There is widespread concern among critics of higher education in America that elite universities are squelching free speech and open dialogue in the pursuit of social justice. There is ample evidence that such is exactly the case. But institutions vary, and what occurs at Harvard or Yale may or may not be indicative of reality at the University of Virginia. It is incumbent upon us at the Jefferson Council to draw conclusions about the state of free speech and civil discourse at UVA based on what is happening at UVA, not what we read of horrors elsewhere.
Fortunately, in the age of the Internet, the partisan and ideological proclivities of college faculty are more transparent than ever — even if administrators are not. Professors leave abundant evidence in their writings and in digital recordings. Insofar as we have time, we will profile cases we come across.
We first became interested in Rachel L. Wahl, an associate professor of education at UVA who is affiliated with the Karsh Institute for Democracy, because she was one of eleven appointees to the Religious Diversity Task Force charged with addressing religious bias on the Grounds. If a purpose of the task force is to facilitate dialogue between hostile religious groups, appointing Wahl was likely a good idea. Not only does she encourage respectful dialogue, she researches what it takes to achieve it. Continue reading →
A newly appointed Task Force on Religious Diversity and Belonging will have the mission of ensuring that UVA is “welcoming to students, faculty and staff across the full spectrum of religions and cultures,” the Ryan administration said Wednesday.
“The group will explore opportunities for meaningful engagement across religious differences and examine the scope of UVA’s educational offerings related to religious cultures and histories, including histories of religious discrimination,” the announcement stated.
“We want every student, faculty member and staff member to understand that they are a vital part of this place and how profoundly they enrich our common life as we take on that fundamental work of the University,” Provost Ian Baucom said.
The initiative comes against a backdrop of the Hamas-Israel war and increasing tension between Muslim and Jewish students nationally. The Students for Justice in Palestine at UVa praised the Hamas Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel as justified resistance to Israeli oppression. Although there have been no documented instances of physical violence against Jews on the Grounds beyond some pushing and shoving, many Jewish students say they have been subjected to ethnic slurs that would never be tolerated for protected minorities, and they are afraid to speak out about the conflict. Continue reading →
The Jefferson Independent has published an excellent editorial on how the Hamas attack on Israel is playing out at the University of Virginia. The author wrestles with the conflict between his commitment to free speech and intellectual diversity and his condemnation of those at UVa who justify unspeakable evil. — JAB
Hamas and Their Heinous Crimes Must Be Condemned
On October 7th, 50 years after the start of the Yom Kippur War, the Islamist militant group Hamas violently attacked Israel without provocation. Over 1,000 terrorists crossed the border, backed by airstrikes from the Gaza Strip. Recent reports reveal over 900 reported deaths and 2,600 injured, per Israeli authorities. As an Editorial Board, The Jefferson Independent wholeheartedly denounces any form of violence, irrespective of the perpetrator. We wish for nothing more than a swift and diplomatic end to this tragedy.
However, the manner in which this conflict is being fought must be illuminated and condemned. By now, many have read of the countless atrocities committed in the last four days. Make no mistake, this is not solely a targeted military operation. Hamas terrorists are murdering innocent civilians in cold blood, kidnapping children, and parading beaten victims as trophies in the street. Most disgustingly, recent IDF reports claim that Israeli soldiers discovered slaughtered babies in Kfar Azza, one of the last villages captured by Hamas. The brutal yet frivolous behavior on display as they ruthlessly murder women, children, and senior citizens is a level of hatred only rivaled by the Holocaust.
Aren’t people rushing to condemn acts of terrorism? Who could support such horrible atrocities? It turns out there are groups at universities all over Europe, the United States, and even our very own UVA who seem to believe these actions are completely justified.
Military memorobilia at the Veterans Center. Photo credit: WVIR-TV
by James A. Bacon
The Student Veterans of America (SVA) at the University of Virginia notched up a small win Friday when Student Affairs officials reversed a decision to expropriate some of the Veterans Center space at Newcomb Hall. But the veterans’ battle for recognition and respect at UVa is far from over.
What they need most, student veterans say, is for Student Affairs to designate someone with specialized knowledge of the G.I. Bill and other veterans issues to help them through UVa’s bureaucratic maze.
Veterans comprise a tiny fraction of the undergraduate student body at UVa. SVA leadership estimates there are only 60 veterans among the 17,000 undergraduates. That count may not have identified every undergraduate veteran, but Tomas De Oliveira, president of the club, says it represents most.
“It’s a chicken-or-egg problem. There aren’t enough vets to justify a significant commitment of UVa resources,” De Oliveira says. But the lack of support makes it difficult to recruit veterans cycling out of the military. UVa vets have friends. Word gets out. “Why would I recommend UVa?” Continue reading →
You’ve finally heard it from someone other than the Jefferson Council: Political donations by University of Virginia employees skew overwhelmingly to the left. In the 2022 election cycle, found Daily Progress reporter Luke Fountain, “UVa faculty and staff favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates, based on donations, by a ratio of 30 to 1.”
“During the 2022 election cycle, Democratic candidates received 96.1% of donations, Republican candidates received 3.3% and Libertarian candidates received 0.6%,” writes Fountain in an article exploring the implications of a discussion during the June UVa Board of Visitors meeting regarding the desirability of tracking viewpoint diversity at the university.
Campaign donations are only one way of measuring viewpoint diversity. In 2018 the University of Virginia conducted an extensive survey of attitudes among students, faculty and staff that measured, among other things, respondents’ left-right political leanings. If it is impractical to conduct such an extensive and expensive survey every year, tracking political donations is a readily available proxy for attitude surveys. Continue reading →
Kudos to Stephanie Saul for her front-page article in The New York Times this morning. She quotes Bert Ellis and me accurately and in context in an impressively even-handed account of the brewing controversy over Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Virginia.
Followers of the Jefferson Council will find that the article, which explores DEI issues at UVa through the prism of Ellis’ appointment to the Board of Visitors, covers familiar ground. However, it does contain nuggets of news, mainly by putting UVa President Jim Ryan and other university officials on the record on issues about which they have been largely silent so far.
Most astonishing are the quotes from Ryan, who comes across as totally clueless about the aims of his critics.
James E. Ryan, the university’s president, said he believes the majority of alumni feel the way he does — that diversity is desirable and needed.
“I haven’t heard anyone say we should have a community that is monolithic, unfair and unwelcoming,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Ryan said he wonders about the motives of the critics.
“Whether this is an effort to focus on the aspects of D.E.I. that seem to threaten academic freedom and push toward ideological conformity, or whether it’s an effort to turn back the clock to 1965 — it’s hard to know,” he said in an interview.
“Thought reform” at American universities is real and terrifying.
Stanley K. Ridgely, a former military intelligence officer and now a full professor at Drexel University, has delved into the extensive literature on how leftists use DEI training and other tools to brainwash university students into accepting the woke catechism that they enjoy white privilege, should feel guilt for that privilege, and can absolve that guilt by becoming “allies” in anti-racism. The article, published by the Martin Center for Academic Renewal, is well worth reading. Money quote:
The brainwash is employed exclusively by the progressive Left on college campuses. These persons reject traditional models of education, especially the Weberian notion of classroom neutrality. Instead, extremist progressives practice “critical pedagogy,” in which they embrace the notion that the professor should become a “scholar-practitioner” and participate in the social activism of particular movements.
While the brainwashing described here is commonplace, it is not necessarily universal. The Jefferson Council has no tangible evidence of this kind of brainwashing taking place at the University of Virginia, but we will be alert to signs that it is.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan hosts “Inside UVA,” a podcast designed to highlight the “inner workings” of the University of Virginia. Over the past two seasons, he has chatted with figures ranging from Rector Whitt Clement to alumni such as Katie Couric, administrators such as Provost Ian Baucom, and students such as Lauren Kim, chair of the University Judiciary Committee — 22 in all, so far. You can see the list here.
The “Inside UVA” promo bills the podcast as featuring “candid, open conversations.”
No one from The Jefferson Council has been invited to appear… yet. But if President Ryan is interested in having a candid, open, civil conversation with someone who wishes UVa well but questions current policies and priorities, we’d be happy to volunteer. We’d even be willing to suggest some topics.
What does he mean when he says that UVa can be both “great and good”? Does being “good” encompass anything beyond “social justice” and “sustainability”?
What are his thoughts on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion? Does he believe America is systemically racist? Is UVa systemically racist? Does he share Ibram Kendi’s definition of “anti-racism”? Does he share Robin DiAngelo’s definition of “white privilege”? How does it improve students’ sense of “belonging” when DEI policy places a premium on racial, sexual and gender differences? Continue reading →
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 →
The Jefferson Council, formed by University of Virginia alumni and other stakeholders, is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the Lawn, the Honor Code, and the free exchange of competing ideas and intellectual diversity one would expect from Mr. Jefferson’s university.
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The TJC Forum
The Jefferson Council champions free speech at the University of Virginia. We welcome well-written columns, op-eds, and letters addressing issues affecting the UVa community for publication on this blog under the heading of the “TJC Forum.”
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Friends and Allies
Many organizations are championing the cause of intellectual diversity and fighting the cancel culture on college campuses. If you are interested in pursuing these topics, we recommend you check these organizations.