Kalven Principles for UVa?

by James A. Bacon

Five years ago, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan took to the social media platform formerly known as Twitter to comment upon the horrific murder of 11 Jews in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white nationalist.

“This kind of hate and violence goes against everything this country should stand for, and for which the University of Virginia will always stand,” he tweeted. “It falls to all of us to do everything we can, not just to keep our community safe but to prevent hate and bigotry from taking root in the first place.”

Someone warned him at the time to be careful, Ryan recalled in remarks to the UVa Board of Visitors Friday. Once he started commenting on news headlines, it would be difficult to stop. There is always something happening around the world. If university presidents comment on one story, they are expected to comment on the next. And if they don’t, people read meaning into the silence.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the practice of making public pronouncements on events of the day, Ryan suggested. Maybe it’s time to consider adopting the Kalven principles, a set of principles articulated by the University of Chicago’s Kalven Committee that urged colleges and universities to maintain institutional neutrality on social and political issues.

Ryan proposed appointing a group, similar to the free speech committee he set up two years ago, to devise a set of principles to guide when and how UVa’s president issues pronouncements on current issues.

Ryan’s interest in the Kalven Principles doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Since Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, he has been barraged by students, faculty, alumni and other members of the UVa community with calls to take one stand or another. He spoke out initially to criticize the Hamas terror attacks. But as a series of pro-Palestinian events roiled the university, he has declined to comment on the ensuing Israeli incursions into Gaza, the relative rightness or wrongness of the Palestinian and Israeli causes, the morality of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” rhetoric, the overt pro-Palestinian sympathies of many UVa professors, or the expressions of hatred against Jewish students by fellow students. His most notable response has been to create a Task Force on Religious Diversity and Belonging to address concerns of both Jews and Muslims at UVa.

No one pays a political price for speaking out against white nationalists like the murderer of the Tree of Life congregants. The political calculus in university campuses changes, however, if leftist groups are the subjects of criticism. At elite institutions like UVa, leftists have largely gotten a pass from university presidents — until Oct. 7. The presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania came under intense criticism for their tone-deaf comments before Congress last week. Liz Magill, the who served as provost of UVa before becoming president of UPenn, was forced to resign.

Ryan’s remarks Friday echoed the language of the 1967 Kalven Report, which was composed during the tumultuous era of Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests: “The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars.”

During his tenure as UVa president since 2018, Ryan said, he has tried to limit his pronouncements to events that are “truly shocking” — the Tree of Life shooting, the George Floyd killing, the Hamas terror attacks. But sometimes saying nothing seems “like a choice” and a statement in itself. A related issue is whether the university president can speak out as an individual without speaking for the university. “I don’t think that works,” he said, but he would welcome a set of guiding principles.

Board members were supportive of the idea of appointing a committee to articulate those principles.

Bert Ellis opened up the conversation. “I’m all in favor of institutional neutrality,” he said. Institutional neutrality is a necessity for debate to occur, he explained.

“An ad hoc response [to events] doesn’t seem the right way for us to go,” said Rachel Sheridan. “Not everyone cares about we think about every topic.”

“Don’t jump out in front [of an issue] too much,” counseled Paul Manning. “See the temperature before jumping in.”

Former Rector Jim Murray said Ryan’s statement on the events of Oct. 7 were justified because it “spoke about fundamental human values.”

“I think we should go out of the way to avoid making any statement that’s overtly political,” said Doug Wetmore. “In general, we should be reluctant to step out on controversial political topics.”

But, as Sheridan noted, “the devil is in the details.”

Vice Rector Carlos Brown brought up some of those details. Students are going to react to world events he said. What rights do they have to express themselves when demonstrating on university property? What rights do they have to use the UVa logo? If a student group speaks out in a way that violates university values, does the president have an obligation to say something?

Rector Hardie elaborated upon the point. UVa needs to think through policies about the use of the university logo, digital communications, and the use of university space. “Where do you draw the line?”

 As the conversation progressed, it drifted increasingly into free-speech issues.

“We have a robust set of policies to protect free speech in the pre-digital era,” said Provost Ian Baucom. But social media has changed the dynamics of free speech. “We don’t have a policy” on speech in the digital domain. “We don’t have a clear policy on the use of our logo at events.” Is there a distinction to be made between an event sponsored by UVa as an institution and an event that takes place at UVa?

“I don’t think we should allow anything that feels menacing or threatening” to members of the university community, Wetmore said. From what he hears from students, many say they are afraid. “It is reasonable for us, as an institution, to say, ‘we don’t do that around here.'”

Ryan closed out the discussion by saying he is looking right now for a set of principles, not a set of detailed prescriptions. “Let’s start with the question, should we be saying?”

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Anne Carson Foard
Anne Carson Foard
2 months ago

What was said by the then-President of UVa in response to the 9/11/2001 attacks? It seems strange for a major educational institution to remain neutral in such an event, because terrorist attacks by anyone should always be condemned, but in my opinion, any specifics and directives should come first from US officials, especially in the instance of a hostage situation.

UVA Student
UVA Student
2 months ago

The United States, through its unwavering support to Israel, is supporting a genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

I’m unsure why the collective punishment of 2.3 million people, half of whom are children, is not considered to be truly shocking or worthy of condemnation by the university.

Jen Hans
Jen Hans
2 months ago

Jim Ryan should focus first on the safety of the students. Why was the gunman last year allowed to keep a known gun in his dorm room? Why Jim?

walter smith
walter smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Jen Hans

Everything you see is interconnected in the rot that has been permitted at UVA.
Liz Magill resigned at Penn over the Jew hatred now evident as part of DEI. Liz was Jim’s right hand as Provost.
Why did the barbarism of Hamas reveal the Jew hatred? It is directly tied to DEI/CRT “oppressor/oppressed” dynamic. The cultural ethos of UVA is this, and it has been pushed aggressively into every school, down to the departmental level.

DEI is poison – a destruction of Western Civ – on purpose. All of the big acronyms are tied to destroying Western Civ and the US in particular. SEL and ESG and “sustainability” and “climate change” and “effective altruism” and “social justice” are outgrowths of this poison. “Great and Good” is nothing but high-falutin’ repackaging of this ethos.

I’m sorry. UVA was great and good before Messiah Jim arrived. The BOV may have thought it was making an improvement over Teresa Sullivan (where this poisonous ethos was starting to surface). Unfortunately, they picked someone much better at spreading the poison, but he looks so harmless! He clerked for Rehnquist! Nope. A huge mistake.

Not knowing the details of the attempted ouster of Sullivan. I think the Board caving and the faculty saving her (sorry profs, not trying to insult you) was the inmates running the asylum.

We now have abut 10 more years of rot – aggressively inculcated, and it is everywhere. Honor system basically non-existent. Jeffersonian religious liberty – see Covid lawsuit by hospital employees (should have been one from students, too…but they were terrified to speak out, as were/are the profs!). Are not mandated DEI statements a violation of “academic freedom?” Silence from the faculty when they agree with the policy… During Covid – no profs of medicine, history, economics differed? None? I would say that is not possible. So, either they exist and knew speaking out would be an academic death sentence, or they don’t exist and the monoculture is proved. I believe the answer is “embrace the healing power of “and.”” There are some, they were terrified to speak, AND UVA is a monoculture. 95% political contributions to Dem causes is a clue.

The shooting happened because CDJones and his fraternity were “marginalized” and got velvet glove treatment, while the hammer falls on fraternities that rent a table for a “dirty rush” function get put on social probation. Welcome to social justice. Of course, you have the Summer of Love race riots during 2020 with hardly any legal consequences vs “the insurrection” – where is the Law School? Due process? Civil rights? Fair trial? Speedy trial? Jury of your peers?
Oh, that’s right – if they say anything that could be perceived as supporting Trump, they’d really be dead, and they remain silent on the lawfare being conducted.

Rot, rot, rot. BOV? Are you just political hacks? Fatcat donors not wanting to get your hands dirty? I see the rot. I know it. I’ve talked to students. Terrified to condemn Hamas. All have been taught Jefferson was a rapist! SATs discontinued only to hide the racial discrimination. Here is such a simple step to begin the road back to education – require SATs. UVA Admissions and Jim Ryan and Ian Baucom have already signaled they will “comply” (wink wink) with the law – no they won’t – they will cheat more subtly – and they already have developed the tool to do it, and are hiding it from public knowledge.

Mark K.
Mark K.
2 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

You’re truly becoming quite dense, Walter. I’m afraid you’re beginning to lose your humanity and decency…

walter smith
walter smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark K.

Please tell me how I am losing my “humanity” and “decency.” Disagreeing?
I want UVA to get back to education – you know…the “follow truth” thing – and for there to be a real free speech climate – which there is not, despite a piece of paper saying otherwise.

And the Honor system? Lots of cheating occurring. I don’t know about stealing property, but cheating is stealing and lying. Sorry to tell the truth.

Lauren
Lauren
2 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

Walter, your comments and behavior have been disturbing, and this hasn’t started recently. Please stop. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

walter smith
walter smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Lauren

Please tell me how. What is disturbing? I’m curious about “behavior,” too. I express ideas. I think UVA is far afield of its educational mission and duty to the Commonwealth. The instigator is the Gramscian oppressor/oppressed worldview, the executor is Jim Ryan and his administration, and a great deal of the blame falls on the BOV. If they were a public company board, the shareholder lawsuit should be ascribing the loss of value in the enterprise to their negligence. For some, these destructive policies may be intentional, but I can’t believe they are all unfamiliar with the real world as they are generally successful. So it seems they don’t want to rock the boat, but the boat is taking on water!

Practicing Lawyer
Practicing Lawyer
2 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

Count me ‘disturbed.’ I concede I agree with Walter. But on the point raised by this portion of the thread, I note that those opposed do not address any of Walter’s substantive points. There are also 6 or 12 lurkers downvoting who literally have nothing to say.

Credit to Lauren and Mark K for chiming in. But we are no better off if you do not articulate a substantive point. If you are on this site, you obviously care. You also have an audience willing to listen.

Lauren
Lauren
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark K.

Ramallah is in fact an Arab Christian city. Christians play important roles in Palestinian society and according to the Washington post they have the oldest Christian communities there which I had no idea. Instead of trying to suppress free speech why don’t we have a panel with academics and politicians from a Palestinian background to get their perspective. What I’m hearing more and more from the Palestinians is that they’ve been under occupation and want equality.

Anonymous member
Anonymous member
2 months ago
Reply to  Jen Hans

This is frankly ridiculous. Wearing a Palestinian scarf does not make one a terrorist. I don’t want to share my name, but I’ve been more and more frustrated with this organization, one that I have dedicated years of my life to. I am especially frustrated with the behavior of certain members of this organization (I won’t name anyone in particular). We need to have a meeting urgently with all officers, committee chairs, and advisors. I’m not going to reveal my identity, but many of you will be able to guess.

Otherwise, I can’t tolerate the path we’re going down.

Please, let’s have some real leadership for once. Acknowledge my concern and act on it, please. We look like total bigoted idiots, and it’s hurting our standing. This was not why this organization was founded. I thought we believe in free speech.

Dennis Hughes
Dennis Hughes
2 months ago

Anonymous, if you are sincere about changing the leadership,in my opinion, you sent your response to the wrong people. You, by saying”we look like total bigoted idiots” are sounding more like the children. We are having free speech but you started making derogatory remarks.
We can all be in disagreement, but remand civil.

Heather
Heather
2 months ago

I agree that this may be the right approach. But, I worry about is that there seems to be a double standard. We all despise Hamas, but I don’t understand Israel’s response thus far. How is killing over 7,000 children acceptable in any way? This is just has horrific, even more so. It’s a whole civilian population that’s being targeted–innocent men, women, and children. I’m extremely conflicted.

Dennis Hughes
Dennis Hughes
2 months ago
Reply to  Heather

I think it’s quite easy to understand. The Hamas monsters use women and children for human shields.
Thank goodness there is a Walter Smith.

UVA Student
UVA Student
2 months ago

The United States, through its unwavering support to Israel, is directly supporting a genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

I’m unsure why the collective punishment of 2.3 million people is not considered to be truly shocking or worthy of condemnation. It should be.

UVA Student
UVA Student
2 months ago
Reply to  jimbacon1953

I’m not a subject matter expert, and I’d suggest that the Center for Politics host a discussion or debate with a panel of experts.

If the Center for Politics, independently of the Jefferson Council, is willing to host student discussions between Palestinian and Jewish or Israeli students, I’d be willing to participate. It would be great if you can arrange this.

I’m not going to share any of my personal information here, on an online blog, but I’ll join the mailing list for the Center for Politics, and I’ll keep an eye out for a discussion based event.