Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Virginia Colleges Fare Pretty Well in 2024 FIRE Rankings

In case you’re wondering how all Virginia institutions scored in the 2024 FIRE free speech rankings, here is a summary of the universities included in the survey. For perspective, I’ve included the top and bottom scorers. Liberty University is listed separately, as it is one of six that prioritize other values over free speech. Remember, the rankings reflect an assessment of formal written policies, not actual practice or campus climate. — JAB

2024 FIRE Free Speech Ranking
Rank Institution Score Speech Climate
#1 Michigan Technological University 78.01 Good
#6 University of Virginia 68.00 Above Average
#8 George Mason University 67.67 Above Average
#20 Washington & Lee University 62.99 Above Average
#26 James Madison University 58.83 Slightly Above Average
#59 College of William and Mary 53.69 Average
#160 Virginia Tech 42.17 Slightly Below Average
#184 Virginia Commonwealth University 39.23 Below Average
#248 Harvard University 0 Abysmal
Liberty University 35.62 Warning, No Rank

Don’t Get Too Fired Up About UVa’s FIRE Ranking

by Allan Stam

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently gave the University of Virginia a 6th-place ranking in a national survey assessing the state of free speech on college campuses. Provost Ian Baucom cited the recognition during Wednesday’s Board of Visitors meeting, noting that it was the highest ranking the university had ever achieved.

UVa’s high score suggests to some the existence of a robust culture of open dialogue and intellectual freedom at UVa. However, a closer examination of the underlying data reveals a more nuanced and troubling picture.

UVa’s overall score was a mere 68 out of 100, a grade that would be considered failing in many academic and household settings. This discrepancy between the overall ranking and the actual score raises questions about the survey’s methodology. It casts doubt on the true state of free speech at UVA and perhaps other highly ranked institutions.

UVa earned the high score primarily on the basis of its stated policies. President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom and the Board of Visitors have repeatedly endorsed free speech and viewpoint diversity in the past year. But official policies tell us little about actual practices or the cultural milieu in which students, faculty and staff interact.

When one digs a little deeper into the specific categories within the survey, the concerns become even more pronounced. UVa ranks alarmingly low in several key areas: 222nd in “Comfort Expressing Ideas,” 178th in “Disruptive Conduct,” and 188th in “Openness.” These rankings are not mere numbers; they represent a tangible reality where students feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas, where disruptive conduct stifles dialogue, and where a lack of openness hampers intellectual growth. Continue reading

Hey, Preppers, Check Out Virginia!

I always suspected this might be the case, but now there is hard data to back it up. Non-coastal Virginia is one of the lowest-risk areas in the country for natural disasters. Sure, we get the occasional tornado or flood, but, really, how often? And when was the last time we experienced a deadly wildfire, hail storm or volcanic eruption?

Gutter Gnome, a gutter installation company, drew upon FEMA’s National Risk Index to identify the ten cities in the United States safest from natural disasters. Virginia snagged the top three. The list:

  1. Richmond
  2. Lynchburg
  3. Roanoke
  4. Midland, TX
  5. Duluth, MN
  6. Rochester, MN
  7. Pittsburgh, PA
  8. Tyler, TX
  9. Bloomington, IN
  10. Boise, ID

Oddly, Compton, Va., a community in Page County, Va., appeared on the list of riskiest “cities” for natural disasters. No explanation given. Must have had a bad flood or landslide.

Here are the categories of natural disasters, incorporating data from exposure, frequency, and historic loss ratio, that FEMA tracks: avalanche, coastal flooding, cold waves, droughts, earthquakes, hail, heat waves, hurricanes, ice storms, landslides, lightning, riverine flooding, strong wind, tornado, tsunami, volcanic activity, wildfire, and winter weather.


UVa’s Ever-Expanding Bureaucracy: Student Advising Edition

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia old-timers (like myself) remember what it was like to find help in picking courses and deciding majors. We’d latch ourselves onto a professor who took an interest in us, and he or she would walk us through the process. It did require some initiative on our part to reach out, but then, we were accustomed to taking matters into our own hands. I was fortunate. My advisor, history professor Joseph C. Miller, was not only a charismatic teacher and a leading scholar in his field, but he regarded the care and tending of students — even lowly undergraduates like me — as part of his vocation.

That’s not the way it works anymore. Faculty members are still expected to play a role in advising students, but it is a much diminished one. At UVa, responsibility for dispensing advice has been bureaucratized.

At the UVa Board of Visitors meeting Wednesday, the Ryan administration highlighted what it is doing to improve student advising. The dominant themes of the session were (1) the student experience is lacking for many, and (2) the answer is hiring more advisors and investing in the latest, greatest technology.

The picture that emerged is that UVa has numerous fragmented initiatives at the school and college level but no coherent university-wide vision. Practices vary widely. The cost of programs was not discussed. No cost-benefit analysis has been conducted. With no clear objectives beyond “we want to be the best,” there are no logical limits to an endless expansion of programs. Continue reading

Let Me Get This Straight…

by James A. Bacon

Wyatt Gordon writes about smart growth issues for the Virginia Mercury and Greater Greater Washington. Sometimes, he’s worth reading. But, then, sometimes, he’s not. As an example of the latter, he recently posted this on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter:

So, let me get this straight. If Gordon avoided emitting 54,000 pounds of carbon pollution by driving 1,000 miles on his electric bike instead of driving a car, he says he’s saving 54 pounds per mile. Is that physically possible?

Now, I never took high school chemistry, but I do know that a pound of gasoline does not translate into a pound of CO2 emissions. According to the EPA, when gasoline is combusted, it frees up carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen atoms in the air to create water. The carbon atoms combine with oxygen atoms to create CO2. Most of the weight of a CO2 molecule comes from oxygen atoms that were not present in the gasoline. In that way, says the EPA, a gallon of gasoline does indeed transmute into about 20 pounds of tailpipe carbon.

But unless Gordon toodles around town in a monster truck, he’s likely getting 20 or more miles to the gallon. Basic arithmetic tells us that a car that gets 20 miles to the gallon consumes 1/20th of a gallon per mile. Therefore, it generates 1/2oth of a gallon’s worth of tailpipe carbon per mile… or about one pound.

Gordon appears to have overstated his reduced CO2 emissions by a factor of 50.

That’s not the scary part. Continue reading

Jeanine’s Memes

from The Bull Elephant

Is K-12 Absenteeism Too Complex a Problem for an Administrative Fix?

Source: Virginia Department of Education. There is a strong correlation between days of school missed and educational under-achievement.

by James A. Bacon

In releasing the 2023 Standards of Learning (SOL) scores, which showed marginal overall improvement from the disastrous 2022 results, Team Youngkin added a bit of useful analysis — it drew a connection between poor educational performance and school absenteeism.

The Virginia Department of Education press release noted that students in 3rd through 8th grades who missed more than 18 days of school scored 18% lower in reading exams than students with regular attendance. Students who missed more than 36 days scored 43% lower. Similar discrepancies occurred in the math exams.

This should come as a surprise to no one. Students can’t learn if they’re not in school (or home school, which these children are not).

To raise SOL scores, the Youngkin administration is targeting the school skippers. #AttendanceMattersVA, according to DOE, “works with Virginia schools and parents to increase attendance by communicating the importance of attendance to families, expanding breakfast after the bell programs, ensuring that every child has a trusted adult at school, monitoring and celebrating successes, and reducing barriers to attendance such as transportation and mental health challenges.”

Clearly, something must be done. These ideas seem as reasonable as any other. But I fear that the problem may be so deeply rooted in social dysfunction that the initiative will prove ineffective. Continue reading

Bacon Meme of the Week

In case you were wondering, there is such a thing as International Bacon Day. Read about it here. The day brings together the diverse peoples of the world in reverent appreciation of God’s greatest gift to mankind.

Bacon fun fact: In the 12th century, a church in the English town of Great Dunmow created a tradition of gifting bacon to married men who could take an oath that he had not argued with his spouse for a year and a day.

Sadly, no man ever qualified. (OK, I made up that last part.)

Bacon sad fact: Native Americans never tasted bacon before the arrival of the Spanish in the New World. Hernando de Soto, known primarily for his explorations, brought 13 pigs with him to the Americas in 1539.

 — JAB

How Many UVa Students Feel Sense of “Belonging”?

by James A. Bacon

As the University of Virginia Board of Visitors grapples with contentious issues such as equity, inclusion and racial preferences, it could benefit by knowing how well the policies of the Ryan administration have succeeded or failed in making UVa a more welcoming place for students across “every possible dimension” of diversity, to use President Jim Ryan’s words.

The administration possesses considerable data to answer the question. During the final year of the Sullivan administration, 2018, the university conducted a comprehensive, in-depth “campus climate” survey. Since then, the university has participated in biennial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) consortium, which, th0ugh less comprehensive than the 2018 effort and fraught with discontinuities in the questions asked, does contain useful information.

The university’s Office of Institutional Research & Analysis posted results for 2022 for public viewing in August. The graphic below summarizes student responses to the statement, “I feel I belong at university.”

Three of five (60%) students agreed or strongly agreed with the sentiment that they belonged at UVa. Seventeen percent expressed various degrees of disagreement. 

Is that a good finding or a bad finding? It depends on context. Continue reading

Last Year’s SOL Performance — Meh

Table source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Department of Education is running two weeks late in releasing Standards of Learning (SOL) testing data for the 2022-23 school year. The reason cited by state Superintendent Lisa Coons, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is to process retake data and appeals.

The SOL results, as they appeared on a Richmond Public Schools website before being taken down, were disappointing. Far from reverting to the pre-COVID norm, student achievement remained mired in a post-lockdown slump. Reading and writing scores were mostly unchanged, history/civic scores eroded, and math and science scores improved only a little.

The Youngkin administration has not commented on the results. The only quote cited by the Richmond Times-Dispatch comes from James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, who dishes out the usual social justice-style rhetoric calling for more money. Continue reading

Virginia Has Lost Its Mojo — Appalachia Edition

A new report, “The Future of Appalachia,” outlines economic development strategies for one of the most intractably poor regions in the country. Drawing a distinction between “southern” and “northern” Appalachia, the study observes that southern Appalachia has achieved far more economic success than its northern counterpart. Unfortunately, for purposes of this analysis, Virginia is deemed part of “northern” Appalachia.

The difference in dynamism can be seen in the map above, which shows net in-migration between 2021 and 2022. Each dot represents 100 people. The mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama are experiencing significant in-migration — Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky almost none.

Alas, I do not have the time to explore this study in any detail. I’ll settle for filing this under, “Virginia has lost its mojo.” I invite readers to dip into the study and report their observations. — JAB

Jeanine’s Memes

From The Bull Elephant

Bacon Meme of the Week

UVa Spending on Staff Surges, Spending on Students Trails

Inflation-adjusted percentage increase of UVa E&G expenditures (in millions of dollars) compared to those of all 15 Virginia public four-year higher-ed institutions.

by James A. Bacon

Always alert for opportunities to arm the University of Virginia Board of Visitors members with statistics they don’t see in their board presentations, The Jefferson Council presents the table above, compiled from data published by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

The takeaway: UVa boosted overall E&G (educational & general) spending faster than Virginia’s other public four-year colleges and universities between fiscal 2011-12 and fiscal 2021-22, but UVa funds were more likely to flow to faculty and staff and less likely to go to student instruction, student services, or research support.

E&G expenditures represent spending on an institution’s core educational mission. Under SCHEV’s accounting methodology, E&G strips out spending on athletics, dormitories, food service, and auxiliary enterprises. The Council’s data portal adjusts for inflation over the 10 years displayed above, so these figures reflect real spending, not funny money.

SCHEV breaks down E&G expenditures by seven broad categories so the public can get a clearer idea of where the money is going. The data are consistent with the interpretation advanced by The Jefferson Council in previous posts that UVa has experienced excessive growth in administrative overhead. Continue reading

Blue on Blue

Monica Lisle

Monica Lisle, a long-serving Alexandria police captain, has charged the city’s police chief with denying her a promotion to assistant chief by stacking the deck against her in favor of Black candidates in order to “fill certain unannounced racial quotas.”

As Lisle wrote in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint last year, according to The Washington Post, “I believe that Chief [Donald] Hayes believes that diversity is specific to African Americans,” Lisle wrote in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year. “I am a member of at least three protected classes, as a gay, woman, over the … age of 40.”

“Had the process not been flawed like it was, she would have been promoted,” said Damon Minnix, president of the Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, adding that police department morale has suffered as a result. At full complement, the Alexandria police are authorized to have 322 sworn staff. In March, according to The Patch, there were 70 vacancies. Continue reading