Tag Archives: Guest contributors

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

Alumni Free Speech Alliance Affiliate at William & Mary

by Robert Kaplan, Karla K. Bruno, and John S. Buckley

The cross removed from Wren Chapel in 2006. “Marshall-Wythe” deleted from the name of the law school during the past decade. Recently, urine thrown by a student protestor at other students promoting pro-life views on abortion and an ACLU spokesperson speaking on campus about free speech shouted down by Black Lives Matters advocates. Alas, even the venerable College of William and Mary in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, is not new to, or immune from, anti-free speech and inquiry, political correctness, and historical “presentism” that has come to characterize higher education throughout America.

It’s time for William and Mary alumni to get more involved. With a tip of a hat to The Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia — an independent association of recent vintage of Charlottesville alumni — alums at W&M are now organizing to keep a more vigilant eye on left-wing indoctrination and assorted bullying tactics that appear to be at play among faculty, administration, and students.

Our intention is to affiliate with the rapidly growing national Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA), a consortium of independent alumni organizations at major universities across the United States, formed to advocate for free intellectual inquiry in the halls of higher education. It so happens that the Commonwealth of Virginia has of late the greatest concentration of AFSA affiliates in the U.S. with organizations at the University of Virginia, Washington and Lee, Virginia Military Institute, and James Madison University, with William and Mary on its way. Continue reading

Dominion Seeks Permit to Harass 100s of Whales

Click for larger view. BOEM map of Right Whale density noting offshore wind lease areas. Dominion’s CVOW and Avangrid’s Kitty Hawk Wind are the southernmost mapped.

By David Wojick

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking public comments on a massive proposal to harass large numbers of whales and other marine mammals off Virginia by building a huge offshore wind complex. There is supposed to be an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed harassment, but it is not there with the proposal.

We are told it is elsewhere, but after searching we find that it simply does not exist. Like a shell game where the pea has been palmed, there is nothing to be found. Continue reading

Were Confederates “Traitors to their Country”?

It is often said by commenters of this blog — and elsewhere — that Robert E. Lee and others serving in the Confederate army were “traitors” to their country. Whatever contributions they made to national reconciliation or the public welfare later in life, they deserve no public honor or recognition in the form of statues, names on buildings or other memorials. In the column below Lloyd Garnett, an amateur Virginia historian, argues that the “treason” label is an anachronism based upon a faulty understanding of the evolution of the nation’s identity. — JAB

by Lloyd Garnett

Supporters of the Erasure & Destruction Commission, aka Renaming Commission, are fond of displaying their ignorance regarding the legal framework of the United States under the Constitution. Never is their misguided misapprehension more evident than when they declare that the Confederates were “traitors.”

The charge is so unarguably counterfactual as to be absurd. While forgiveness (not forgetfulness) should be our Christian impulse, it is our duty to our birthright to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – which is to say, our individual and political sovereignty under God – to firmly set the record straight.

Setting the historical record straight is not a matter of rehashing bygones, which ought to be left as bygones. Rather, understanding the important Constitutional arguments involved then, is critical to grasping the political and social arguments now. As the current arguments by the ignorant and the malevolent, have today devolved into riotous violence, injury and destruction of property, iconic art and symbolic reminders of our worthy heritage, it should be obvious that appreciation for the concept of “government by consent of the governed” is at stake. Continue reading

Math SOLs Up First for New Superintendent Coons

Figure 1. Average scores in numeracy for age 16-34 (bars) and age 16-24 (red dots): OECD PIAAC 2012. (From Goodman et al. 2015, Data © OECD 2012. Used with permission.)  Click for larger view.

by Eric (Rick) Nelson

In K-12 education, can Virginia lead the nation? If that’s the goal, in my view as a career educator, Dr. Lisa Coons is the best possible choice as our new state Superintendent. As Chief Academic Officer in Tennessee, the programs she guided to help teachers improve reading instruction are among the best in the nation.

But in Virginia, challenge #1 is mathematics. The department Dr. Coons now leads is tentatively scheduled in June to submit to the state Board of Education a proposed revision of our K-12 math Standards of Learning (SOLs). Workforce math skills are vital for our nation’s prosperity and defense, but current standards, in both our state and nation, are failing to teach mathematics effectively.

The evidence? On national standards, much of it can be found in the International Journal of Mathematics Education, among other places.

  • On a 2012 international test of numeracy skills for citizens aged 16 to 34, among 22 tested nations, the United States ranked dead last;
  • Since 2012? In national NAEP LTT testing in January 2020, before the U.S. arrival of Covid-19, math scores were lower than in 2012 for nearly every student group;
  • As noted by columnist George Will, “About 76,000 students each year receive from U.S. universities advanced degrees in engineering disciplines …. Of those graduates, about 43 percent are U.S. citizens….”;
  • Electrical engineering (EE) is an especially important field in the competitive world economy. Of EE doctorates awarded by U.S. universities, the proportion going to non-U.S. citizens rose from 62% in 2010 to 70% in 2019. Almost as many U.S. EE Ph.D.’s went to citizens of China as to U.S. citizens.

Many of these “best and brightest” from around the globe stay in the U.S. and contribute disproportionately to our economy. But one wonders: how long will U.S. taxpayers support higher education their children are not being prepared to enter? Continue reading

Thomas Jefferson Deserves Respect From All Americans

by Bob Turner

Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and is widely believed by able and honorable people to have raped the enslaved child Sally Hemings and fathered all her children. Therefore, it’s understandable that some wish to see our third president “canceled,” to use the Woke vernacular.

Today would be Jefferson’s 280th birthday, so it seems fitting to pause briefly and reassess these horrendous allegations. I have studied Thomas Jefferson for more than half a century, and I am delighted to report that his critics are misinformed.

In reality, Thomas Jefferson may well have been America’s first abolitionist. Moreover, by far the most thorough investigation of the alleged Jefferson-Hemings sexual relationship—a year-long inquiry involving more than a dozen senior professors from all over the country—concluded (with but a single mild dissent) that the allegation is false.

Jefferson’s critics are not wrong about everything. He did own slaves, and (to use his language) slavery was certainly “an abomination.” But when he inherited slaves upon the deaths of his father and father-in-law, it was illegal in Virginia to free them. And it was Thomas Jefferson who, in 1769, drafted the law that permitted manumitting slaves and, later, the 1778 law prohibiting importing new slaves into Virginia. Continue reading

Virginia Math SOLs: Science vs. Common Core

By Rick Nelson

Parents depend on schools to prepare their children with the skills needed in the global economy. In Virginia public schools, K-12 instruction is governed by the Standards of Learning (SOLs). Between 1995 and 2015, our math SOLs were based on “best practices” identified by scientists who study how the brain learns mathematics.  Listening to cognitive experts worked.  In national testing, Virginia’s math test scores rose to rank in the top 10% of the nation. Continue reading

Five Reasons the Assembly Should Cut Taxes

By Barbara Hollingsworth

Last week, the Republican majority in the Virginia House of Delegates passed a $1 billion package of tax cuts for individuals and businesses, the centerpiece of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s economic agenda. But Democrats, who have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, have a laundry list of policies and programs they would prefer to spend the surplus money on rather than return it to taxpayers.

Tax policy is a non-partisan issue that has real-world economic consequences, especially when it comes to taxes on business income. Here are five reasons why the state Senate should follow the House’s lead and pass the governor’s entire tax relief package, including reduction of the commonwealth’s corporate income tax rate.

There’s a very large budget surplus.

In fact, Virginia is sitting on a record budget surplus of $3.6 billion, which is revenue collected from businesses and individual taxpayers in excess of the needs and priorities state legislators have already identified and fully funded during the 2022-2024 biennial budget process. It’s disingenuous to suggest that Virginia “can’t afford” to return at least part of that surplus to taxpayers. Continue reading

On the Unlawful Nature of ‘Equity’ in Virginia

by David Gordon

The Democrats wanted a fight over Critical Race Theory (CRT). The Virginia Project and our friends gave them the fight they were begging for — and spanked them so hard they’ll never forget it. When the facts were made known, the public was overwhelmingly against it, across every demographic. Fighting CRT was a clear winner and Virginia’s Republicans rode the issue to success across the state.

However, CRT is merely the root of a much broader structure, one that includes other concepts such as “equity, diversity and inclusion” and “antiracism.” While CRT itself has been purged, with leftist schools and school boards rushing to scrub it from their materials lest they get caught and become the next schools scandal, its products remain deeply embedded — not just in the schools, but all across the state, implemented at the local level.

Critical Race Theory is dead. It’s now time to kill off its hyper-racialist demon spawn, starting with “Equity.”

“Equity” is the new “Critical Race Theory,” and the war to defeat it is rapidly entering into full swing. Continue reading

Wojick On Whales IV: Deaths Spiked with Surveys

A Humpback carcass that washed up in New Jersey recently. Photo: Marine Mammal Stranding Center

By David Wojick

The recent deaths of seven whales off New Jersey, mostly humpbacks, drew national media attention. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Directorate is responsible for whales. An outrageous statement by their spokesperson got me to do some research on humpback whale deaths.

The results are appalling. The evidence seems clear that offshore wind development is killing whales by the hundreds.

Here is the statement as reported in the press:

“NOAA said it has been studying what it calls ‘unusual mortality events’ involving 174 humpback whales along the East Coast since January 2016. Agency spokesperson Lauren Gaches said that period pre-dates offshore wind preparation activities in the region.” Gaches is NOAA Fisheries press chief.

The “unusual mortality” data are astounding. Basically, the humpback death rate roughly tripled starting in 2016 and continued high thereafter. You can see it here.  That data is just for humpback whales, with a dramatic acceleration in particular between 2016 and 2020. Continue reading

Youngkin’s Housing Start

by Adam A. Millsap

U.S. housing prices have risen 10 percent since last September and 41 percent since before the pandemic. Though prices have dipped slightly over the last three months, inflated costs remain a major problem. Policymakers around the country are trying to bring prices down, and a new proposal from Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin follows the right playbook but requires further elaboration.

America’s housing crisis is largely a supply problem. Data show that housing prices fell at an annualized rate of 1 percent in September, the third straight monthly decline. While this may seem like progress, the decline is largely driven by the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes. A higher benchmark interest rate leads to higher mortgage rates, which means monthly payments—another measure of affordability—remain elevated.

To make housing more affordable, policymakers must boost supply relative to demand, while holding everything else, including interest rates, constant. The press release announcing Youngkin’s Make Virginia Home plan acknowledges the supply problem, promising to “promote increasing the supply of attainable, affordable, and accessible housing across the Commonwealth.” That’s a worthy goal; achieving it is another matter.

Research shows that the primary culprits behind high state and local housing costs are restrictive zoning and land-use regulations that artificially limit the housing supply. Youngkin’s plan is short on details, but it explicitly mentions establishing guardrails for local zoning and land-use review processes. The state would impose deadlines to stop local governments from slow-rolling approvals; such delays impose big costs on developers and make otherwise attractive projects financially infeasible. Continue reading

JLARC Agrees: Index Virginia Taxes to Inflation

by Barbara Hollingsworth

Inflation is eroding the value of each dollar earned by Virginians, making it harder for them to afford decent housing, put food on the table and educate their children. But what many Virginians don’t know is that they have also been paying more in state income taxes while their real income has declined because the commonwealth’s tax code is not indexed to inflation.

A new report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) points out that state income taxes in the commonwealth “have far outpaced median income, because income brackets have not been changed since 1990.”

Thanks to inflation, state income taxes owed by a median filer have increased 173% since 1990, while that same taxpayer’s actual income increased only 108%. Continue reading

A Jewish Perspective on Arlington’s Confederate Memorial

Photo credit: Cliff at flickr

The Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery has recommended the removal of the 32-foot-tall memorial to Confederate veterans buried there on the grounds that it is “riddled with racist iconography” and perpetuates the Lost Cause narrative. The following letter was sent today to the Committee. — JAB

On March 19, 1841, at the consecration of its new synagogue in Charleston, Rabbi Gustavus Poznanski of the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim congregation rose to speak to a throng of temple members and Charlestonians of many faiths who were invited to witness the important occasion. For centuries Jews all over the world had sought a return to the Promised Land, and generations of families had vowed as much at their annual Passover Sedar, “Next year in Jerusalem!” In a remarkable display of chutzpah, Rabbi Poznanski proclaimed, “…this synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine.” The Jews had finally found a home.

In his book, American Jewry and the Civil War, Rabbi Bertram Korn, the recognized expert in the field, seems quite emphatic that during the antebellum period, Jews experienced a cultural and religious renaissance in the South that was unrivaled. Jews who lived in the region adopted the southern way of life with all its peculiarities, including slavery, because for the first time in modern history, they were treated with dignity and respect, and flourished culturally, politically, and economically on par with their Christian neighbors. Korn concluded, “Nowhere else in America–certainly not in the ante-bellum north—had Jews been accorded such an opportunity to be complete equals as in the old South.”

And while we condemn the evils of slavery then and now all over the world, we cannot pass judgement on our ancestors as viewed through the 21st century lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion. No previous generation of Americans can survive such scrutiny. Continue reading

Virginia Drops from A+ to C in Worker Freedom — Largest Decrease in the Country

Nao credit: Commonwealth Foundation “50 State Labor Report”

by F. Vincent Vernuccio

Virginia’s ranking fell more than any other state in the Commonwealth Foundation’s 50 State Labor Report “The Battle for Worker Freedom in the States: Grading State Labor Laws.”

Virginia plunged from an “A+” ranking in 2019 to a dismal “C” this year. This was due to what the report called “[t]he most dramatic government union victory of the post-Janus legal frontier” – Janus being the 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME declaring everything government unions do is political, and public employees have a First Amendment right not to subsidize this political activity. It essentially brought right-to-work provisions to public employees across the country.

As the report noted “Three states experienced major grade changes since our 2019 report. Virginia dropped from “A+” to “C” for instituting collective bargaining, while Arkansas jumped from “C” to “A+” for banning it. Missouri’s comprehensive labor reforms were officially struck down, moving the state back down from “B” to “C.” Continue reading

Youngkin Champions Licensing Reforms, Loosens Regulatory Barriers

by Eric Burk

The Virginia Board of Social Work has changed licensing regulations, making it easier for social workers licensed in other states to get licensed in Virginia.

There is a critical shortage in Virginia of mental health professionals, and this is a significant step by the Board of Social Work to help address this shortage,” Governor Glenn Youngkin said in a Wednesday press release. “A priority of my administration is to reduce state regulations and regulatory barriers, and this action shows how regulations can be streamlined to remove barriers to practice with the goal of bringing more mental health professionals to the Commonwealth.” Continue reading