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.
Joel Gardner, Undergraduate class of 1970; Law School class of 1974.
The following passage is the second excerpt from a letter written by Joel Gardner, author of “From Rebel Yell to Revolution,” to University of Virginia President Jim Ryan. We published the first excerpt yesterday. — JAB
Without being able to accurately substantiate the following with specific facts and figures … I believe there are virtually no Republicans or conservatives among the top members of your administration. including deans. Our faculty is probably not much more diverse. I have heard renowned former University professor Jonathan Haidt speak … at a Jefferson Scholar event at Darden about four years ago. At that time he had a chart that showed that about 60% of college faculty are liberal/far left, 30% moderate and 10% conservative/ far right. I have no reason to believe the breakdown is any different at UVa. This is way out of line with the breakdown of thought diversity in the population at large.
This was not always the case. When I was a student, the faculty was split about 50/50 in ideology. In fact, a vote to ban ROTC from the Grounds drew a tie vote in the faculty senate. Until recently, there were a number of deans who were in the relatively conservative camp — Law, Batten and Commerce. This no longer the case. Until recently there was a mix of Republicans and Democrats on the BOV. But with Democrat governors in the statehouse since 2014, there are no longer any Republican appointees on the Board. The result in effect is one party rule on Grounds — and as we all know, one party rule is never healthy. Without meaningful debate and exchange of opposing ideas there is little opportunity to digest other viewpoints and even less motivation to compromise. Continue reading
Joel Gardner, Undergraduate class of 1970; Law School class of 1974.
The following passage is excerpted from a letter written by Joel Gardner, author of “From Rebel Yell to Revolution,” to University of Virginia President Jim Ryan. — JAB
Our University community is more divided than at any time since the anti-war turbulence of 1969-70. I lived through that period on Grounds and chronicled in my book its many negative consequences for community cohesion. Fortunately, that turbulence was short lived, and by the time I graduated from the Law School in 1974 the divisions it created were mostly gone. But unfortunately, the cause of the current divisiveness is more insidious as it has become part of University policy. I am speaking about the social justice diversity and inclusion agenda based on race, ethnicity and gender that you have made the capstone of your “great and good” strategic plan.
With all due respect, many of us believe not only that such a social justice agenda is not “good,” but that even if it was, it would not be proper or appropriate for a university, especially a public university, to adopt it as policy. During our discussion I quoted from former Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman’s article “The Downside of Diversity.” If you have not read it in full, I suggest you do so (Wall St. Journal, 8/2/19). In it, Kronman states that diversity based on race and gender “is not an academic value. Its origin and aspiration are political. The demand for ever greater diversity in higher education is a political campaign masquerading as an educational ideal.” He further concludes that this form of identity politics “has steadily weakened the norms of objectivity and truth and substituted for them a culture of grievance and group loyalty. Rather than bringing students and faculty together on the common ground of reason, it has pushed them farther apart into separate silos of guilt and complaint.”
Having spent the past six years in Cville totally immersed in everything UVA, I can relate that any objective observer would confirm most of Dean Kronman’s observations. Indeed the current travesty on the Lawn is Exhibit A. I listened to the audio of your discussion with the Lawn student and read her opinion piece in the CD. One could not find a better example of the grievance and victimization culture that flows from your diversity social justice agenda. Continue reading
Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia’s insurgent alumni have made it very clear what they’re against. They don’t like profane signs on the Lawn that disrespect the University. They oppose contextualizing the Thomas Jefferson statue. They’re unhappy with the endless self-flagellation for the institution’s association with slavery and segregation, as if nothing has changed in the past 55 years. I’m one of them. I share the same concerns.
But what are we for? If we can’t articulate a positive agenda for Mr. Jefferson’s University in the 21st century, people will think us like those cranky old men with pants hiked up to their chests who shake their fists and yell, “Get off my lawn!” or at worst, a bunch of old, white, Southern racists who can’t accommodate themselves to the younger generation’s thirst for social justice.
Those of us who are unhappy with UVa need to start talking about what new direction we’d like to see it take. I have some preliminary thoughts.
First, UVa should strive to be the best public university in the country, not a Southern Ivy.
Second, UVa should make itself the most affordable top-tier higher-ed institution in the country, to be accomplished by driving down costs, not by using tuition as a vehicle for the redistribution of wealth.
Third, UVa should become a beacon for intellectual diversity and the vibrant exchange of ideas. Continue reading
Look, ma, no signs! Residential rooms on the University of Virginia’s Lawn in 2010 before unsightly signage became ubiquitous. Source: mbell1975 flickr account.
by James A. Bacon
In a letter written to Aubrey Daniel, one of the strongest critics of the UVa administration, Rector James B. Murray Jr. brings out new facts and arguments regarding Jim Ryan’s handling of the “F— UVA” Lawn sign controversy.
Criticism has focused on a student’s use of profanity in a sign on the door of her Lawn residence. Although the university has rules against the indiscriminate display of signage, it has not enforced them in recent years. Therefore, Ryan has decided, singling out the student to remove her offensive sign at this time would violate her right to free speech. Recent photos focusing on a handful of offensive signs, Murray writes, “do not tell the full story.” He elaborates: Continue reading
Ms. Azher’s pinboard pictured here has a note that states: “I stand with farm workers”
by James C. Sherlock, University of Virginia, College of Arts and Sciences, 1966
Hira Azher’s profane sign on the door of her room on the University of Virginia’s Lawn has made headlines, and the ensuing controversy has raised many questions. This article will highlight a new issue. University administrators, I will argue, botched the handling of the incident by turning what should have been a breach-of-contract issue into a constitutional freedom-of-speech case.
After alumni raised objections to the now-infamous sign, which said “F— UVA,” President Jim Ryan sought legal advice from University Counsel Timothy Heaphy. Heaphy concluded that the student’s use of profanity was protected by the First Amendment. Although the resident contract signed by Lawn residents gives the University the right to regulate signage, he argued, the institution’s failure to enforce that particular provision in the past essentially gave Azher a pass.
But my analysis suggests that the contract is clear. The University could have enforced it when Ms. Azher breached it with her door sign, which is prohibited by both the contract and University fire regulations.
Mr. Heaphy serves both the University President and the Board of Visitors. He gave each of them and the rest of us bad information. The public representations of the President, the Board and the Counsel himself on facts of the case do not withstand a fact check of the housing contract that Heaphy’s own lawyers wrote and that Azher signed and continues to violate. Continue reading
Hira Azher, from her Twitter account
by James A. Bacon
Hira Azher, the young University of Virginia woman thrust into the limelight after she posted the infamous “Fuck UVA” sign on the door of her Lawn residence, has written a column in the Cavalier Daily to defend her action, lambaste UVa President Jim Ryan, and attack the university as a white supremacist institution.
Ms. Azher comes across as self-absorbed and self-pitying, wallowing in the rhetoric of grievance and victimhood. If you think that assessment is harsh, read the column for the full text to see if I am portraying her views unfairly.
By way of background, Azher told WVIR TV that she was prompted to mount the sign on the door after suffering an injury and surgery to her ankle. She faulted the university for its lack of Americans for Disability Act accessibility on the Lawn and its response to her injury. “The solution was not to make the lawn more accessible,” she said, “the solution was to find me alternative housing for up to a month, which in itself is a problem.”
In the commentary, she writes:
<i>”As a Muslim woman of color at this University, I am constantly and painstakingly aware that this institution was not made for people like me, and everyday, the University continues to function and uphold white supremacist ideals that makes this very clear for marginalized students across the Grounds.”</i> Continue reading
Contextualize this! Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Parade
by James A. Bacon
Thomas M. Neale, a lead organizer of the University of Virginia alumni revolt, has written a letter with 200 co-signatories to the Board of Visitors decrying the “cancel culture” permeating the university. The board has voted to rename the Curry School of Education, remove the George Rogers Clark statues, and contextualize the Thomas Jefferson Statue on the Lawn, he says. Intellectual consistency, he argues, would require eradication of all segregation-era university administrators, regardless of their contributions to society, on the grounds that they all shared some taint of oppression.
If Thomas Jefferson needs to be “contextualized” then so do 100% of all Southern leaders prior to the Civil War. This should be extended to 20th century leaders if they presided over universities, businesses, towns, counties, villages or military units that practiced segregated policies. Throw in US presidents prior to 1964 who did not make ending Jim Crow a priority. This is not hyperbole. It is a logical extension of the Racial Equity Task Force’s recommendations.
We ask again… where does this end?
Neal asks an important question: Where does it end? No one at the UVa — or anywhere, for that matter — has articulated logical bounds for the creeping de-legitimization and eradication of past leaders. Cancellations have been applied arbitrarily amidst inflamed passions, and only against targets of Leftist disapproval. No one, I would observe, has suggested contextualizing Martin Luther King, America’s greatest Civil Rights hero, even though his misogynistic behavior, which would make Donald Trump look like a choir boy, should be regarded as grotesque by the #metoo movement. (See “The troubling legacy of Martin Luther King” for a horrific summary of evidence from FBI documents.)
Here follows the full text of Neale’s letter: Continue reading
In the wake of the controversy over profane political statements posted on room doors on the Lawn, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan penned a defense early this month of the university’s decision not to compel removal of the offending signage. In the statement, entitled “Good and Great Revisited,” he argued that the University can be both good, as in exorcising racism, and great, as in achieving excellence; that the Thomas Jefferson statue on the grounds should be preserved but contextualized; and that it is the university’s obligation to stand firm in defense of free speech. In a separate missive, the University’s legal counsel Timothy Heaphy argued that the Constitutional right to free speech of Lawn residents was an absolute that could not be abridged…. although the University was working on changing the rules for next year’s residents.
Now Aubrey M. Daniel III, who had written a previous, widely disseminated letter condemning the University’s do-nothing posture, has delivered a riposte. While UVa officials have issued vague exclamations of “disappointment” at the student’s use of profanity in the phrase “Fuck UVA,” Daniel argues forcefully that Ryan and Heaphy have adopted a legal posture of defending the student’s right to free speech against alumni protests rather than articulating a legal argument for taking down the sign and letting the student (or her surrogates) mount her own legal defense of her action. While posing as a neutral arbiter between the student and angry alumni, Ryan is effectively siding with the student.
Daniel addresses his missive to Rector James B. Murray Jr., who had mounted his own defense of Ryan in a letter from the Board of Visitors. I publish the full text of Daniel’s letter below. — JAB Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
After a resident of the Lawn at the University of Virginia posted signage saying, “Fuck UVa,” outraged alumni raised a stink in a series of letters to UVa President Jim Ryan. For the time being, said Ryan, Lawn residents’ free speech is protected by the First Amendment, but the administration is working on a longer-term solution. In the meantime, at least one other Lawn resident has joined the first in using the same profanity to express his/her/their/zir/its antipathy to the university (in the sign seen at left).
Rob Schilling, a talk radio host at WINA radio in Charlottesville, photographed that sign, as well as several others displayed on Lawn doors, and displayed them on a videocast. (No direct link, but you can find the videocast on The Schilling Show blog.) Continue reading
The University of Virginia’s fraternity row. Photo credit: Daily Mail
by James A. Bacon
Back when I attended the University of Virginia many moons ago, I was a GDI — an acronym for a God-Damned Independent. During the fall rush my first year I attended two fraternity parties on Rugby Road and found nothing entertaining about hanging out with people whose sole purpose seemed to be getting sloshed. Those two experiences were all I needed to needed to convince me that I would never join a fraternity.
As much personal disdain as I had for the Greek system, it never occurred to me to want to abolish it. It never occurred to me to insist upon imposing my values upon others. My philosophy has always been to live and let live. If the frat boys wanted to spend their colleges years in a drunken stupor, that was their choice and nobody’s business but their own (and their parents).
But we live in a different time now. We live in an era in which cultural totalitarians presume to tell everyone else how to live. And the cultural totalitarians are taking aim at fraternities and sororities as evil institutions that reinforce class stratification, elitism, discrimination and cultural appropriation, and, thus, must be abolished. I now find myself in the anomalous position of defending them. Continue reading
Letters from disgruntled alumni continue to pour into the office of University of Virginia president Jim Ryan. Bacon’s Rebellion is privy to some of them, and when letter writers add something new to the ongoing discussion, I will endeavor to publish the relevant passages in the blog. In this post, I’m extracting from a letter written by Walter L. Smith, of Glen Allen. After dedicating much of the letter to illuminating the greatness of Thomas Jefferson, he gets down to brass tacks, addressing the disconnect between the UVa administration and its alumni. (You can read the full letter here.) — JAB
How did this alumni disconnect happen?
Over the years I think alumni have become inured to politics coming out of our academical village, in line with a Jeffersonian belief in free speech. But that creeping politicization has now become an obsession which seems to have reached a peak with the Unite the Right rally and stayed at that level since, to the
detriment of actual intellectual inquiry and reasoned discourse. Since the Unite the Right rally it seems all the alumni hear from the people in charge of the University is racism and contextualization – ponderously named Committees to study “controversial” topics and make recommendations which seem aimed at wiping out history in the name of “racial equity.”
The “F— UVa” sign on the door of a University of Virginia resident of the Lawn violates no university policy and is protected by the First Amendment, concluded University Counsel Timothy J. Heaphy. However, a new policy banning all signs on lawn room doors could pass constitutional muster if applied prospectively instead of retrospectively.
“A new policy banning signs would also maintain the historic character of the Lawn, consistent with its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Heaphy opined in a letter addressed to university Rector James B. Murray Jr. on Sept. 29. “Students would have ample other opportunities to exercise free speech even if they could not post signs on their doors.”
However, he warned, “a blanket rule against all posters would be overinclusive, as it would remove the ability of any lawn resident to use his or her prominent
residence as a forum to promote events, highlight activities, or show support for particular perspectives or ideas.” Read the full BOV Statement in support of Ryan.
Bacon’s bottom line: Heaphy’s argument against restricting free speech makes sense to anyone who reveres the U.S. Constitution. I just wonder how long the logic would hold up if someone posted “Blue Lives Matter” or “Make America Great Again” on a door sign on the Lawn. Can anyone be found to do such a thing? It would make an instructive experiment. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
Waiting for Godot. A recent article on this blog titled, “UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue,” seemed to suggest that The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors (BoV) was a critical link in UVa’s governance structure. My interpretation of the article was that the author (Jim Bacon) believed the BoV might rise up with indignant fury and put UVa President James Ryan in his place by insisting that a profane sign on university property be taken down. My own thinking was that such a belief was naive. I’ve always viewed UVa’s BoV as a club of well meaning rich people who were appointed to that board in appreciation for the large political donations they make rather than a serious oversight organization.
That view was reinforced in 2012 when the BoV tried to act like an honest to goodness board by ousting UVa’s underperforming president – Teresa Sullivan. Virginia’s political elite would have none of it. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell threatened to fire the entire board for having the temerity to put down their martini glasses and take action. Since that attempt at actual governance the BoV seems to have returned to its roots as an organization willing to rubber stamp whatever UVa’s leadership decides to do. The idea that the BoV might question Ryan’s acceptance of a sign on a university-owned dorm room door saying “F*** UVa” seemed far fetched to me. However, the article’s author – Jim Bacon – is wise in the ways of all things Virginia. Maybe he was right and the Board of Visitors was appointed based on their willingness to actively manage UVa rather than their political donations.
As a starting point, I decided to research the political donations of the board members. I was stunned by what I found. I defined the board by including the seventeen independent board members and the faculty representative. I did not include the student representative in the donation calculations. The 18 members of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, their employers and their spouses have donated $35,252,122 to Virginia politicians since 1997 (when records first started being tracked). The individual board members and their spouses (to the extent I could determine their spouses) have donated $4,859,820 to the state’s political class since 1997. Their employers have donated $30,392,302 over the same period. These totals count donations to Republicans, Democrats and political organizations classified as “other” by VPAP. Continue reading
Photo credit: Washington Post
by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia Board of Visitors has issued a statement backing President Jim Ryan for his handling of offensive signs posted on the doors of rooms on the Lawn.
“Simply put, there are no exceptions to the protections afforded by the First Amendment against state attempts to regulate political speech,” says the letter signed by Rector James B. Murray Jr. “We are required to comply with the law, and the law is very clear.”
However, an argument advanced by alumnus Aubrey M. Daniel III in a widely disseminated letter — that the Lawn’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site allows for regulation of expression — might be constitutionally defensible, says the statement, “if it were narrowly tailored to protecting the environment, if it applied neutrally to all opinions and points of view, and if it preexisted any particular controversy.” Continue reading