Quashing Offensive Memes at UVa

On Jan. 19, Patrick Hogan, the chief operating officer of the University of Virginia, sent out an email community advisory to students, faculty, and staff asking people witnessing “suspicious activity” such as posting “offensive flyers and memes” to please call 911.

“The safety and wellbeing of every member of the University community remains our top priority, and we ask for your assistance in remaining vigilant of your surroundings,” said Hogan.

That communiqué struck Hans von Spasovsky, a scholar with the Heritage Foundation, as an egregious affront to free speech. Here’s how he responded in an article published by the Foundation’s Daily Signal:

Apparently, in Hogan’s mind, saying something “offensive” is the same as committing a heinous criminal act. How do we know that? Because his email tells students to call 911 if they see someone “posting offensive flyers or other material.”

No, really. Posting such material violates the university’s “posting and chalking” policy and is included in Hogan’s definition of “suspicious activity.”

Hogan was particularly concerned over any “offensive” material that might be distributed at “buildings and centers for under-represented groups, particularly Women’s Studies.”

In other words, if you decide to exercise your First Amendment right to speak at UVA by, perhaps, calling the “Women’s Study” program a faux social science curriculum, or by pointing out that its graduates may have a very tough time finding a job in which they can actually support themselves, then law enforcement officers will be called to come after you—a total abuse of the 911 emergency response system.

This is apparently UVA’s version of the “Thought Police” from George Orwell’s “1984.”

Spasovsky makes a searing indictment. Is it fair? Here is the full text of what Hogan wrote:

The University of Virginia is aware of reports of solicitations by national organizations to encourage distribution of offensive flyers and memes at colleges and universities across the country during the upcoming weekend. The reports indicate that the organizations are specifically interested in buildings and centers for under-represented groups, particularly Women’s Studies. We are not aware of any specific threats to the University of Virginia and its facilities. We still believe it is prudent to make members of the University community aware of this possible activity.

If you witness individuals engaged in suspicious activity, including posting offensive flyers or other material in violation of the University’s Policy on Exterior Posting and Chalking, please call 911. The University Police Department and the Ambassadors are aware of this information and will be closely monitoring activities on and near Grounds. We will be maintaining an enhanced security environment across Grounds this weekend.

The safety and wellbeing of every member of the University community remains our top priority, and we ask for your assistance in remaining vigilant of your surroundings.

Oddly, it’s not clear from Hogan’s advisory who these outside groups are or how their flyers might prove offensive — although his epistle implies that “women’s studies” might be targeted. He’s not aware of any specific “threats” to the university, but the rumored activities are alarming enough that university police have been notified and the administration will maintain an “enhanced security environment.”

The advisory is so vague that it’s hard to make heads or tails of it. While Spasovsky might be jumping to conclusions, it is easy to see how he made the inferences that he did. Reading between the lines of Hogan’s email, it sounds like feminist groups on campus were having fainting spells at the prospect of someone posting material — offensive “memes” — that assaulted their snowflake sensitivities. We do not know that for a fact. However, given the tenor of campus politics these days, it is a not unreasonable supposition.

Adding plausibility to Spasovsky’s spin on the memo, Hogan’s words must be interpreted through a filter of modern-day academia-speak. The document referred to women’s studies as an “under-represented group.” Only in an academic culture steeped in the culture of victimization could an institution where women comprise 55% of the student body possibly refer to them as an “under-represented” group.

When asking for UVa spokesman Anthony de Bruyn for a copy of Hogan’s advisory, I asked if the university had a response to Spasovsky’s column. De Bruyn did not respond. It’s all very mysterious.

For the record, conservatives on campus can play the victimization game, too. In December I wrote how the UVa Student Council had denied the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a conservative student group, recognition as an official student organization. YAF called foul. UVa responded that the non-discrimination policy had been applied in error and that the student council would reconsider. De Bruyn informed me today that the YAF had been approved as a CIO (contracted independent organization) last week.

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8 responses to “Quashing Offensive Memes at UVa

  1. “During the upcoming weekend” sounds like a very specific flyer attack expected to result from very specific planned “solicitations by national organizations.” What the hell?! Obviously the University knows more than they are saying. They should come clean about it, in the name of transparent policing if not free discussion of ideas.

  2. This was written by the Chief Operating Officer of the entire University. Just dwell on that simple fact for a while. What does that tell you?

    • What a cheap, tawdry, and cowardly act, trying to conjure up victims from thin air among young students at UVA. Low rent performance art from UVA’s Chief Operating Officer, no less. Now we know where Jackie came from. And last spring and summer’s conjured up violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Sullivan and her gang are going out with quite a bang. Or is it a whimper?

      • I’m with Reed on the absurdity of Pat Hogan being the Chief Hall Monitor of bulletin boards. With a salary of $472,800 I presumed he’d been hired for other skills. As for free speech/offensive speech, pinning something to a bulletin is, by its very nature, temporary. Am I the only person who has removed a flyer from bulletin board, exercising my freedom of expression? It’s almost as if this school WANTS to be in the spotlight for one embarrassing reason or the next.

      • If anyone wants to better understand what likely afflicts UVA’s chief operating officer, and what surely afflicts the campuses of many of today’s universities, and what has afflicted UVA in spades for several years now, I highly recommend this just published book:

        Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari.

        The book ‘s title is some what misleading. This guy is talking about not only depression but also the rampant angst and anxiety that afflicts so many Americans today of all kinds, including so many kids on college campuses. I believe our colleges and universities have much to answer for as they are one of major pushers of these mental health problems. That include people like UVA’s current Chief Operating Officer, and his boss Teresa Sullivan.

  3. Not too hard to imagine.. some really offensive posters .. like a noose with some white supremacist words.. or geeze.. I can just imagine on a gender basis really bad stuff.

    I know this sounds counter to the folks who claim that anyone can say or provide posters of anything – anywhere they please… as 1st amendment but it’s just not true.

    You can’t stand up in a courtroom and give your own speech.. you will be escorted out.

    You won’t be able to take a really offensive poster into a meeting of BOS.

    I can go on and on but you can color this both ways… as “censorship”or the reality of what “free speech” really is and really is not.

    Here is an example… and those protesters were denied access to a public cemetery and moved away from it:

  4. New rules equal decriminalizing turnstile jumping, pot, almost all juvenile offenses, knowingly exposing some to HIV (California), etc.
    But posting certain fliers deemed inappropriate or harmful equals a call to 911.
    It would be a bit different if the message was to contact the administration to check out the flier.

  5. Larry, as an American you have pretty broad freedom to utter or display offensive speech. See what the United States Courts say about it. http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does

    Courts have permitted regulation of the time, place and manner of speech when four tests are passed. They are:
    1. Does the regulation serve an important governmental interest?
    2. Is the government interest served by the regulation unrelated to the suppression of a particular message?
    3. Is the regulation narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest?
    4. Does the regulation leave open ample alternative means for communicating messages?

    I’m not sure posting a flyer on public college bulletin board advocating white or black supremacy can be prohibited. Nor could a flyer that calls for deportation of all illegal immigrants or for a total amnesty. A flyer that calls for violence is something else. One that depicted a noose around a black person’s neck probably is a call to violence that can be removed. A poster that displayed a noose and argued for capital punishment by hanging should not be touched by any government official.

    As far as courtroom or board of supervisors meeting, they could likely prohibit all banners and signs as being disruptive to the orderly operation of government, but not allow some and prohibit others based on the content of their speech.

    Despite what the left and California government officials say, we don’t have a right not to be offended. I hope the US DoJ really cracks down on California.

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