Ryan Defends UVa’s Diversity of Viewpoints

Earlier this week, University of Virginia alumnus Joel Gardner wrote a letter to President Jim Ryan outlining his concerns about the decline of intellectual diversity at the university. Writing in response, Ryan defended the diversity of viewpoints found at UVa. He cites numerous instances which have not gotten play on this blog, and I present them in the interest of… viewpoint diversity. What follows is an excerpt from a longer letter. — JAB


University of Virginia President James E. Ryan

The problem you identify is not unique to UVA, and I also believe there are some very bright spots at UVA. As I mentioned on our Zoom call, UVA is a place that fosters debate and discussion across lines of difference, through our curriculum — including the new College curriculum; student groups that intentionally bring diverse groups together to discuss issues; a wide range of student political groups; faculty who work hard to encourage robust conversations; and faculty who are themselves diverse ideologically. This may be why UVA is ranked in the top ten by national organizations that assess universities based on their protection of free speech and viewpoint diversity.

Speaking personally, I have seen more good news than bad on this front, and my experience is that, in the right setting, students at UVA are largely comfortable expressing different points of view. I say this from being a faculty member in the classroom at the Law School, day in and day out, for 15 years.
And to give a more recent example, earlier this year I sat in on an undergraduate seminar about the Supreme Court where students freely and comfortably expressed their opinions, which covered the political spectrum. Their respect for one another was clear, as was their confidence in sharing — and defending — their opinions, both with each other and with the faculty member leading the seminar. It was exactly the kind of free exchange of ideas to which we should always aspire.

We also welcome different points of view at the university level. To cite just a few examples: On my first day as President, I defended the hiring of Marc Short [who had served in the Trump administration] by the Miller Center, even though a number of faculty, students, and alumni opposed it, because I believe in the power of diverse viewpoints and experiences. This past February, we hosted journalist Nicole Hannah Jones of the 1619 Project in the Rotunda, and four days later, also in the Rotunda, we hosted former House Speaker Paul Ryan. Just last week, there was a demonstration at the Jefferson statue in support of confirming Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court and, a few days later, a demonstration at the statue criticizing Jefferson (and me). And while signs on Lawn room doors have received a lot of attention lately, in 2017 another group of students put up a sign on the Lawn in support of President Trump’s border wall — which was defended with the same commitment to preserving students’ rights under the First Amendment that you’re seeing today. All of this helps explain why UVA has consistently received a Green Light from FIRE, their highest rating.

I have gone on too long, so let me end with something I know we share, which is a love of this University. For me, that love began the moment I stepped foot on Grounds thirty-one years ago as a prospective law student (a student who, incidentally, was able to come here thanks to a scholarship), and it has brought me back not once but twice — first as a faculty member and then as President. As I said in my inaugural address, UVA has a magic to it — one that stems from an indescribable but unforgettable collection of experiences, ideas, friendships, discoveries, traditions, settings, sights, and sounds that far more often than not lead to a life-long love affair with this place, this institution, and this community.

That, above all, is what it means to be a part of the UVA family. Just like any large and somewhat raucous family, we will occasionally argue about the best ways to live our values — as we do quite frequently among my senior leadership team, which itself is quite diverse in its outlook and orientation. But we should always disagree and debate in good faith, assuming good intent, and understanding that the qualities that define UVA have endured far more difficult times and will undoubtedly do so again. As stewards of this remarkable university, we can and should do our part to keep UVA on a steady course and hold fast to our fundamental values. But we also should be courageous enough to become even stronger and better when and where we can, as we have throughout our long history, a history marked as much by change and improvement as by anything else.

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10 responses to “Ryan Defends UVa’s Diversity of Viewpoints

  1. This so distorts reality that to comment, I would have to write a long dissertation. I choose not to do that. Just mark me down as very disappointed.

  2. Gardner’s letter had specific questions that can’t be summed up as, “the problem,” in Ryan’s response. It’s plain on the outset that Ryan either didn’t read Gardner’s letter, doesn’t care about its contents, or is up against forces that even the president of UVA can’t combat…

    Rather than discussing the FIRE (an unaffiliated agency) Ryan says that suppression of speech isn’t true based on personal experience. Does the line really stop at ‘personal experience’?

    I would have liked to see a pointed rebuttal from Ryan on Gardner’s claim that racial diversity has the opposite of the intended effect. That’s noticeably absent from this placating reply…

    • “…Ryan says that suppression of speech isn’t true based on personal experience.”

      As someone else once posted here: “The plural of anecdote is not data”.

      PS – If I could remember who first posted it I would credit them by name. My apologies for my poor memory.

  3. Ryan’s experience with law school students seems inapposite. Law students tend not to be snowflakes as much as the rest of the student population. If they are, they typically get disabused of the problem or told to come back when they are through melting down and have gotten over it.

  4. Ryan wrote, “On my first day as President, I defended the hiring of Marc Short [who had served in the Trump administration] by the Miller Center”

    Why would any administrator have to ‘DEFEND’ hiring a former high level government official who can provide real world factual experience and insight from the actual halls of power [rather than his mere insight from reading a bunch of books] to students?

    THE SPEAKS VOLUMES about the problem.

  5. Yes, yes! Only the defenders of the status quo advance society!

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    My bet is when the inquisition from the Executive Mansion reaches the hallowed halls of the Rotunda, Ryan will be sacked, and Jefferson’s statue removed.

  7. UVA President James Ryan’s reply to University of Virginia alumnus Joel Gardner’s powerful letter of indictment showing the lose of free speech and expression at UVA is an insult to Mr. Gardner. And UVA alumni generally. Ryan’s response is no response at all. Instead, it is insulting dismissive, a stiff arm thrust into Mr. Gardner’s chest.

    Compare Ryan’s response to Mr. Gardner to Ryan’s response to the phone call demands of 4th year student Hira Azher, as reported in BR Oct. 15 post here labelled “Ryan Wilts in Conversation with Azher.” There UVA President Ryan offers Hira his partnership with her to achieve her stated goals if she would remove the words “Fuck UVA” and her claim that UVa’s police are “KKKOPs, from her door on the Lawn at UVa.

    Joel Gardner’s letter showing the lost of free speech at UVA, and how that loss has resulted in intimidation and fear on the Grounds of UVa, now is being illustrated all over the Virginia Commonwealth. Every day now we learn how fear and intimidation, often inspired by Virginia’s leaders, is spreading to other colleges and universities in Virginia – VMI, W&L, James Madison, and Virginia Tech to name a few. This is why I have recently claimed over the past several months that Virginia is rapidly becoming a de facto Banana Republic. As proof please read “How Speech Dies” by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in Oct. 26, 2020 Wall Street Journal. Here is a sampling:

    “How Free Speech Dies -Hyper-intolerance is a familiar path to tyranny throughout Latin America.

    … a cultural sore is festering in America and it cannot be healed with regulation from Washington.

    The problem, which is familiar in Latin America and now seems to be coming to a theater near you, is a new “hyper-intolerance” on the part of the upper classes, academics and the media. This is scary because where efforts by elites to silence dissent have succeeded, things haven’t ended well, even for those who instigate them. What starts with canceling an opponent for some heresy almost inevitably leads to gagging civil society.

    Full-blown censorship is associated with totalitarian regimes using military enforcement. But dive into the tragedy of tyranny in the Americas and you often find, long before the consolidation of power, insidious support from public intellectuals for controlling thought and speech. Over and over again their role in the “revolution” has been to define virtue and justice, and unleash the mob to denounce and condemn the unrepentant.

    … Like America today, Cuba in 1959 had no shortage of intellectuals whose absolutist passions were rivaled only by their self-righteousness …

    For much more see:
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-free-speech-dies-11603658971

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