by Dick Hall-Sizemore
Sometimes I shake my head in dismay at the Democrats in the General Assembly. They sometimes seem so eager to score points against Governor Youngkin that they end up shooting themselves in the foot.
Current case in point is Budget Amendment No. 9 sent down by the Governor. Rather than summarize it, I will set in out in full:
- As part of the biennial six-year financial plan required in the provisions of ง 23.1-306, Code of Virginia, each public four-year institution of higher education, Richard Bland College, and the Virginia Community College System shall include in its six-year plan and amendments to its plan submitted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) an official commitment and set of policies and practices to support freedom of expression and inquiry, free speech, academic freedom, and diversity of thought.
- Each public four-year institution of higher education, Richard Bland College, and the Virginia Community College System shall also submit an annual report on freedom of expression and inquiry, free speech, academic freedom, and diversity of thought to the Secretary of Education, including related incidents and statistics from the prior academic year.
Freedom of expression and speech, who could be opposed to that? That is more American than apple pie. On the House side, the only substantive objection was raised by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, who argued that the proposal was largely duplicative of a requirement already in law and urged that it be rejected. (I did not watch the Senate side of the debates.) The House vote on the proposed amendment was 50-45. In the Senate, the vote was 22-17. All the “no” votes in each chamber were cast by Democrats.
This did not have to be a big deal. There is already a similar requirement in the Virginia Code. The six-year financial plan in which this amendment would require college and universities to include “an official commitment and set of policies and practices to support freedom of expression…” is a lengthy document which is read probably only by the analyst in the Department of Planning and Budget assigned to cover that institution, a couple of staff members of the money committees, and one or two people at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
Each institution likely has a policy statement of some sort dealing with freedom of expression, freedom of speech, academic freedom, and diversity of thought. (See here for William and Mary’s policy statement.) Just stick that policy statement into the six-year financial plan. As for the reporting, they could take the report they already have to make under law and add a list of speakers on campus during the year and other details that show how they support freedom of expression and inquiry. The amendment does not have any minimum criteria the policy and report must meet; nobody outside the institution has to approve it.
The amendment can be implemented with a minimum of fuss and bother. Higher ed institutions can say they have been doing this all along. Its adoption will not make any substantive difference in how higher ed institutions go about their work. But, I get it. This is political posturing by Youngkin and the Democrats wanted to call him on it. However, in doing so, they gave Republicans ammunition to use in claiming that Democrats are against freedom of expression and having a diversity of viewpoints on campuses. I really do not understand what they hoped to accomplish.