by Walter Smith
Prior to the fall 2021 semester, the University of Virginia disenrolled 238 students, including 49 who had already registered for classes. What was their offense? Take a guess.
- Entering and residing in the country illegally, or
- Refusing to get COVID vaccinated in violation of a university policy that has since been overturned.
If you answered (2), you have been paying attention. If you also knew that UVa had declared in June 2020 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status no longer disqualified an applicant from attending the university, you are really on top of things.
“Our mission as a university is to attract outstanding students who will make our community stronger and the world a better place,” said UVa President Jim Ryan in this June 2020 article. “We should be open to all qualified applicants – and this decision is an important step in the right direction.”
Solicitude to “all” qualified applicants did not extend to those who presented no documentation of vaccinations and boosters. University policy compelled “all students attending in the Spring 2022 semester … to upload proof” — documentation, if you will — “of an approved booster shot to the HealthyHoos patient portal” or face expulsion.
Curious about the disparity, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents that might illuminate Ryan’s contention that UVa would be made “stronger” by admitting illegal aliens. The response: UVa had no such documents. In other words, Ryan’s quotes were empty virtue signaling.
More serious was my FOIA request for documents generated by a working group that devised the DACA policy and explored ways to arrange, without UVA’s “official” assistance, private financial support for undocumented immigrants. Given my experience with UVa stonewalling of FOIA requests, it came as no shock when the university claimed that everything — excepting only emails announcing that meetings would be held, and even they were redacted — was attorney-client privileged.
That excuse seems implausible to this recovering lawyer. Was the working group dispensing legal advice… or formulating policy? The presence of lawyers in a policy-making group does not cloak all of of its deliberations in the mantle of legal advice. Something is privileged only if it addresses a legal question in response to a client. For example, two faculty members from the law school served on UVa’s free speech committee last year, and they addressed legal issues pertaining to the university, but UVa did not claim legal privilege. (Instead the university claimed that all documents were part of Ryan’s working papers.)
The FOIA request did eventually cough up a document alluding to the “undoc ally” movement at UVa. Following that thread, I figured out how UVa’s DACA policy came to be. A UVA faculty initiative known as undocUVA formed soon after President Trump’s 2016 election. Three hundred and forty-one faculty members (only one of them from the law school) urged then-President Teresa Sullivan to protect the so-called “Dreamers.” Sullivan then declared that, as part of its diversity and inclusion mission, UVa must protect those who entered the country illegally as children. Outreach to the undocumented broadened under Ryan. UVa makes multiple resources, including in-state tuition, available to DACA students as described at this university website.
Meanwhile, there have been few issues nationally as controversial as COVID lockdowns, masking and “vaccines.” Efforts to control the spread of the virus have raised innumerable questions about the balance between civil liberties and the common good. While UVa faculty have rallied to advance the cause of undocumented residents, has a single faculty initiative emerged from UVa to protect the rights of actual American citizens affected by lockdowns? Has a single law-school, economics or medical professor expressed the slightest objection in any way?
No. There hasn’t been a peep.
Where are the op-eds and profiles in the Cavalier Daily and UVA Today? Where are the go-fund-me’s? What COVID restrictions have law professors taken on as a civil rights project?
What does this silence say about intellectual diversity and freedom of speech at UVa? Hundreds of faculty can rally to admit students who broke federal law when they entered the country but none can speak against COVID policies, now acknowledged to be illegal, that led to the expulsion of 238 students?
One also might ask, what exactly has the Board of Visitors been doing these last five years? I suppose membership on the board means never having to say you’re sorry as long as you rubber-stamp everything Jim Ryan does to transform UVA into a woke public Ivy bereft of UVa’s historic distinctions and legacies.
Walter Smith is an attorney residing in Henrico County.