Category Archives: Individual liberties

UVa Has Issues, But At Least It Is Not Yale

by James A. Bacon

On March 10 the Federalist Society, a group promoting conservative/libertarian principles in law schools, hosted a panel discussion at Yale Law about freedom of religion and speech. About 120 student protesters descended upon the event, shouted down the speakers, and then, after repeated warnings, continued their noisy demonstration in the hallway. In the aftermath, more than 400 law students, about 60% of the student body, signed an open letter voicing support for the protesters and assailing the presence of armed police. While the protesters were excessively loud and “engaged in rude and insulting behavior,” wrote Law School Dean Heather Gerken, they did not violate the school’s “three-warning protocol.” Heated debate over the contours of free speech continues to this day.

At the University of Virginia, by contrast, the Federalist Society held a symposium on the topic, “The Federalists Vs. the Anti-Federalists: Revisiting the Founding Debates.” The event went off without a hitch. There were no protests, no open letters, and no need for statements by the dean.

The exercise of free speech and free expression leaves very much to be desired at the University of Virginia, but students, parents, faculty and alumni can console themselves: at least UVa is not Yale. (Which is fairly ironic, given the fact that President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom, and law school Dean Risa Goluboff all hold Yale degrees.) Continue reading

UVa, Defend Your Women!

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Now that International Transgender Day of Visibility is behind us, it is safe to discuss your lack of visibility in the matter regarding UVa student Emma Weyant, who, in the world where reality and truth are valued, is the true women’s NCAA 500 freestyle swimming champion. None of you has spoken out regarding the injustice of her loss of the 1st-place trophy to a transgendered individual, Lia Thomas — a silence, I suspect, that arises from your terror of woke intersectionalists.

The only statement I have seen from any UVa official was a quote in The Jefferson Independent, in which President Jim Ryan bravely stated, “I’m not an expert on this and I haven’t been following it as closely as others… I have to say it seems unfair to me, at a very basic level.”

Wow! What clarity of thought! What bold leadership! I now see how Ryan was selected to lead Thomas Jefferson’s University — to make it Great and Good as only he can! Continue reading

Policies at War With Themselves

UVa President Jim Ryan

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom have finally begun to engage in a discussion about university “cancel culture.” In the abstract, they’re against it. Their latest musings represent a step beyond the mere protection of free speech, which the Board of Visitors had endorsed previously, toward respectful engagement of people with different views.

“We can teach our students not only about the right to free speech but also how to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners,” they wrote in the higher-ed trade publication Inside Higher Education. “We should teach them to dismantle arguments, not people.”

UVa Provost Ian Baucom

They even go so far as to acknowledge the value of entertaining a wide variety of viewpoints in academia. “Colleges and universities … could stand to be more intellectually diverse than they are, just as they could stand to be more racially and socioeconomically diverse.”

These are fine sentiments, and the critics of UVa — and higher education in Virginia generally — should welcome them. There may be reason to hope that UVa, after an orgy of self-flagellation for its past, the renaming of buildings, the dismantling of statues, and the blackening of the name of Thomas Jefferson, will live up to the aspiration of its founder to “follow the truth wherever it might lead.” Continue reading

What Is Free Speech Without Intellectual Diversity?

by James A. Bacon

Eleven days ago the Editorial Board of the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper, opined that it could not condone the “platforming” of former Vice President Mike Pence by allowing him to speak on the university grounds.

The blowback has been gratifying to see.

While some students have expressed support for suppressing ideas deemed hateful and hurtful, others have denounced the editorial. Crucially, UVa President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom weighed in in favor of free speech, stating in a CD piece that “all views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard, free from interference.”

Let us praise the Ryan administration when plaudits are due. But let us also recognize that at UVa “free speech” is a sub-set of a larger issue: an ever-narrowing range of permissible viewpoints. Threats to free speech spring from intellectual monocultures, which is exactly what UVa is becoming. A defense of free speech would not be necessary in a university that fostered more intellectual diversity. Continue reading

Even Loathsome People Have the Right to Free Speech

Steven Salaita

by James A. Bacon

I’m very pro-Israel, which like every country on the planet is flawed but is more committed than most to democracy and human rights. Likewise, I have little sympathy for Palestinians, whom I regard as, for the most part, the authors of their own miseries. Therefore, I am inclined to take a dim view of someone like Steven Salaita, a far-left scholar of partial Palestinian descent, who courted controversy as a Virginia Tech professor several years ago when he refused to endorse the “Support our Troops” slogan, and later got himself unhired from the University of Illinois after posting a series of anti-Semitic (or anti-Zionist, if you will) tweets.

But as repellant as Salaita’s views may be to me personally, others want to hear them. That includes organizers of the Graduate and Professional Student Research Symposium (GPSS) at Virginia Tech, an event that provides visibility for graduate-student research. I cannot fathom why they would want to give a platform to someone with Salaita’s views, but they do.

Now some Jewish students at Virginia Tech want to dis-invite him. “Steven Salaita does not promote respectful or healthy dialogue,” Briana Schwam, president emerita of Hillel at Virginia Tech and a GPSS senator told Jewish News Syndicate. “[His] public statements threaten my identity as a student because he promotes hate and violence towards individuals who share my identity or who do not share his exact perspective.” Continue reading

EVMS Settles Free-Speech Lawsuit for 38K

Edward Si. Photo credit: FIRE

The Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) has reached a settlement with medical student Edward Si over a lawsuit filed after the school prohibited him from forming a Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) club. The medical school will pay Si and SNaHP $38,000. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) represented Si.

In December 2020, Si formed the chapter, but the EVMS Student Government Association denied the application for recognition on the grounds that SGA  did not want to approve clubs “based on opinions” — even though it had provided recognition to Medical Students for Choice. The day after FIRE filed a lawsuit, Si received notification that the club had been approved. Continue reading

The Mental Anguish Veto

by James A. Bacon

As the debate over de-platforming former Vice President Mike Pence plays out in the pages of the University of Virginia student newspaper, a recent column illuminates, albeit unwitting, the complex interplay between mental illness, sexual orientation, fragility, and intolerance toward views people find uncomfortable.

Mental illness is rampant in American society today, especially in the so-called Generation Z. An increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression has emerged as a major challenge facing colleges and universities in Virginia, and across the United States. A month ago, students at James Madison University staged an occupation of Alumni Hall. Their demands: more resources and special allowances for students suffering from mental illness. UVa is no exception to this trend.

The anxiety and depression experienced by young people are very real, and those who suffer deserve our sympathy and support. But their anguish does not give them the right to cancel the rights of others.

Within that context, a young woman wrote a letter to The Cavalier Daily expressing her reasons for wanting to ban Pence from the Grounds. I do not use her name because I do not want to expose her to ridicule or otherwise add to the burdens she bears. Her story, though, is telling. Continue reading

Speech on Virginia Campuses Less Unfree than Elsewhere

Free speech sign in front of George Mason statue at GMU.

by James A. Bacon

Three of Virginia’s universities scored in the top 25 in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) 2021 annual free speech rankings of more than 150 higher-ed institutions across America, but Virginia Tech, once in the top 10, fell precipitously to the bottom third.

The College of William & Mary ranked 10th for free speech, George Mason University 12th, and the University of Virginia 22nd. Virginia Tech ranked 107th.

The rankings are relative. W&M, GMU and UVa score well compared to other institutions. Nevertheless, a significant percentage of students at all three institutions express discomfort with discussing controversial ideas and question the commitment of their university administrations to support free speech. With free speech and free expression under attack everywhere, it can be argued that Virginia institutions are the least bad of a bad lot.

Also, it is important to note that FIRE surveyed students, not faculty or staff. The findings do not reflect the disturbing trend at many higher-ed institutions — including UVa and W&M — of requiring job applicants and employees to submit written statements describing their commitment to the principles of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion as part of their evaluations. Continue reading

School Threat Assessment Teams Revisited

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote on February 12 of this year about what I consider an indicator of a potential overreach by the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).  FCPS security has published an RFP for corporate support for web search to support its threat assessment team.

Since that article, I have conducted extensive email exchange with Donna Michaelis, Director of the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety at the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). She is a dedicated public servant responsible for policy in this area. She gave me a lot of her time. It has proven an informative exchange and I thank her for it.

I see three gaps in current law and policy on school threat assessment teams.

They both set school divisions up to make mistakes that may possibly compromise any case that may be built against an actual threat and can permit them to overreach on matters that they should leave to law enforcement:

  1. Virginia law and policy fail to define roles and responsibilities
    1. on school threat assessment teams between law enforcement and school system personnel on the teams; and
    2. between school systems and law enforcement agencies.
  2. They set no clear limits on what types of “individuals” are within the scope of school investigations.
  3. Finally, there is no requirement that the school division threat assessment oversight teams as currently constituted under Virginia law have the expertise to deal with the legal complexities involved.

Continue reading

No Exceptions to the Free Exercise Clause

by Deborah Hommer

Many states, including Virginia, have a religious exemption to the requirement of vaccines based upon sincerely held religious beliefs. However, Virginia’s exemption has a big hole. The Code of Virginia (§ 32.1-48) states that during epidemics the state Commissioner of Health can mandate vaccinations for “all persons” except those whose health might be compromised.

HB 306 introduced by Delegate Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, would amend the code to maintain the religious exemption during epidemics. The bill passed out of the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee 12-9. Now it heads to the House.

States, Congress, and the Supreme Court have a long history of protecting the Free Exercise Cause that is contained in the First Amendment. The Supreme Court case Abington School District v. Schempp determined, “The Free Exercise Clause . . . withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions there by civil authority.” Continue reading

UVa Free Speech Committee Could Use Some Transparency

UVa President James Ryan

by Walter Smith

In February of 2021 University of Virginia President Jim Ryan appointed a committee to articulate the university’s commitment to free speech and free inquiry. With great fanfarethe Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the tepid, politically correct statement on June 4, 2021.

On June 7, 2021, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see all documents used by, or submitted to, the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “I would expect this to include, without limitation, submissions from faculty and students, the agendas and minutes from the meetings of the Committee, any submissions from Committee members and any outside groups,” I specified. “Essentially, if any document was before the Committee, from any source, I would like it produced.”

To make a long story short, it is nearly eight months later and I have seen only a fraction of the documents. UVa has withheld them on the grounds that, even though Ryan was not a member of the Committee, they are the president’s “working papers.” Continue reading

Suddenly, Democrats Don’t Like Executive Orders

by Kerry Dougherty

Good grief, they have no self-awareness, do they?

I’m watching hysterical Virginia Democrats lose their minds because the new Republican governor issued an executive order that actually RESTORES civil liberties to Virginians.

Yet, back when Ralph Northam was issuing one useless executive order after another, the left was silent. In fact, many of them cheered as the governor stomped all over the civil rights of Virginians.

They thought it was fine when the governor ordered every person over the age of 10 to wear masks in indoor settings.

They didn’t object when he lowered the mask requirement to five.

They didn’t care when he forbade sitting on the beach. Or when, in March 2020, he became the first governor in the nation to close schools — public and private — through the end of the school year. Continue reading

Begun, the College Wars Have

Tim Heaphy, pictured in 2017. Photo credit: The Cavalier Daily.

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Jason S. Miyares has fired the university counsels of the University of Virginia and George Mason University: Tim Heaphy at UVa and Brian Walther at GMU.

I have no inside knowledge about why Miyares took these actions, but they are, I believe, best understood as the opening salvos in what will be a long-term effort by Miyares and Governor Glenn Youngkin to change the increasingly totalitarian culture of Virginia’s higher-ed system that stifles free speech and free expression.

In Virginia the governor appoints members of the boards of visitors, but the attorney general appoints the university counsels. BoV members serve on a rotating basis, with only a few seats expiring June 30 at the end of every fiscal year. But university counsels serve at the pleasure of the attorney general, as I understand it, and can be replaced at any time. Miyares has lost no time in acting.

AG spokesperson Victoria LaCivita said in a statement to The Washington Post that Heaphy had been a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’ predecessor Mark Herring had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.” Continue reading

Mask Hysteria

by James A. Bacon

People, get a grip! Emotions over this mask business are running out of control — on both sides of the debate.

On the right: Amelia Ruffner King, a 42-year-old Luray mother, has been charged with a misdemeanor for issuing threats to the Page County School Board. “No mask mandates,” the Page Valley News reports her as saying. “My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, alright. That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” King continued as she was cut off a second time by the chairman for exceeding the three-minute time limit during the citizen comment period. Then as she left the room, she added: “I’ll see ya’ll on Monday.”

That kind of rhetoric is unacceptable. In a civilized society people cannot publicly issue threats, even if the violence is only implied. (Not to mention, such rhetoric feeds the leftist narrative that the parents-rights movement is a potential terrorist threat to democracy.)

On the left: Michelle Cades, a Fairfax County mother, says her 8th-grade special-needs daughter will no longer be able to attend class if the mask mandate is lifted. Reports American University Radio: her daughter’s anxiety about COVID is so extreme that she needs extra time to navigate the halls between classes so she can avoid clusters of other students. “If suddenly lots of students were not wearing masks at all, either in the halls or in my kids’ classes,” Cades says, “I honestly don’t know how my child would tolerate going to school.” Continue reading

The New McCarthyism at UVa

Darkness descends upon the academical village. Photo credit: Washington Post

by Joel Gardner

One of my earliest memories is sitting with my mother as a pre-kindergartener watching the McCarthy hearings in the spring of 1954. Television was a new medium for most American households and the bombastic anti-communist antics of the junior senator from Wisconsin held the population enthralled for months. But, while television gave Joe McCarthy the exposure and notoriety he craved, it also spelled his doom, as more and more citizens came to realize that his agenda of intolerance and intimidation did not represent the American way. In fact, so many Americans were disenchanted and disgusted with the senator’s methodology that the term “McCarthyism” became a widespread derogatory term — which would become synonymous with authoritarian behavior characterized by thought indoctrination, loyalty oaths, and intolerance and punishment for dissenting views.

For over five decades, most American institutions eschewed tactics and agendas that reeked of McCarthyism. Which is why it is so disheartening and frightening to witness so many current institutions embracing the attributes of
McCarthyism — especially the one institution where it should be absolute anathema, but where it is most pronounced — our college campuses.

Unfortunately, this includes my alma mater, the University of Virginia, whose founders, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were the individuals most responsible for our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, the two pillars of American individual rights and freedoms. And just as the illuminating screen of television revealed the evils of McCarthyism, for those concerned with a free exchange of ideas and a level playing field of learning in higher education, it is important to shine the light of truth on the inappropriate and dangerous indoctrination flourishing at UVA. Continue reading