Virginia Tech Profs Dis-Invite Conservative Columnist to Avoid Controversy

Jason Riley: the wrong kind of black man

Jason Riley: the wrong kind of black man

by James A. Bacon

Jason Riley is an African-American editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page who opines on the condition of black America from a conservative perspective. He receives roughly 15 invitations a year to speak on college campuses on issues ranging from police shootings, the Black Lives matter movement and mass incarceration. One such invitation came recently from Virginia Tech. Here’s what happened:

Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in the Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.

This incident follows close on the heels of a move to dis-invite controversial conservative sociologist Charles Murray that was blocked by President Tim Sands. (See “A Small Victory for Academic Freedom.”) Judging from Riley’s brief description, his speech never came to Sands’ attention. What happened was actually worse. The professors in the academic department in question acted proactively to stave off objections before they could even rise to the level of a controversy. What occurred was self-censorship.

Excluding speakers from campus because of their political beliefs makes a mockery of universities as centers of intellectual diversity and free inquiry. (While the tantrums of leftists get all the attention in conservative media, protests, disruptions and dis-invitations are initiated by those on the right as well as the left, as can be seen in this Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) database. They’re not as frequent, but they do occur.)

It’s time for push back. If university administrators can’t maintain intellectual diversity on campus, then maybe it’s time that the boards of visitors start applying pressure. If board members have acted behind the scenes to safeguard free speech, it’s not clear how effective they have been. To made a difference, the public needs to put pressure on board members.

If you know a board member personally, you need to speak up. One board member is within my circle of acquaintances, who I see a couple of times a year, and I can promise you, he’s going to catch an earful!

I don’t know how well Virginia Tech board members will respond to hectoring by me, a Wahoo. But they will listen to Virginia Tech alumni. They will really listen to Virginia Tech alumni who start withholding contributions. What does it matter if a university gains a new building or research lab and loses its soul?

Update: Virginia Tech contends that no formal invitation was ever issued to Riley, according to a letter issued by Robert T. Sumichrast, dean of the Pamplin College of Business. Here’s what he says happened:

A faculty member did reach out to Mr. Riley to inquire of his interest in speaking at Virginia Tech. When Mr. Riley was not selected by the committee the same faculty member emailed Mr. Riley with his personal explanation of why he had not been selected. This faculty member does not represent the committee’s voice and this faculty member did not extend an invitation nor rescind an invitation.

Update to the update: Sumichrast has walked back his denial, conceding that he wrote in error, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and an invitation has been extended to Riley.

Here follows a list of Virginia Tech’s board of visitor members:

James L. Chapman, IV
Crenshaw, Ware, & Martin, PLC
Norfolk

Nancy V. Dye, M.D.
Roanoke

William D. Fairchild, III
Retired Chairman of R.W. Murray Co.
Haymarket

B. Keith Fulton
Richmond

Charles T. Hill
Midlothian

Mehmood Kazmi
Great Falls

Deborah Petrine
President & CEO, CCR
Roanoke

Michael Quillen
Bristol

Wayne H. Robinson
Greensboro

J. Thomas Ryan, M.D.
Fredericksburg

Mr. Mehul P. Sanghani
President and CEO, Octo Consulting Group
McLean

Steve Sturgis
Eastville

Dennis H. Treacy
President, Smithfield Foundation
Hanover

Horacio A. Valeiras
Managing Principal, HAV Capital, LLC
La Jolla

Rami Dalloul
Faculty Representative
Blacksburg,

Walter D. Cook III (Dan)
Staff Representative
Blacksburg

Mohammed Seyam
Graduate Student Representative
Blacksburg,

Morgan Sykes
Undergraduate Student Representative
Blacksburg

Ms. Kim O’Rourke
Secretary to the Board
Blacksburg

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23 responses to “Virginia Tech Profs Dis-Invite Conservative Columnist to Avoid Controversy

  1. Well , can anyone at Tech invite someone to speak?

    Surely someone else would step up and do it , eh?

    but if no one “invites” you to speak is that the same as censorship?

    I mean if a Conservative University refuses to invite some liberal firebrand to speak is that censorship?

    We’ve got some local nut cases arguing with our BOS that by limiting them to 3 minutes and rules that forbid them to make personal attacks or interrupt other speakers that their “free speech rights are being “infringed” so now they’re using their 3 minutes to argue for that their freedom of speech is being infringed….

    so is anyone entitled to speak at a University whenever they wish or do they have to be invited and if they are not invited – they are being discriminated against?

    Out of 20 some thousand folks down at Tech – not a one could be found to re-invite him?

    I’m quite sure there must be a Conservative Student group there, right?

  2. LtG, I think it’s not as simple as having just “anyone” to issue the invite. An invitation may involve meeting space and prep, security and staffing, publicity, guest escort and accommodations, fees, etc. I doubt many folks could get all that together without its being an official sanctioned event.

    Anyway, it may be time to reconsider that annual automatic contribution my bank remits every fall…

  3. “It’s time for push back.’

    Yes, and also long past time for push back.

  4. Leave it to Larry to try shifting the focus of the issue from censorship by the university or its faculty, a state entity, to whether someone gets invited in the first place. Then he poses moral equivalence with a Board of Supervisors meeting where the Board is required to complete business in an open meeting. Under his regimen, no business would ever be conducted because the time would be filibustered by citizens. Larry, you don’t have a right to interfere with someone’s conduct of business through endless debate and speech. Quite simply, there’s no comparison between what happened at Vtech and what happens at a BOS meeting. For Larry, everything has to be compared to everything else, without regard for whether the situations are at all comparable. Stop deflecting, Larry. Give it up.
    Oh, well, this blog invites all comers to express their “opinion”, even if they don’t make any sense at all, and even if it’s just to hear themselves talk.

    • re: ” censorship by the university or its faculty, a state entity, ”

      I don’t think it’s censorship to not invite… you have no “right” to an invite to start with – even at public institutions.

      If that were the case – every wacko bird from here to Timbuktu could claim they were being “discriminated” against if someone else got an invite and they did not

      it’s just more looney logic… from wacko birds..

      the BOS issue is right on target – totally illustrative of the logic.

      and even “official” public hearings have “rules” about your “free speech”!!

      hard to believe out of thousands at Tech – no one else is willing to “invite” poor Jason Riley; perhaps he should just show up with a megaphone on the quad, eh, Crazy?

  5. I don’t think anyone has a “right” to an invitation to speak , myself.

    and it’s hard to believe that on a campus of thousands there is not a group willing to schedule a venue for a like-minded speaker and for any/all who are interested to come listen.

    there is no requirement that any person be invited no matter their views nor than any on campus be required to go listen.

    no sure where that whole idea came from.

    even college students are allowed to discriminate in who they want to listen to.

    and here – take a look at this – I’m surprised that Bacon didn’t want to make this an issue… :

    ” University in Turmoil Over Scalia Tribute and Koch Role”

    ” WASHINGTON — For years, students and faculty at George Mason University paid little attention as Charles G. Koch and other conservatives helped transform their once sleepy commuter school in the suburbs of the nation’s capital into a leading producer of free-market scholarship. The effort, after all, was focused on a few specific departments like economics and law and attracted little attention outside conservative circles.

    But the announcement last month that George Mason would rename its law school in honor of Justice Antonin Scalia, the longtime voice of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing who died in February, abruptly ended that indifference.

    The name change — and that it was tied to a $30 million combined gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous conservative donor — focused attention for the first time in a serious way on whether the administration and trustees at George Mason had allowed Virginia’s largest public university to become an ideological outpost.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/29/us/koch-brothers-antonin-scalia-george-mason-law-school.html?_r=0

    • >>Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in the Wall Street Journal would spark protests. >>

      OK Larry, you can mince words about whether the chicken came before the egg. What happened was censorship, plain and simple. He was disinvited because someone threatened protests. We don’t know the extent of the protests based on the article, but whenever faculty members are afraid of protests and put pressure on the inviter, this is a form of censorship. Faculty members should be welcoming the discussion.

      Re: George Mason. Deflect, deflect, deflect. Look at the monkey over here, Look at the Monkey over here in NOVA. Pay no attention to that censorship happening in Southwest Virginia.

    • “I don’t think anyone has a ‘right’ to an invitation to speak , myself.”

      They don’t, and it’s hilarious to me that the same people who hated the Fairness Doctrine as part of our publicly regulated airwaves want to pressure publicly funded universities to have people come on campus to speak whether the people paying to be there want the speaker around or not.

      This, however, was the line that was too far for me.

      “What does it matter if a university gains a new building or research lab and loses its soul?”

      What a bunch of purple bullshit. The contributors to this blog – including the headmaster – regularly put forward opinions about the lack of worth of liberal arts degrees and how STEM is the way to go and how our universities need to be innovation centers for technology and healthcare, which undermines the notion of universities having any sort of incorporeal concern.

      But some conservative dork doesn’t get an invitation to blah blah blah his poorly thought out nonsense at the state polytechnic school and all of the sudden the very heart of higher education is in jeopardy!

  6. Mr. Riley does not have a “right” to speak at any venue he pleases – even tax-supported ones.

    it’s purely by invitation only.

    And if they do not want to invite him – it’s their option –

    they are not required to invite anyone in the first place and they are free to invite who they choose without regard to balanced views

    no one has the right to an invite.

    how would you actually impose any regulation on Tech with regard to who to invite and who not and whether or not “balance” was achieved in speakers?

    Would you actually have a govt committee doing that?

    I’m pretty sure there are a bunch of different groups at Tech that could arrange a venue for a speaker – if they so chose to do so – but none of them should be forced to invite anyone – and that includes the ability to rescind an invitation.

    my opinion, mind you…all due respects to Crazy.

    • Your argument proves too much. No one disputes they can invite anyone they want. It would be difficult to make a legal case that they have any obligation to invite for balance. That misses the point of Jim’s post, which is that institutions of higher learning, particularly ones that feed at the public trough, have an obligation to have all sides heard. When faculty and department heads pressure someone inviting a speaker to disinvite that speaker because someone will be offended and protest, that kinda defeats having all sides heard.
      On the other hand, assuming they can do what they want, I’m sure you would consider it fair that legislators and alumni do what they want and cut off funds to such an approach to higher learning, wouldn’t you, Larr? After all, there’s no obligation to fund, is there, Larr? Free market and all. What?

  7. VT counters by saying there never was an invitation. Obviously, a miscommunication occurred, but, in any case, blaming VT for not supporting academic freedom is a bit premature.

    See story at
    http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/accused-of-disinviting-a-conservative-speaker-virginia-tech-says-it-had-never-asked-him-to-campus/111052

  8. re: ” That misses the point of Jim’s post, which is that institutions of higher learning, particularly ones that feed at the public trough, have an obligation to have all sides heard. ”

    I disagree. Who says that other than right wing wacko birds?

    who would determine if that was actually done or not or who would “enforce” it? Is someone keeping track of the “invites” to make sure that “equal” invites is practiced?

    it’s just more right wing blather butt …. whining… if you will.

    • OK, have it your way, Larry. You disagree. And forgetting the ad hominem attack against those on the right with whom you disagree, I’m assuming you won’t complain when the legislators cut back funds or otherwise weigh in. Or will you invoke academic freedom when that happens?

      Who would determine if “that was actually done”? That’s where the market comes in, Larr. The market of ideas as well as the market for education. What is happening, whether you like it or not, is that finally the monolith that is higher education is experiencing some pushback from the rest of the world. Expect more to come. Expect your ox to be gored, Larr. Only those institutions who plot the course down the middle of the road will survive, Larr.

      I note that VT felt obligated to come out and say Riley was never invited, to which Riley responded, “I don’t buy this line that I wasn’t invited,” he told the newspaper on Tuesday. “Based on my understanding of the English language, it sounded like an invitation to me.” At least they’re starting to take such controversies seriously, a hopeful sign. The problem will be as it always has been: the inmates run the asylum at most higher ed institutions. The administrations don’t have the cahones to stand up to their faculties, who, there is no question, are mostly far left liberals like Larr whose modus operandi is to suppress dissent from their benighted views.

      • just to be clear:

        ad ho·mi·nem

        1. (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.

        2. relating to or associated with a particular person.
        “the office was created ad hominem for Fenton”

        vs – ” … ad hominem attack against those on the right”

        person – get it ? person – not group

        moving on………..

        re: ” That’s where the market comes in, Larr. The market of ideas as well as the market for education. ”

        well that’s right – and if the “market” doesn’t want to listen to you – too bad!

        re: ” I note that VT felt obligated to come out and say Riley was never invited, to which Riley responded, “I don’t buy this line that I wasn’t invited,” he told the newspaper on Tuesday. “Based on my understanding of the English language, it sounded like an invitation to me.”

        well yes ..coming from folks who disagree on facts and realities regularly – I’m not at all surprised… it’s become a badge of honor of the right – to disagree with history, facts, realities.. whatever they don’t like and disagree with… and if it’s a group they disagree with – out comes the ‘conspiracy’ thing… so clearly there is a “conspiracy” in high ed to squash the views of the right these days, right?

        so how come the poor oppressed Conservatives at Tech don’t rebut those”leftists”and invite Riley themselves ?

        why? because it’s so much better to beat that dead “we’re being suppressed” horse, of course!

  9. No one has a “right” to an invitation to speak, and I don’t think any conservative would posit such a right. For example, I, as a conservative blogger, do not have a “right” to be heard on at campus if no one is interested in hearing me.

    The people with “rights” are the faculty and student who would like to invite someone whose views they would like to hear. Campus leftists would deny them that right while asserting their own rights to hear whomever they would like to invite to the campus. In effect, there are two classes of citizens — those with the power to decide who gets heard, and those without.

    Now, a private university can do whatever it wants. But a taxpayer-subsidized university has to abide by a different code. If LOTFL or LarryG dispute that proposition, it’s only because they feel like they (or their like-minded brethren) are in a position of power to decide things in a manner to their liking. But let’s call it what it is: a raw power play. (That’s the leftist narrative, is it not? It’s all about the power.)

    If leftists assert that right, then the vast majority of the population has the “right” (a) to stop contributing to the offending universities, (b) to insist that their legislators stop subsidizing the universities, and (c) stop sending their kids and paying tuition to institutions that are antithetical to their values and viewpoints… Or would you deny them those rights as well?

    • I will qualify my statements above by noting that leftists are not the only ones who object to “offensive” viewpoints on campus. Conservatives protest leftist speakers as well, as documented by FIRE. My arguments apply to them as well. If they want others to respect their rights, they need to respect the rights of others.

      The difference is that conservative protesters get zero support from campus administrators, so they tend to be very ineffective. Rarely do they succeed in actually preventing anyone from speaking. And rarely do they disrupt the functions of others to the point where they cannot carry on.

      • re: ” My arguments apply to them as well. If they want others to respect their rights, they need to respect the rights of others.”

        you’re confusing what are “rights”.. here…

        as Crazy opined – it’s a marketplace of ideas – and people are FREE to hear them or not and unless you want our academic institutions to operate like those in China – there are no “rules” for who gets invited or not – it’s purely up to those who would or would not invite.

        not “inviting” or even dis-inviting is NOT taking away your free speech nor preventing others from hearing your speech.

        this is hilarious -you apparently want to force those nasty leftist to invite and listen to the idiots on the right … that they have no desire to listen to.

        jeezy peezy –

        Here Jim:

        ” The 20 Best Conservative Colleges in America”

        http://www.thebestschools.org/rankings/20-best-conservative-colleges-america/

        should we go look to see who they “invite” to speak and then question their commitment to academic freedom if they haven’t invited “leftists” to speak?

        you guys are downright comical on this stuff…

        the “leftists” have taken over higher ed in America. Really? When did that happen? 1960? 😉

    • Your problem is that you over assert your case. No one is trampling anyone’s right to free speech, unless your definition of free speech is, “Everyone else stop talking while this person speaks.” The professors can invite whoever they want; they chose to back down because they assumed the protests (which, hey buddy, is a form of free speech) wouldn’t be worth the headache.

      The argument you want to make is that the state of campus wide protest creates a chilling effect for speech and ideas not sanctioned by the majority – or at least the majority of those willing to speak up. And I’d actually probably agree with you because seriously, who gives two craps about Generic Wall Street Journal editor number three? But a chilling effect isn’t the same as the suppression of a right, even though it probably makes conservatives feel closer to Jesus on the cross if they can try to claim it is.

    • re: ” Campus leftists would deny them that right while asserting their own rights to hear whomever they would like to invite to the campus. In effect, there are two classes of citizens — those with the power to decide who gets heard, and those without.”

      more Grade A horse manure!

      why don’t the Conservatives at tech – make a statement of their own – and “invite” Mr. Riley to demonstrate that he CAN speak?

      who is keeping the folks who want to hear Mr. Riley from inviting him and why do we insist that it’s the ones who don’t want to hear him -that have to invite him?

  10. As one who worked on a college campus many years, I saw the Right play the game just like the Left. Board of Visitors intervention isn’t necessarily the right solution. After a particularly controversial environmentalist (some called him and eco-terrorist) spoke at VT, the BOV at this very university almost passed a resolution to require it or the university president to approve ALL speakers coming to campus! …not only quite impractical but fraught with conflicts. The president and wiser voices prevailed and the resolution was pulled back.

    • Fair enough. The right does this, too, as documented in the FIRE database. Conservatives need to hold a principled position. Either they’re in favor of free speech on college campuses, or they’re not. They can’t pick and choose who gets to speak and who doesn’t any more than leftists can.

  11. LtG, as posted above, I still think it’s not as simple as having just “anyone” to issue the invite. An invitation may involve meeting space and prep, security and staffing, publicity, guest escort and accommodations, fees, etc. I doubt many folks could get all that together without its being an official sanctioned event.

    Also the press has been full of similar disinvites of conservative leaners for graduations and other events. I don’t remember seeing a leftist EVER being disinvited but I’m sure you’ll dredge one up for me.

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