UVa Affirms Commitment to Free Speech… at Least in Theory

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Trustees has voted to approve a statement affirming the university’s commitment to free expression and free inquiry.

“All views, beliefs and perspective deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference,” states the Statement of the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “Free and open inquiry … is at the heart of the principles of academic freedom. … Likewise, the educational endeavor for students requires the freedom to speak, write, inquire, listen, challenge and learn.”

President James Ryan appointed the committee and asked it to craft a set of principles to guide the university. The committee heard testimony from students and faculty attesting to the widespread sentiment that certain views should not be expressed in or out of the classroom for fear of triggering intense social media backlash or punitive measures by administrators (many incidents of which have been documented in Bacon’s Rebellion and The Jefferson Council website).

It remains to be seen how the Ryan administration will interpret and apply these principles. The committee’s Statement genuflected to the fact that the university has not always fulfilled its aspirations — “exploiting enslaved laborers and excluding Black Americans, women, and groups and viewpoints disfavored by the majority.” It made no explicit mention of the suppression of conservative views antithetical to a core of radical students or the failure of the Ryan administration to stand up for them — things that are happening now, not a hundred years ago.

Perhaps the biggest void in the Statement was any commitment to the idea of intellectual diversity. As many UVa departments become self-perpetuating cliques whose members espouse an increasingly narrow range of left-of-center views, the practical result of the Statement may be to protect the right to free speech and expression of a community that excludes uncomfortable views by hiring only like-minded people.

John Griffin, a board member who served on the committee, was more optimistic. He said the statement is an “enormous opportunity” for the university to distinguish itself, reports The Daily Progress.

“I really believe this could be a distinguishing characteristic of the University of Virginia as a place where different viewpoints are listened to or digested and with the ultimate goal of having better decisions, outcomes and beliefs,” Griffin said.

With the statement’s adoption, Ryan said, the real work begins. “That is to incorporate the statements’ values into the day-to-day life of UVa.”

The full statement can be read here.

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[…] approved a statement produced by the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry (See “UVa Affirms Commitment to Free Speech…. at Least in Theory.) This is what the statement should have […]