After vetting the idea with the Board of Visitors in December, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan has announced the creation of the Committee on Institutional Statements to develop principles to guide official university statements on national and global events.
Twelve individuals — nine faculty members, one student, one alumnus and one member of the Board of Visitors — will serve on the Committee. John Owen, a political science professor, will chair the group.
“It seems like a simple question: When, if ever, should ‘the University’ comment on political and social events?” Ryan said, as quoted in UVA Today. “But answering that question is more complicated than it seems, and it brings up a range of additional questions and knotty issues.”
Some of those knotty issues became apparent after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Ryan condemned the terrorism but pro-Palestinian groups criticized him for not expressing sufficient remorse for the loss of Palestinian lives. Pro-Israel groups criticized Ryan for declining to condemn genocidal “from the river to the sea” rhetoric of the Students for Justice in Palestine and allied groups on the Grounds.
Presumably, the Committee will consider a policy akin to the University of Chicago’s Kalven Principles, which declared that universities should create an environment in which students and faculty members should be free to speak out on issues of the day but university officials themselves should refrain from comment. Ryan has spoken out on current events on numerous occasions in the past. This is the first time he has gotten extensive pushback.
In other actions, Ryan has tried to defuse Palestinian-Israel antagonisms at UVA by appointing a religious diversity task force and highlighting an array of courses, seminars, and discussions to study the conflict from an academic perspective.
In addition to Owen, the committee includes:
- Melody Barnes, executive director of UVA’s Karsh Institute of Democracy.
- Kevin Gaines, Julian Bond Professor of Civil Rights and Social Justice; professor of African American history.
- John Griffin, alumnus; former Board of Visitors member; founder and president of Blue Ridge Capital investment firm.
- Michael Kennedy, professor of special education; chair of Faculty Senate.
- Jeanne Liedtka, United Technologies Corporation Professor of Business Administration.
- Paul Manning, Board of Visitors member; chair and CEO of PBM Capital.
- Lillian Rojas, fourth-year student; student member of the Board of Visitors.
- Frederick Schauer, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law.
- Allan Stam, University Professor of Public Policy and Politics.
- Dr. Sana Syed, associate professor of pediatrics.
- Sarah Turner, University Professor of Economics and Education; Souder Family Professor.