Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

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

A Shameful Shallowness of Intellect

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Student Council has called for the immediate resignation of alumnus Bert Ellis from the Virginia Board of Visitors, and chastises Governor Glenn Youngkin’s decision to appoint him as “rewarding behavior that endangers students.”

Ellis stands in a long line of violent racist oppressors, says the proclamation. “From the bondage and abuse experienced by enslaved people, to the violent occupation by Nazis and KKK members, to Bert Ellis — the Lawn is no stranger to racist violence under the guise of ‘Jeffersonian ideals’ in order to maintain power for the white elite.”

No, Ellis hasn’t marched in neo-Nazi rallies. He hasn’t burned any crosses. He hasn’t even used the N-word. His primary offense was a professed intention — never acted upon — to use a small razor blade to cut the infamous “Fuck UVA” sign from the door of a Lawn resident. “Whether or not Ellis used his blade, whether or not Ellis threatened the student directly,” the Council statement declared, “his conduct is reprehensible.”  Continue reading

Wonders Never Cease: WaPo Gives Fair Treatment to Alumni Rebellion

Bert Ellis, UVa graduate, president of The Jefferson Council, and newly appointed to the University of Virginia Board of Trustees, is highlighted in The Washington Post article on the alumni-led free speech movement.

by James A. Bacon

Every once in a while The Washington Post reminds us of the kind of newspaper that it used to be — capable of producing balanced journalism. Education reporter Susan Svrluga has published an article describing the rise of what I (not she) calls the alumni rebellion. She cites the concerns of Virginia-based organizations — the Jefferson Council (whose board I serve on), the Spirit of VMI, and the General’s Redoubt — as well as allied groups in Princeton, MIT and other nationally known universities about the erosion of free speech on college campuses.

Svrluga doesn’t squeeze our statements into a left-wing narrative, she doesn’t mischaracterize our concerns, and she quotes us fairly. accurately and in context. To be sure, she gives space to those who minimize our allegations about the state of higher-ed today — as it is her obligation to do. It’s important for readers to know that not everyone agrees with us.

The contrast with Ian Shapira, The Washington Post author of repeated hit jobs on the Virginia Military Institute, is dramatic. Shapira epitomizes the new school of journalism. He started with his narrative of VMI as a systemically racist institution, uncritically repeated information that confirmed his belief and ignored or sought to discredit information that did not. He did go through the motions of producing pro forma statements for the “other side of the story,” but he never let them interrupt his pre-determined narrative.

So, kudos to Svrluga for letting us tell our story.

While I am grateful for Svrluga highlighting the new alumni-led free-speech movement, I do believed that she missed a critical angle. By way of preface, I need to quote UVa spokesman Brian Coy and renowned political scientist Larry Sabato. Continue reading

Open Letter to Lily West

Double click on image to see legible version of the ad.

Letter from Jefferson Council board member Joel Gardner to Lily West, president of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, Richard Gard, editor of the alumni association magazine Virginia, Whitt Clement, rector of the Board of Visitors, and the university counsel:

As a Board member of the Jefferson Council and a member of the University’s Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry, I was astonished and appalled to learn of the Alumni Association’s decision to reject and cancel the Jefferson Council’s most recent submission for an ad in the next edition of the alumni magazine (found above). This decision to blatantly silence the Jefferson Council’s attempt to open a fair and open dialogue throughout the University community concerning the efforts to discredit and vilify our illustrious founder is particularly poignant on the eve of the celebration of Mr. Jefferson’s greatest triumph–our Declaration of Independence.

This striking affront to our freedom of expression is particularly meaningful to me, as I just returned from a three day trip to Philadelphia with my Canadian born and raised wife to visit the foundations of our great and unique republic–the existence of which is so much attributable to our founder Mr. Jefferson. Without his efforts, it is doubtful that our country would exist in the form that it does today–and I realize that there is a good chance I would not be here presently, my ancestors probably having been eliminated by the forces of the Tsar, Hitler or Stalin. Continue reading

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