Category Archives: Freedom of speech and expression

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

Will UVa Cancel Mike Pence?

by James A. Bacon

One might think that former Vice President Mike Pence would have earned a little cred for standing up to Donald Trump in overseeing the counting of electoral votes that resulted in the 2020 election of Joe Biden. So furious about this supposed betrayal is Trump that he has declared he would rule out asking Pence to join his ticket if he decides to run again for president in 2024. But in some quarters, the former VEEP is so racist, so sexist so homophobic, and his views are so reprehensible, so beyond the pale, and so hurtful, that he should be denied the opportunity to speak at the University of Virginia.

With financial support from The Jefferson Council, on whose board I serve, the Young Americans for Freedom have invited Pence to speak at UVa on April 12. Five days ago, the editorial board of the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, expressed strong disapproval of university leadership’s decision to allow the speech to take place.

“Dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform,” says the editorial headline. “Speech that threatens the lives of those on the Grounds is unjustifiable,” reads the sub-head.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is Pence’s speech bigoted, hurtful, and violent, it literally threatens the well-being, safety and even the very lives of UVa students! Continue reading

Speech on Virginia Campuses Less Unfree than Elsewhere

Free speech sign in front of George Mason statue at GMU.

by James A. Bacon

Three of Virginia’s universities scored in the top 25 in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 2021 annual free speech rankings of more than 150 higher-ed institutions across America, but Virginia Tech, once in the top 10, fell precipitously to the bottom third.

The College of William & Mary ranked 10th for free speech, George Mason University 12th, and the University of Virginia 22nd. Virginia Tech ranked 107th.

The rankings are relative. W&M, GMU and UVa score well compared to other institutions. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of students at all three institutions express discomfort with discussing controversial ideas and question the commitment of their university administrations to support free speech. With free speech and free expression under attack everywhere, it can be argued that Virginia institutions are the least bad of a bad lot.

Also, it is important to note that FIRE surveyed students, not faculty or staff. The findings do not reflect the disturbing trend at many higher-ed institutions — including UVa and W&M — of requiring job applicants and employees to submit written statements describing their commitment to the principles of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as part of their evaluations. Continue reading

The New McCarthyism at UVa

Darkness descends upon the academical village. Photo credit: Washington Post

by Joel Gardner

One of my earliest memories is sitting with my mother as a pre-kindergartener watching the McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954. Television was a new medium for most American households and the bombastic anti-communist antics of the junior senator from Wisconsin held the population enthralled for months. But, while television gave Joe McCarthy the exposure and notoriety he craved, it also spelled his doom, as more and more citizens came to realize that his agenda of intolerance and intimidation did not represent the American way. In fact, so many Americans were disenchanted and disgusted with the senator’s methodology that the term “McCarthyism” became a widespread derogatory term — which would become synonymous with authoritarian behavior characterized by thought indoctrination, loyalty oaths, and intolerance and punishment for dissenting views.

For over five decades, most American institutions eschewed tactics and agendas that reeked of McCarthyism. Which is why it is so disheartening and frightening to witness so many current institutions embracing the attributes of
McCarthyism — especially the one institution where it should be absolute anathema, but where it is most pronounced — our college campuses.

Unfortunately, this includes my alma mater, the University of Virginia, whose founders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were the individuals most responsible for our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the two pillars of American individual rights and freedoms. And just as the illuminating screen of television revealed the evils of McCarthyism, for those concerned with a free exchange of ideas and a level playing field of learning in higher education, it is important to shine the light of truth on the inappropriate and dangerous indoctrination flourishing at UVA. Continue reading

In Defense of Thomas Jefferson — the Video!

Featuring University of Virginia alumni National Review Editor Rich Lowry and Texas Congressman Chip Roy.

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.

Continue reading