Category Archives: Intellectual diversity

Guest Column: A Playpen For Social-Justice Activists

The Jefferson Council champions free speech and intellectual diversity at the University of Virginia. We welcome columns, op-eds, and letters addressing issues affecting the UVA community for publication on our guest forum, like the one submitted by Jim Bacon, founder of Bacon’s Rebellion and contributing editor for The Jefferson Council.

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EXCERPT

Jim Ryan’s vision for the University of Virginia is to build an institution that is both “great and good,” an institution that strives for excellence while also advancing the common welfare. There are many paths to achieving the common good — entrepreneurship, economic development, effective government, strong families, vibrant civic life, for instance — but UVA’s president has settled on something else. He defines a good community as one that strives for social justice.

In 2020 the UVA Board of Visitors adopted most of the recommendations of the Ryan-appointed Racial Equity Task Force, which called for spending $700 million to $950 million to rectify the University’s historical racial injustices. The University has since ramped up its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracy and poured millions of dollars into the hiring of far-left faculty who embrace Critical Theory and the intersection-oppression paradigm.

But Ryan has greater aspirations for UVA than merely to be an incubator of social-justice theory. He wants to export that thought into the world at large, starting with UVA’s home communities of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. To advance that aim, he created the Equity Center.

What does the Equity Center do?

Read the full article in Bacon’s Rebellion.

 

An Open Letter to Governor Youngkin: Pick Fighters for the UVA Board

28 June 2024
Glenn Youngkin
Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Dear Governor Youngkin,

You are getting close to the June 30 deadline for announcing five new nominees to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. As of July 1, your appointees will comprise a Board majority for the first time in your two-and-a-half years in office. To leave a lasting legacy, however, you cannot nominate business-as-usual candidates.

UVA’s rector, Robert Hardie, is a Northam-era holdover, and he works with President Ryan to set the agenda, frame the discussion, and control the flow of information of the Board. Both men support the status quo, and both will have the backing of administrators, faculty, and student leadership who are hostile to your vision for the University.

You need to nominate fighters willing to ask hard questions and shrug when their names are dragged through the mud. Don’t appoint passive candidates to avoid stirring up controversy. They will accomplish nothing.

You also need to set clear priorities. 

The Jefferson Council offers the following:

Address astronomical tuition cost and administrative bloat. The cost of attending UVA is pricing out the middle class, especially for out-of-state students. You have called upon all Virginia universities to cut costs and tame tuition. Cosmetic, one-time cuts won’t accomplish your goal. The Board members you appoint must do the hard work of digging deep into UVA’s cost structure. Step one: dismantle the vast administrative apparatus erected to pursue “social justice” and “racial equity,” loosely referred to as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The Board of Visitors committed in 2020 to carrying out the recommendations of the Racial Equity Task Force, which called for spending between $700 million and $950 million to rectify historical wrongs. The Board must scrutinize that spending. 

But that’s just a start.

Reduce spending on feel-good initiatives. Does UVA really need more guidance and emotional-wellness counselors? Does being “Great and Good” necessitate building social-justice partnerships with the community? Why do the highest-paid professors teach the fewest courses? How aggressively does UVA reallocate resources from low-enrollment departments to high-enrollment departments? There are many areas to consider cutting costs, and The Jefferson Council is prepared to sit down with you and the Board of Visitors to identify the low-hanging fruit as well as long-term solutions.

Advance free speech and intellectual diversity. You have asked every Virginia university to devise a plan for advancing free speech and intellectual diversity. UVA’s website may boast a high free speech rating, but actions from administrators and faculty alike increasingly contradict that label and demand your attention. Faculty and staff are marching relentlessly to an ideological extreme, utilizing “DEI statements” to filter out candidates with different views. Departments have become self-perpetuating cliques of the like-minded. The Board needs to lay bare the intellectual monoculture that prevails at UVA and devise strategies to change it. The Jefferson Council would like to partner with you in this effort in various ways, including by providing diverse perspectives from among our membership and network of UVA alumni and donors.

Preserve Jefferson’s legacy. Thomas Jefferson was a man like few others produced by history. He was not a saint, but today at UVA, he is often portrayed as a slave-holding rapist. A Youngkin-appointed Board needs to preserve his legacy. There are many ways we are ready to work with you on this, but here are two quick and easy wins that can signal the new priorities: 

First, protect the dignity of the Lawn, part of a UNESCO world heritage site visited by tourists around the world, by forbidding student residents, in their terms of lease, from placing posters and flyers on their doors. No one’s free speech rights will be violated. Lawn residents have numerous other options to express their views.

Second, sever relations with the Student Guides club that provides student and historical tours. Student administrative-sanctioned events must have a welcoming script and guides willing to deliver it. However, these tours have degenerated into discourses on slavery, segregation, racism, and the persecution of indigenous peoples. Many students and parents have been turned off and never return. 

Your next Board of Visitors appointments assume their seats at a critical time for Mr. Jefferson’s university, and for your legacy. Nominate individuals who will have the grit to fight for the university, its history, its legacy, and its students. Nominate men and women who are capable of making the hard decisions to lead UVA back to a position of great character and excellence.

Respectfully,

The Jefferson Council
Executive Committee

Thomas Neale, President
Sam Richardson, Executive Director
Peter Bryan, Treasurer
Chip Vaughan, Secretary

Taking A Bold Stand For Intellectual Diversity And Civil Dialogue At UVA

The primary mission of the Jefferson Council for the University of Virginia is to “Promote a culture of civil dialogue, the free exchange of competing ideas, and intellectual diversity throughout the University.” Since the advent of anti-Israel / anti-Jewish rhetoric and behaviors of questionable legality on Grounds, this goal has been brought into clear focus.

TJC first highlighted the experience of Jewish undergraduates at UVA in this space back in January. At that time, many students openly identifying as Jewish and in support of Israel against Hamas terrorists were publicly ostracized and threatened by pro-Hamas groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). While most Jewish UVA students took a quiet, “don’t make things worse” approach to the anti-Jewish rhetoric and refuse to speak publicly or provide their names when documenting abuses, one of those students, Matan Goldstein, a first year who is also an Israeli, decided to take a visible stand. Matan called-out the anti-Jewish sentiment fueled by false history and inaccurate (at best) portrayal of the facts surrounding the events on October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza. In addition to waving an Israeli flag during an SJP rally, Matan has appeared on local radio and spoken with passion to local groups regarding his experiences on Grounds since October 7. As expected, in response to his stand for Israel and truth, Matan has endured obvious anti-Jewish discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

On May 17, attorneys for Matan Goldstein, Brown and Gavalier, filed suit under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The defendants named include The Rector and Visitors of The University of Virginia, Rector Robert D. Hardie, President James E. Ryan, Faculty For Justice In Palestine UVA Chapter, and Students For Justice In Palestine at UVA. According to the filing, the suit is based on the defendant’s “individual and collective liability for gross misconduct and the impairment and deprivation of the Plaintiff’s right to live, study, learn, and thrive at a public university free of hate-based discrimination, abuse, harassment, and retaliation.” The complaint as filed can be accessed here.

It should be noted that UVA leadership has been given ample opportunity by the Jewish community and others to avoid this lawsuit, but no one in authority was interested in having the conversation.

Perhaps the most prescient note on how to realistically view our world in the complaint appears in the preface:

“We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” — Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, as quoted in the preface to Viktor Frankl’s transcendent work, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Guest Column: Why Are You So Mad?

The Jefferson Council champions free speech and intellectual diversity at the University of Virginia. We welcome columns, op-eds, and letters addressing issues affecting the UVA community for publication on our guest forum, like the one submitted by Allan C. Stam, University Professor of Public Policy and Politics.

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University presidents across the country face intense criticism from both the left and the right, caught in a vortex of political and ideological discontent. The right’s most recent grievances flow from blatant presidential hypocrisy. The roots of this can be traced to the proliferation of trigger warnings, safe spaces, bias response teams, admonitions against micro-aggressions, and the peculiar notion that words, along with silence, are violence. These illiberal restraints on speech exist ostensibly to protect students from harm.

Presidential concern for student emotional safety did not extend to Jews, however. Following the Hamas attacks of October 7, 2023, illiberal restrictions on speech were hypocritically abandoned when anti-Semitic speech spread across universities. Today, at the University of Virginia, the same left-leaning administrators who announced a $10,000 reward and an FBI investigation to find the perpetrator who hung a noose on Homer’s bronze likeness now excuse antisemitic speech and calls for the elimination of Israel as free expression. One effect of this blatant and widespread hypocrisy is that half of the Ivy League Universities are now looking for new presidents.

University leaders face a different but equally intense kind of ire from the left. Over the past decade, and particularly since the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s death, many universities transformed themselves into bastions of social justice engagement. Institutions like Columbia University, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley, and the University of Virginia now market themselves as training grounds for progressive activists.

The opportunity and desirability of “bending the arc of history” and being both “Great and Good” are spotlighted in admissions advertising, signaling the universities’ alignment with progressive causes. University presidents now routinely assert that the mission of their institutions extends beyond research and teaching to encompass a central focus on social justice. This has led universities to assume roles traditionally filled by local government, such as subsidizing public housing, transportation, and food for the indigent within their communities.

These days, humanities and social science professors routinely indoctrinate students with increasingly progressive values. Many of these faculty view their role more as activism trainers rather than teacher-scholars. Progressive community engagement is praised by university leaders. University glossy publications valorize activism over bias-free teaching and research. But why is the illiberal left now turning against university presidents?

In the spring of 2024, these same presidents who have been advocates and salesmen for social justice called on the police to break up campus protests. Ironically, in some cases, the demonstrations took place within a stone’s throw of monuments highlighting previous students’ protests and successful activism. The blatant hypocrisy of a university president in one breath praising the student activists of 1968 and in the next breath calling on city and state police to crack down on the current generation of students has proven too much for the leftist faculty. The same university presidents who championed progressive causes are now cracking down on the very activists they previously recruited and praised. The widespread arrests and disciplinary actions, an apparent betrayal of the progressive cause, have ignited fury among universities’ liberal base.

University leaders have historically tried to appease the liberal left, first with affirmative action in the late 1970s, which courts and state referenda eventually curtailed, and later with speech codes in the 1980s and 1990s, which were similarly struck down. Today, the tools of choice for the left are ubiquitous and costly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. These programs encompass, among other things, identity-based discrimination, workshops on acceptable behavior, and compulsory training for students, administrators, and faculty.

Just as previous attempts at regulating speech and behavior have been legally challenged and often overturned, DEI policies are beginning to face significant judicial scrutiny. Diversity statements, commonly required in academic hiring and promotion processes, are a prime example of compelled speech, forcing individuals to adhere to a particular ideological stance. This form of ideological coercion is antithetical to academic freedom and free expression principles. As currently practiced, inclusion often equates to a new form of discrimination, excluding those who do not conform to the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. It is only a matter of time before these practices are legally challenged and dismantled.

The backlash against university presidents from both ends of the political spectrum underscores a fundamental crisis in higher education leadership. These leaders are struggling to balance competing demands: from the right, a call for the restoration of free speech and academic rigor, and from the left, an insistence on comprehensive local and national progressive social justice reform. The solution to this impasse is not to capitulate to either extreme but to restore a sense of balance and reason to university governance.

University presidents must reclaim their roles as impartial administrators rather than advocates of progressive causes, ensuring that institutions of higher learning return to their core teaching and research missions. This requires a commitment to upholding academic freedom, fostering diverse viewpoints, and resisting the imposition of ideological conformity. It is time to return the adults to the room and retake the center, steering universities back to a path that respects free expression and the pursuit of knowledge without succumbing to the pressures of ideological extremism.

Allan C. Stam is University Professor of Public Policy and Politics at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.

Anatomy of an Intellectual Monoculture

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia employees who donated to Democratic Party candidates between 2017 and 2022 outnumbered Republican donors by an 18-to-one ratio, reports a National Association of Scholars case study.

Professors favor Dem candidates over GOP by a 24-to-one ratio, and staff by a 16-to-one ratio. The only sub-categories that came close to parity were “blue-collar staff (1.4-to-one) and sports team coaches (7-to-4). Twenty-one of 39 academic disciplines included not a single Republican donor.

Compared to other elite higher-ed institutions, the ideological imbalance at UVA is “moderate,” writes author Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor at Brooklyn College. At some institutions, it’s almost impossible to find any Republicans. However, the imbalance is getting worse, not better.

“In the past decade, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) politics, including expensive DEI officers, DEI compliance requirements, and litmus tests for professors have further skewed university cultures,” Langbert writes. “Identity studies departments, such as gender studies, have also influenced universities’ organizational cultures and personnel policies.” Continue reading

The Use and Misuse of a UVA Lecture Series

by James A. Bacon

The “fixation” of modern-day Israelis on the Holocaust has become a “vast and ugly fig leaf” hiding oppression of Palestinians and giving Israelis license to brush aside moral qualms about their response to the October 7 terror attacks, Brown University historian Omer Bartov told an audience of 60 or so people Tuesday at the University of Virginia.

In vowing to “never again” let Jews fall prey to genocidal extermination, Israelis indulge in “self-victimization,” “self pity,” and “self righteousness,” said Bartov, an Israeli-born Jew who has built his academic career around the study of the Holocaust and genocide. “It’s not a condition conducive to understanding, toleration, and reconciliation.”

The lecture, entitled, “The Never Again Syndrome: Uses and Misuses of Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Global Politics,” was one in a series of events billed by UVA leadership as broadening understanding of the Middle East conflict. The lecture series is an outgrowth of the tension between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups at UVA. Jewish students have complained of a hostile environment that leaves them afraid to speak out or even openly identify as Jews. In a parallel initiative, the Ryan administration created a religious diversity task force to understand how Jewish and Muslim students, faculty and staff “experience life on Grounds.” Continue reading

How Open Is “Political Dialogue” at UVA?

by James A. Bacon

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

How “Diverse” Is the Religious Diversity Task Force?

by James A. Bacon

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 on Hamas Terrorism

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.

Read the whole editorial here.

Another Race Institute at UVa

Kimberly J. Robinson, UVa Professor of Law. Official Photo

by James C. Sherlock

Fund it and they will come.

The Daily Progress reports that thanks to a $4.9 million gift from an anonymous philanthropist, a new “Institute” has been launched at UVa’s School of Law.

The new organization, the Education Rights Institute, plans to

“find ways to improve K-12 education and help educators address the obstacles that face disadvantaged students.”

Staff have been hired and the institute’s first projects are already in development. There will be a star-studded roll out on October 16th.

Excited?

Hold that thought while you read about the Institute’s leadership, goals and intentions. Continue reading