Larry Sabato Is Not the Problem at UVa

Larry Sabato

by James A. Bacon

Rich Anderson, Virginia GOP chairman, is unhappy with the partisan bias of University of Virginia political-science icon Larry Sabato, whose tweets have turned bitingly anti-Trump. Anderson contends that eight of Sabato’s tweets from the past year appear to violate the university’s mission statement and faculty code of ethics.

“A reasonable taxpaying citizen can readily conclude that Dr. Sabato is demonstrating the rankest form of bitter partisanship,” Anderson wrote in a letter to University of Virginia President Jim Ryan. “In order to have faith in our institutions, it is essential that Virginians hold accountable those public employees and officials who violate institutional values, codes of conduct, and other guidelines of professional behavior.”

Rich Anderson

Anderson is entitled to his opinions, of course, as is Sabato. The question is whether the answer to Sabato’s bias is suppression of his viewpoint. Are Republicans now endorsing cancel culture tactics — if the Left does it, it’s OK for GOP to do it, too? Fight fire with fire?  I understand the temptation but I think it’s a big mistake. Republicans and conservatives should stand for protecting everyone’s right to free speech and expression.

The problem at UVa is not that Sabato and other left-leaning professors enjoy the freedom to speak their mind, it’s that the minority of conservative and even middle-of-the-road professors (and students) have been cowed into silence.

The answer is more free expression at UVa, not less.

In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sabato conceded that his tone has changed in recent years. He gave two reasons why — Trump and the Jan. 6 mob scene at the U.S. Capitol, which he called a watershed moment in American history. In an example of his commentary, he tweeted, “Trump, who governed on the edge of insanity for four long years, has gone over the edge. Yet millions of people and 90% of GOP members of Congress, still genuflect before this false god.”

By focusing on Sabato’s opinions of Trump, Anderson has chosen highly disadvantageous ground to fight his battle. At least half the U.S. population, most of the media, and probably 90% of the University of Virginia faculty and staff agrees with Sabato. The odds of Anderson winning this encounter are about as good as General Pickett’s in his ill-fated charge up Cemetery Ridge.

Anderson should have picked a different battlefield. In the past, conservative views have been suppressed at UVa through social-media bullying, faculty favoritism, and the administration’s enforcement of Leftist orthodoxies, particularly in matters of race. The Board of Visitors recently adopted a set of principles on free speech and free expression, but the willingness of the administration to defend unpopular conservative voices has yet to be tested. Here’s the point: A much larger segment of the general population, the media, and even the university community is willing back the proposition that conservative speech should be permitted than are willing to back the proposition that Sabato should be punished for criticizing Trump.

A problem related to free-speech suppression at UVa is the increasing orthodoxy of the faculty. An older, more heterodox generation of Baby Boomer faculty members are retiring, and UVa’s deans are aggressively replacing them with Leftist faculty members. Anderson could win widespread sympathy for the view that Virginia’s higher-ed institutions should seek intellectual diversity instead of erecting cathedrals to left-wing dogmas. As Mao Zedong said in a 1957 speech, “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend.” (Mao abandoned the sentiment shortly thereafter, but the quotation has endured.)

Putting Donald Trump at the center of the controversy might play to the Republican base but it will do nothing to broaden the Republican coalition. Making the issue freedom of speech and intellectual diversity, by contrast, can win swing voters weary of left-wing cancel culture. Anderson needs to drop the attack on Sabato and focus on issues he can win.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


22 responses to “Larry Sabato Is Not the Problem at UVa”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Wow! Wow! Bacon is going to get whacked on this one!

    Yeah… I suspect Sabato and Haner might be closer politically than say Sabato and McAuliffe… or even Sabato and Biden, but it goes to show just where the “right” is these days in defending Trump who is a virulent cancer on the GOP, no question and I bet both Sabato and Haner agree on that!

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      First, I would be surprised and disappointed if Sabato has been one of the faculty leaders at UVA seeking to suppress contrary or conservative opinions. He has too much respect for the political process, with a slogan “Politics is a Good Thing.” And my immediate reaction was the same as Jim’s that the folks at RPV really are missing the point about the evils of cancel culture if they seek to cancel The Great Sabatini.

      Second, when I reached out to tease him about this, (“I’m shocked, shocked to learn after 40 years you are a real Democrat”), his comeback was how much disrespect he gets from that party at times, too. And over the years he has.

      Whether or not I agree with any of those tweets, how many and which ones, will remain a guessing game…But I agree that Sabato is not really the problem or even a sign of the problem at UVA. Not to my observation, anyway.

      1. vicnicholls Avatar

        I never listened to Trump tweet. He could tweet his feathers off for all I cared. I just want to know economically, freedom wise, what he did. I had folks flipping out on his tweets, and my response was, dont’ read them, he can’t control you that way. They still didn’t get it.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          when the man promotes lies and conspiracy theories and he has followers….I don’t see that as “good”, Twitter or not.

          He’s become a cult figure and he rules the GOP these days – they can’t even deal with truth and realities for fear of him and his “supporters”. Ask Liz Cheney.

  2. Certainly Sabato has a right to free speech, but the bigger issue is the way that academics are bringing their personal opinions into the classrooms. I don’t think Sabato teaches, but there is still a difference (at least in my opinion) between voicing his opinions personally and in a university capacity.

    If his tweets were from a Larry Sabato, UVA account then, in my opinion, they were inappropriate (from an ethical standpoint). In his official capacity, he should stick to analysis and unbiased information. If his tweets were from a Larry Sabato, citizen account, then fine, tweet away. In addition, and this will really disappoint most university faculty, who generally have a sense of great self-importance, the vast majority of people don’t care what they think anyway.

    Although Sabato has a great reputation as a nonpartisan, I was extremely disappointed in his partisan speech at a citizenship ceremony a few years ago. Freedom of speech, sure, but why get political when you are swearing in new citizens. I sense that Mr. Sabato has fallen prey to Trump Derangement Syndrome. I get it, he hates Trump. Just say it once and move on. I don’t really care what about Mr. Sabato’s personal opinions except to the extent that they taint his purportedly unbiased analyses.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Sabato is still teaching he told me. I wouldn’t disagree he has a touch of TDS but he’s hardly alone in that. As easy to catch as COVID Delta….

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        TDS is more akin to the vaccine than the disease itself. Face it, your man was pathogenic.

    2. closetothetruth Avatar

      there are no “Larry Sabato, UVA” accounts for just this reason. professors only ever tweet under their own individual names and speaking only for themselves, even if they are employed at a university. this is well-established in case law, and universities do not set up official accounts for professors for this reason & because professors’ views are often highly at odds with each other (even in scholarly topics), & nobody gets to speak with the voice of the university that way.

      the only official social media accounts at universities are for provosts, deans, & other administration employees. & you will rarely find them saying anything controversial or even revealing a party preference in that capacity, though they can of course reveal such things in personal accounts (but still rarely do).

      1. Law professors routinely file amicus briefs as law professor at X College of Law. Larry Sabato is undoubtedly tweeting with the gravitas of his university position. You are splitting hairs.

  3. vicnicholls Avatar

    ““Trump, who governed on the edge of insanity for four long years, has
    gone over the edge. Yet millions of people and 90% of GOP members of
    Congress, still genuflect before this false god.”

    By focusing on Sabato’s opinions of Trump, Anderson has chosen highly
    disadvantageous ground to fight his battle. At least half the U.S.
    population, most of the media, and probably 90% of the University of
    Virginia community agrees with Sabato.

    Explain to me how Trump did that? His policies actually got the country in a better position, economically and globally. How does someone on the edge of insanity do that? Compared to Biden? SMH.

    I don’t know ANY ONE who does that before Trump. I know a lot of Trump supporters. They’re fans of his ideals. Have you ever been around big Trump fans? They don’t talk about his hair, eyes or body, its his ideals, love of country, etc. that they do agree with.

    Wow …

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    An intelligent tweet is, by definition, anti-Trump. Do you want them to stop making intelligent, thought provoking, comments?

  5. Publius Avatar

    Sabato is only damaging himself. He used to be able to be a pretty fair commentator. Around the time of “macaca” he started to go off the rails, and now some of the stuff I read makes him look like a partisan fool. Did he support RUSSIA and square jaw Bob Mueller? But thinking something wasn’t quite right in November 2020 is (Larry’s favorite) wackadoodle?
    As long as the Left controls all media (see Bacon ad rejected by Fakebook), Sabato might be OK. But if sanity ever returns…

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      As far as I can tell, when Sabato reports on polls and elections, he correctly reports the numbers – he’s way more reliable and dependable than Rasmussen and others that FAUX likes . And I’ve never heard him claim that elections were “stolen”, something more and more GOP claim.

      I don’t think Sabato has moved “left” , he’s pretty much what he has always been, but rather the GOP has largely shifted right. You can see in the GOP where moderates are now called RINOs and CINOs and people like Bush and even Reagan seen as “liberals”.

      When it comes to political contests in Virginia, Sabato’s analysis is usually dead on. He does know Virginia politics.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I agree with you on your comments regarding Sabato specifically and about tolerance of other views generally.

    I do have to take issue with this statement of yours: “An older, more heterodox generation of Baby Boomer faculty members are retiring, and UVa’s deans are aggressively replacing them with Leftist faculty members.” You make this charge frequently, but I d0n’t see the evidence to back it up. The only examples provided on this blog involved the UVa law school. I questioned whether the new hires were as leftist as charged and whether they were likely to indoctrinate the law students. No one answered my challenge.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I have never understood the public’s love affair with Mr. Sabato. The “Crystal Ball” has always had the hint of snake oil to me.

  8. Virginia Project Avatar
    Virginia Project

    This is the ABOUT page of Sabato’s allegedly non-partisan group.

    In case anyone was wondering whether the complaints are legit, yes giving the opposition candidate all that free play is an illegal in-kind donation and it is absolutely legit to object to it.

    Sabato is 100% partisan now and ought to adjust his operations to reflect that.

    1. closetothetruth Avatar

      since when are political centers affiliated with universities required to be non-partisan? spent any time looking at the political centers at George Mason, just to pick a name out of a hat?

      also, not taxpayer-funded. you even change your tune on that in the next tweet, noting that the center is funded by contributions. it’s a separate organization that likely receives very little if any of the very small amount of money UVA gets from taxpayers to begin with (something like 4% of UVA’s budget comes from public funding).

      if you believe 501(c)(3) orgs must be completely disconnected from electoral politics, you’re going to have a lot of housecleaning to do on your side as well. a lot. at least as much as Dems do. and given what evangelical churches do these days, probably a whole lot more.

      1. Virginia Project Avatar
        Virginia Project

        For starters, it’s part of a publicly-funded university.

        Do you understand why that’s a problem, having taxpayer funds go to partisan advocacy?

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          You’ll have to show where he has advocated for a candidate or cause.

      2. Virginia Project Avatar
        Virginia Project

        If you think it’s legit for a 501c3 to literally put a partisan candidate’s full spread photo on it’s ABOUT page – as in its own self description of what it is – then you have an IQ deficiency problem.

        It’s called electioneering and this is something a c3 must ABSOULUTELY NOT DO.

        Since you’re obviously ignorant as fuck and biased as hell, your opinion’s value is zero or less and will be treated as such.

  9. The Amazing Criswell Avatar
    The Amazing Criswell

    Sabato has always been a democrat hack. Why is this news to Anderson?

  10. Email response from Katie Kortepeter, spokesperson for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) based on an analysis by FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh:

    “This is, of course, far from the first time a state political party or elected official has called for censorship of campus political expression, and as with most such efforts, the desire to silence opponents knows no ideological bounds. While administrators would do well to reject them as swiftly as did UVA, ultimately, our nation would be better served if those with political power would recognize that colleges have a duty to defend campus expression and refrain from asking them to abandon it.”

Leave a Reply