Tag Archives: University of Virginia

Compelled Speech at UVa: The Morgan Bettinger Case

Morgan Bettinger

by James A. Bacon

On July 17, 2020, Morgan Bettinger was driving home from her job along a street in Charlottesville that flanked the downtown pedestrian mall where an unlicensed protest was occurring. Demonstrators roamed the street, so Bettinger, a University of Virginia 4th-year student, got out and chatted with the driver of a city garbage truck, which was blocking the road. In a throwaway remark she said, “It’s a good thing you are here because, otherwise, these people would have been speed bumps.”

The quip evoked the death of Heather Heyer a few years previously during the Unite the Right rally when a White supremacist ran his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators very nearby. Overhearing the comment, two bystanders interpreted her to be saying that protesters would make good speed bumps. Word quickly spread. Demonstrators aggressively followed her in her car as she slowly backed, asking, “Was that a threat?”

One thing led to another and Bettinger wound up in front of the student-run University Judicial Committee (UJC). In what she and her attorney Charles “Buddy” Weber view as a kangaroo court proceeding, she was found guilty of violating the University’s Standards of Conduct. The UJC expelled Bettinger from UVa but held the sanction in abeyance on the condition that she not violate the standards of conduct again. Her actions, wrote the UJC panel, were “shameful” and put members of the community at risk. Continue reading

Miyares Names Iler as UVa’s University Counsel

Cliff Iler

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Jason Miyares has selected Clifton M. Iler as the University Counsel for the University of Virginia. As the university’s lead attorney, he will supervise a team of nine other attorneys, including three for the health system.

The press releasing announcing the appointment stressed Iler’s experience in higher-education and healthcare law. He comes from the University of Kentucky, where he served as Deputy General Counsel for Faculty, Students, and Research. Like UVa, the University of Kentucky has a medical school and healthcare system.

“Cliff is a brilliant attorney with over a decade of experience in higher education and healthcare law. I am confident he will be an excellent addition to the University of Virginia and serve the students, faculty, staff, and Commonwealth well,” said Attorney General Miyares in the prepared statement.

Miyares caused a media kerfluffle when he sacked the previous university counsel, Timothy Heaphy, with vaguely-worded reasons relating to the circumstances of his appointment and his legal reasoning. There followed a wave of speculation that Miyares had fingered Heaphy because he had taken a leave of absence to lead the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 mob scene at the U.S. Capitol.

Continue reading

Election Mulligan

by Jim McCarthy

Virginia’s new governor has proposed a legislative amendment preempting the normal election cycle and terms of office for a county school board in what can only be described as a “do over.” The amendment moves a school board election date from 2023 to 2022 and authorizes a new election for the nine-member body.

Politically, the move, an increasingly familiar trope among some conservative legislatures, echoes the “big steal” theme and tactics to magnify electoral results by officials. While not drawing inordinate attention, it is, at its core, a pernicious attempt to scuttle the democratic process that seated the board at its last election.

The ostensible rationale is related to the handling of sex crimes by the Loudoun County School Board occurring in late 2021 at the height of the campaign season. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, and ultimate winner, capitalized on the contentious issue declaring his conclusions while calling for an investigation stating: Continue reading

Free Speech Lives at the University of Virginia!


by James A. Bacon

Former Vice President Mike Pence came to the University of Virginia last night, attended two receptions, and delivered his speech, billed as “How to Save America from the Woke Left,” without a hitch.

The Pence event created a national stir when the editorial board of The Cavalier Daily student newspaper said that Pence should not be allowed to speak because his conservative views would prove offensive and hurtful to many. The editorial generated a tidal wave of response in support of Pence’s right to give the speech and students’ right to hear it. Seventeen faculty members of diverse political views signed a letter in defense of the speech. President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom published an op-ed in a higher-ed trade journal defending free speech.

Political science professor Larry Sabato, perhaps UVa’s best known faculty member, has been highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he hosted a reception for Trump’s vice president in a pavilion on the Lawn before the speech. The veep attended a second reception across the Lawn, hosted by the Young America’s Foundation, which, in partnership with The Jefferson Council, underwrote the cost of the event.

It was a pleasant spring evening, and throngs of students were hanging out on the Lawn, but there was no unpleasantness to be seen. The University had created an area where protesters could gather, which a modest number did, but they were peaceful and barely noticed by the hundreds of visitors as they lined up for security checks outside Old Cabell Hall. Continue reading

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

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

Should UVa De-Platform Mike Pence?

by James A. Bacon

One might think that former Vice President Mike Pence would have earned a little cred for standing up to Donald Trump in overseeing the counting of electoral votes that resulted in the 2020 election of Joe Biden. So furious about this supposed betrayal is Trump that he has declared he would rule out asking Pence to join his ticket if he decides to run again for president in 2024. But in some quarters, the former VEEP is so racist, so sexist,  so homophobic, and his views are so reprehensible, so beyond the pale, so hurtful, that he should be denied the opportunity to speak at the University of Virginia.

With financial support from The Jefferson Council, on whose board I serve, the Young Americans for Freedom have invited Pence to speak at UVa on April 12. Five days ago, the editorial board of the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, expressed strong disapproval of university leadership’s decision to allow the speech to take place.

“Dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform,” says the editorial headline. “Speech that threatens the lives of those on the Grounds is unjustifiable,” reads the sub-head.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is Pence’s speech bigoted, hurtful, and violent, it literally threatens the well-being, safety and even the very lives of UVa students! Continue reading

No Woke-ism to See Here, Move Along Now: UVa Update

by James A. Bacon

As Woke-ism deniers ramp up their obfuscations of the implementation of Woke social-justice ideology in Virginia’s schools and colleges, the evidence keeps pouring in. Yesterday, a source forwarded to me the following communication by Elyse Girard (She/They) at the University of Virginia regarding the hiring of a new Dean for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility at the University of library.

Let’s set aside the fact that the library has managed up to now to vigorously pursue its vision of diversity and equity without the necessity of adding an associate dean to its payroll. (See “How Not to Create a Diverse, Welcoming Workplace.) This job application openly advertises ideological criteria for the job. Applicants must have “a sophisticated understanding of anti-racism, intersectionality, and social justice.” 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

A Disastrous Week for UVa

Open letter from Bert Ellis, president of The Jefferson Council, to members of the University of Virginia community.

Last week will go down as one of the worst weeks in the history of UVA.

The Honor Code is Effectively Dead

By a margin of over 4 to 1, UVA students voted in a referendum to permanently change the Honor System to eliminate expulsion as the sanction for an honor offense in favor of a two-semester leave of absence… the equivalent of a time out.

A 3rd year law student (who’s next stop on his path to save the world is to study global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghau University) led this effort. In his view, the Honor System is inherently racist because more people of color or more international students are found guilty of honor offenses than their exact percentage of the UVA student population.

He argued, “we can no longer support a sanction that is historically allowed and could prospectively allow the most severe outcome to fall disproportionately on some communities more than others.” Continue reading

UVa Board Extends Ryan Contract for Three Years

UVa President James Ryan

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted unanimously Friday to extend President Jim Ryan’s employment agreement for three years to 2028. His existing contract doesn’t expire until 2025.

“Jim Ryan has been a strong and focused leader for this community under extraordinary circumstances,” University Rector Whitt Clement said, as quoted by UVa Today. “We are pleased that he has agreed to this extension and look forward to what the institution will accomplish under his leadership in the coming years.”

UVA Today, the house communications organ of the Ryan administration, provided no explanation of why the Board thought it necessary to act now to extend a contract that lasts another three years, or why, if the Board was pleased with Ryan’s performance, it could not just pay him another bonus already stipulated in his contract. Last year, the Board granted Ryan a $200,000 bonus on top of his $695,000 salary.

The timing suggests that the Board of Visitors, all of whose members were appointed by Democratic governors, were moving to lock in Ryan’s tenure, which could be threatened by new board members appointed by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin over the next four years. Whether coincidence or not, the Board’s Friday vote occurred the same day that Youngkin delivered a speech at UVa’s law school in which he denounced higher-education “cancel culture” as a toxic threat to American democracy. (Youngkin did not single out UVa or Ryan by name.) Continue reading

UVa Needs Facts and Reason, Not an Opinion Survey

by Charles L. Weber, Jr.

Recently Jim Bacon argued that the University of Virginia needs to conduct another Climate Survey to compare the results with the one conducted in 2018. He argued as follows:

The premise of the Ryan administration is that making African-Americans feel more welcome at UVa requires rooting out the racism endemic in the old system, and the only way to extirpate that racism is to make “anti-racism” (as defined by leftists) the university’s number-one, all-consuming preoccupation. If that premise is correct, then one would expect African-Americans to give higher scores in a survey given today.

But there is a different view: that the obsession with race feeds the sense of minority victimhood, grievance and alienation, and encourages minorities to be hyper-sensitive in their interactions with others. In this view, the predictable result is that Blacks will feel less welcome and experience less belonging — precisely the opposite of what President Ryan wants to achieve.

There is only one way to find out: conduct another survey.

It’s high time we find out whether the sweeping changes implemented by [President Jim] Ryan are having the desired effect.

Color me skeptical. Continue reading

Decline of the Honor System: UVa Edition

by James A. Bacon

In elections this week, University of Virginia students will vote on a measure to reduce the punishment for honor-code violations (lying, cheating, stealing) from expulsion to a two-semester suspension. At least 10% of the student body must participate in the referendum, and of those who vote 60% must vote in favor.

The honor code is administered by students, not the university administration, and it has evolved over time as cultural values have changed. But faculty, administrators and the Board of Visitors traditionally have buttressed the system. For decades, stirring introductions of the honor code were a central part of the student orientation. Benefactors endowed the alumni association with a multimillion-dollar fund to support the system. To this day, the Board of Visitors mission statement lists preservation of the honor code as one of the board’s core duties.

The system has eroded badly. Continue reading