By Walter Smith
According to the most recent survey from The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Virginia ranked 6th highest for free speech. Before you puff up with pride for the alma mater, please be aware that UVA’s score was 68 out of 100. Once upon a time, before grade inflation set in, that was known as an “F.”
And UVA’s score is really too generous. While FIRE gives UVa credit for its “unequivocal” support for free speech in formal written documents, the side quotes illustrating what students actually think they can say show quite the opposite. Talk is cheap.
In place of Jim Ryan’s quasi-religious manifesto (Great and Good), the Board of Visitors should set as a goal that UVA be recognized as the #1 school for free speech. How could any person who claims to love UVa and respect its Jeffersonian legacy object?
In a recent defensive action, 15 universities signed on to the “Campus Call for Free Expression,” which purported to highlight their commitment to free speech. Twelve of those institutions, ranging from a high of #26 (James Madison University!) in FIRE rankings to #212 (Cornell), belong, like the Jefferson Council, to the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) where alumni see free speech under threat.
The Campus Call is weak tea – even weaker than UVA’s Statement on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. But it reflects thinking that seems to be widespread at Mr. Jefferson’s University. It rehashes Great and Good rhetoric in a collection of high-minded bromides while subtly justifying indoctrination in place of education. If I were to enumerate all of the deceptive platitudes here, I would end up quoting the whole thing! Please read it yourself.
I’ll emphasize two points.
First, the Campus Call institutions say they “aim to develop students who pursue knowledge beyond their comfort zone, challenging existing beliefs and assumptions.”
Whose “existing believes and assumptions” are to be challenged? Does this dictum include contesting the beliefs and assumptions that underpin “woke” orthodoxy? Not likely. We know the truth: Only traditional beliefs are to be scrutinized and deconstructed.
Second, the Campus Call sounds more like a threat to free speech than a ringing endorsement of it. “Express ideas freely,” it says, “but recognize that doing so doesn’t guarantee approval or immunity from consequences.” You mean consequences like “direct action” by Antifa thugs, shaming by Twitter mobs, or social ostracism of non-conforming conservatives?
As in UVA’s adoption of its “unequivocal” free speech statement, JMU and Cornell signed the Campus Call as a PR gesture. UVA didn’t really mean it, and neither do JMU, Cornell or any of the signatories. What does it really say about higher education in America that UVA is ranked #6 for free speech in such company?
I subscribe to UVA’s daily propaganda – UVA Pravda Today. I suspect the administrations of JMU and Cornell control “the message” similarly. Great and Good is not an educational doctrine. It is about transformation of students into “global citizens.” “Campus Call” reads the same to me. I have not examined the political donations of Cornell’s employees. However, more than 90% (mid-90s) of JMU and UVA employees who contribute to political campaigns tip their donations to Democrats – in a Commonwealth where the electorate splits their votes 50/50.
Until academia drops its “diversity” delusion and its Stalinist “equity and inclusion” thought control, the schools will function as indoctrination factories, actually harming student brainwashees by crippling independent thinking, awarding degrees of negative value, and saddling them with debt that delays the launch of adult life, like a job, a house, marriage, and family.
As the people in charge will not willingly cede their “transformative” power, a return to the universities’ educational mission must be imposed. Until then, the institutions of higher learning are actively harming society. The “Kalven Principles” – university employees may think and advocate as they please but the institutions themselves must remain political neutrality – should become the standard. Teaching students “how” to think, not “what” to think should become the aspiration.