Thomas Jefferson, the “author of liberty,” dreamed of a University  where “…we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Continue reading