What “Viewpoint Diversity” Looks Like at UVA

by James A. Bacon

An email from the Karsh Institute for Democracy arrived in my computer this morning, highlighting upcoming events at the University of Virginia. One event seemed to offer the potential for being non-ideologically loaded. Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy will explore American-Soviet relations through the prism of Soviet and American airmen on U.S. air bases in the Ukraine during World War II.

But if you’re looking for a variety of perspectives on the challenges and promises of democracy today — not a tangentially related curiosity from 80 years ago — you won’t find it at Karsh this April.

There is nothing in the smorgasbord of democracy-related events that explore such themes as, say, the conditions required for wealth creation, the rise of America’s cultural elites and concomitant alienation of the working/middle class, the government role in suppressing “misinformation,” the political weaponization of the justice system, the impending fiscal collapse of the federal government, or other themes that — agree or disagree with them — are serious narratives raised by the non-left. One wonders if UVA’s faculty and administrators even know such perspectives exist.

A review of other events highlighted by Karsh shows vividly how UVA has become an intellectual monoculture that explores only ideas that fall within a narrow partisan and ideological range. Join me as I tour the intellectual offerings provided by a university whose leadership touts its commitment to “viewpoint diversity.”

An upcoming event will highlight a panel of photojournalists. “Join a distinguished panel of photojournalists—including Pulitzer Prize–winning photographers—as they explore how their profession keeps the public well-informed and share their perspectives on what it’s like to work in some of the most challenging areas in the world,” says the promo copy.

Sounds riveting. But photojournalists are overwhelmingly left-of-center in their political outlooks, so their “perspectives” are likely to reflect their worldviews. Not a good sign: Panel moderator Sanjay Suchak, a practitioner fellow in democracy at Karsh, says in his bio that he “has extensively covered issues surrounding race, equity, white supremacy.” Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive here and the photojournalists will surprise us with some non-left perspectives on the issues of the day. But don’t expect neutrality or objectivity in the following events….

Adha Kumar, former director-general of the Indian think tank Delhi Policy Group, will address the future of democracy in India. The event description tips Kumar’s ideological hand: “The modern Indian republic can now look and act like a totalitarian regime, it appears ever more necessary to synthesize the lessons learned.” (Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, has overseen unprecedented prosperity in the world’s largest democracy but is regarded by the left as a Hindu nationalist and chauvinist, and his movement as an analogue to American white supremacists.)

Andrew Kahrl, co-director of Karsh’s Repair Lab, will discuss his new book, “The Black Tax,” which reveals “the shocking history and ruinous consequences of inequitable and predatory tax laws in this country. … Throughout the 20th century, African Americans acquired substantial amounts of property nationwide. But racist practices, obscure processes, and outright theft diminished their holdings and their power.”

One can hope that Mr. Karhl will leaven his expose by revealing how African Americans managed to acquire “substantial amounts of property” in the first place, or recount all the laws, regulations and practices enacted with the explicit goal of bolstering African-American wealth creation, or explore the theme of “the White tax” designed to transfer wealth from the affluent to the poor. But there is no hint of such perspectives.

Image from the Canvas website. Canvas

The Karsh email goes on to highlight the 2024 People Power Academy, asking the question, “What are the inner workings of autocratic repression and methods of nonviolent resistance?” The three-day event is hosted by CANVAS, a Serbia-based NGO co-founded by Karsh Institute Practitioner Fellow in Democracy Srđa Popović. CANVAS operates “a network of international trainers and consultants with expertise in building and running successful nonviolent movements.”

A quick scan of the CANVAS website reveals no obvious partisan or ideological alignments (other than a “pro-democracy” bent), but images suggest an alignment in the U.S. with leftist movements. See the clenched-fist image and “Reform Amerika” sign in the website image above and the leftist rhetoric in the protest signs below. What cannot be denied is that non-violent “resistance” is a preoccupation of the political left in the U.S.

Next up…

“Putting Equity-Minded Policy into Practice.” Darlene Flynn, director of the race and equity department for the city of Oakland, CA, joins the Karsh Institute’s LEAD Working Group to discuss the successful strategies she’s adopted for developing a more just and equitable city.”

Sacred and Profane Podcast, Season 4: Between Heaven and Earth. Ten episodes in the latest season of the Sacred and Profane podcast cover religions and climate change in America. How have religions shaped the climate crisis?”

“Gun Violence Solutions Brown Bag Research Workshop.” The Gun Violence Solutions Faculty Working Group at UVA is hosting a series of lunchtime workshops designed to share and discuss research on issues related to gun violence.”

“Building Bridges: Addressing Gun Violence Through Storytelling.”  A workshop to integrate critical perspectives on gun violence, foster interdisciplinary collaborations within UVA, and engage with Charlottesville community organizers. Lunch provided. 

“The People at the Grassroots Are on the Move’: The Rebirth of Movement Activism in the Midst of the Reagan Revolution, 1978–’83” is the next installment of the Karsh Institute’s LEAD Working Group colloquium series this semester.”

There are other public-policy events at UVA. The Miller Center and the Center for Politics, for instance, host numerous speakers and seminars. These speakers do not hew consistently to the left. Indeed, the Miller Center and the Center for Politics invite numerous establishment figures and even a few conservatives. But Karsh is where UVA leadership’s heart is and where the bulk of the funding is going.

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Allan W.
Allan W.
1 month ago

This is expected.
The Karsh Institute of Democracy was made possible by a donation from Martha and Bruce Karsh. In June 2019, Martha gave the introduction to Jim Ryan at an alumni event at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Astoria. Her introduction was a giant “F U” to anyone who disagreed with her. She talked about her experience meeting SCOTUS justice Anthony Kennedy at a Rotunda dinner where she showered him with praise for his gay “marriage” ruling and talked about how important it was to have an Institute of Democracy “in these troubling times.” 
In 2022 when I met with a UVA fundraising officer (when he was part of the Jim Ryan entourage at another big city visit), he cited the Institute of Democracy in response to my concerns raised in Emma Camp’s NYT article about students not being exposed both sides at UVA.
Needless to say, I rolled my eyes. 

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago

And it gets worse…
All of these events have UVA faculty involved.
The “gun violence” group is looking to create classes or some other view on getting rid of guns (because they shoot themselves as everyone knows) – https://karshinstitute.virginia.edu/call-proposals-uva-gun-violence-solutions-faculty-working-group
The request asks you to contact 2 ladies. With just a little bit of work you can end up here – https://soundjusticelab.org/our-people That’s a link to the people.
Now go here – https://soundjusticelab.org/about – and see how the Sound Justice Lab describes itself AND scroll down to the bottom and see all the groups that fund it. Really? They are spending money on education?
And what about The Jefferson Trust? Isn’t that Jefferson Scholars? Donors gave money to Jefferson Scholars to fund THAT?

If you dig into any UVA propaganda story – my guess is you have a 90% chance of finding money being spent on something other than classical education.

If you could ever get your arms around all the “Centers” or “Labs” and all the grant money and all the foundation money and all the professor and administrative time involved in pushing poisonous, non-educational doctrines, instead of Open The Books $20 million estimate, I bet you could hit $100 million.

BOV? Where are you? And I’m talking to the Northam appointees here? You have a job that is not supposed to be political hacks.

1 month ago

Concerning that not all. Although the university seems to be holding an interesting and pertinent event that pertains to the topic of the Holocaust and Never Again next Tuesday: https://religiousstudies.as.virginia.edu/never-again-syndrome-uses-and-misuses-holocaust-memory-contemporary-global-politics.

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Charles

I’m not so sure of that…
While I know nothing about this particular speaker, here is a paragraph from the link…
Presented by the Islamic Studies Unit of the Religious Studies Department, this lecture series regards the Israel-Palestine Conflict. The invited speakers will offer perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict that have not yet been heard on Grounds, particularly (though not limited) to those that bring Palestinian and Arab world contexts and perspectives into the public conversation, as appropriate to our collective expertise.

I’m gonna go with this will be more sympathetic to the Hamas-supporting “Palestinians”…

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  walter smith

OK – that didn’t take long…
This was published in the NYT on November 10. I had to get this from this source since NYT had it paywalled.