Team Ryan Defends UVa Commitment to Free Speech

Leslie Kendrick (wearing a mask and recovering from a cold) and Melody Barnes address the Board of Visitors.

by James A. Bacon

Jim Sherlock, a Bacon’s Rebellion columnist, offers his take on the Diversity, Equity& Inclusion presentation to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors scheduled to take place this afternoon. Based on the PowerPoint deck to be used as the basis of the presentation, he concludes that the administration intends to deflect the conversation from the main issue, which, he maintains, is using the DEI bureaucracy to impose political and ideological control.

Read his essay here. You might want to check out the comments section in which Ryan administration sympathizers and critics engage in a lively (and mostly civil) back and forth.

Sherlock published his essay yesterday before another important presentation took place. Anticipating criticisms like Sherlock’s, the administration stressed the value it places on “free speech,” “free inquiry” and “diversity of viewpoints.”

In its spring meeting, the Board of Visitors adopted a statement endorsing free speech and viewpoint diversity. The session yesterday was designed to show the Ryan administration’s commitment to those principles.

Leslie Kendrick, a law school professor who headed a committee that devised an earlier free-speech statement, described the university’s rules and regulations governing free speech, as well as measures that the administration takes to ensure that students get the message. She summed up the philosophy as “everybody gets heard, but nobody gets hurt.”

Melody Barnes, who heads the Karsh Institute for Democracy, recounted initiatives her organization is taking to promote civil dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, such as Talking Across Differences, which brings together student Democrats and Republicans, Democracy Dialogue dinners, which promotes amicable discussion of contemporary issues, and the One Small Step program, a StoryCorps initiative that brings liberals and conservatives together in deep dialogue. Karsh is also working with the Youngkin administration to host a free-expression summit.

“Karsh,” she said, “is building the kind of community we think we want.”

The Jefferson Council has praised these initiatives as useful first steps but argues that they don’t go far enough to create a culture of tolerance and respect for partisan and ideological differences. Of special concern is the leftward drift of the faculty — conservative professors are an endangered species — and the extensive self-censorship that conservative students engage in.

Board member Doug Wetmore asked Barnes a pointed question: What is Karsh doing to ensure more ideological balance in the faculty?

“We don’t have faculty on board” at Karsh, Barnes responded. But the Institute does “intersect” with conservative faculty members, mentioning by name Mary Cate Cary, Jim Ceaser, and Gerard Alexander, political scientists who put on programs designed to engage conservative students.

There’s a lot more to the story about Karsh, but we’ll leave that for another time.

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Walter smith
Walter smith
8 months ago

Yes. I listened to that portion and my main problem is it is artificial. Like controlled playdates. I think everybody should listen to that portion carefully. Kendrick cozies up to censorship with adjectives like “humane.” But the “generous” and “empathetic” listening part is BS. Witness the character destruction of Bert Ellis, which Ryan did not denounce. Leadership begins at the top. Ryan should have welcomed Bert’s views, being a generous and empathetic listener. Instead, he let his CD minions engage in character assassination.
And Melody Barnes absolutely knows who she hires, but knew to mention the few conservative “show ponies.” Then I think Whitt Clement (I was driving and listening) said why doesn’t UVA publicize these efforts more, which I took as why doesn’t UVA propagandize more to the alumni!
A culture of free speech does not exist. These efforts are window dressing. The faculty needs to be reformed, which, when I think nearly every Dean has some ties to Obama/Dem politicians, will be hard to effect. The compulsory DEI statements are as anti free speech as it gets, and we have silence.
Kalven principles MUST be added to the “free speech” principles.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter smith

Agree 100% Walter. Well stated.

Jen Hans
Jen Hans
8 months ago
Reply to  Walter smith

Spot on Walter. Calling a spade a spade. Ryan is about his speech which is DEI. Ryan was brought in to destroy democracy

James B Newman
James B Newman
8 months ago

It should be obvious that the progressive element at the University is merely setting the stage to further engage in their efforts to only protect the free speech of their progressive members. I have participated in a Karsh program and it does not protect free speech. Rather it seeks to promote only DEI programming. Melody Barnes is a fraud in stating that she and the Karsh Institute does otherwise. The appointment of new members to the Board of Visitors can not come soon enough.

The Bootstrap Kid
The Bootstrap Kid
8 months ago

It’s unfortunate that conservatives are not obsessed with power and control like Ryan and his disciples.