UVa Affirms Commitment to Free Speech… at Least in Theory

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Trustees has voted to approve a statement affirming the university’s commitment to free expression and free inquiry.

“All views, beliefs and perspective deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference,” states the Statement of the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “Free and open inquiry … is at the heart of the principles of academic freedom. … Likewise, the educational endeavor for students requires the freedom to speak, write, inquire, listen, challenge and learn.”

President James Ryan appointed the committee and asked it to craft a set of principles to guide the university. The committee heard testimony from students and faculty attesting to the widespread sentiment that certain views should not be expressed in or out of the classroom for fear of triggering intense social media backlash or punitive measures by administrators (many incidents of which have been documented in Bacon’s Rebellion and The Jefferson Council website).

It remains to be seen how the Ryan administration will interpret and apply these principles. The committee’s Statement genuflected to the fact that the university has not always fulfilled its aspirations — “exploiting enslaved laborers and excluding Black Americans, women, and groups and viewpoints disfavored by the majority.” It made no explicit mention of the suppression of conservative views antithetical to a core of radical students or the failure of the Ryan administration to stand up for them — things that are happening now, not a hundred years ago.

Perhaps the biggest void in the Statement was any commitment to the idea of intellectual diversity. As many UVa departments become self-perpetuating cliques whose members espouse an increasingly narrow range of left-of-center views, the practical result of the Statement may be to protect the right to free speech and expression of a community that excludes uncomfortable views by hiring only like-minded people.

John Griffin, a board member who served on the committee, was more optimistic. He said the statement is an “enormous opportunity” for the university to distinguish itself, reports The Daily Progress.

“I really believe this could be a distinguishing characteristic of the University of Virginia as a place where different viewpoints are listened to or digested and with the ultimate goal of having better decisions, outcomes and beliefs,” Griffin said.

With the statement’s adoption, Ryan said, the real work begins. “That is to incorporate the statements’ values into the day-to-day life of UVa.”

The full statement can be read here.

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7 responses to “UVa Affirms Commitment to Free Speech… at Least in Theory”

  1. Rob Austin Avatar
    Rob Austin

    This is just so much air cover for the progressives who rule UVa. Does anyone actually believe that the momentum behind the F### UVa display, the open armed embrace of the Marxist BLM, the radical progressivism of the faculty, and the Ryan/Magill hell bent for leather mission to undermine UVa will be impacted by this? Dream on. By the way, it’s the Board of Visitors. And ask yourself why, oh why, won’t Jellyfish Ryan agree to the Chicago Principles?

  2. Publius Avatar

    Too wordy, too legalistic. Next to last paragraph is a bunch of mush and has not been the norm in this past year. Nonetheless, the Admin is on the record and needs to have its feet held to the fire.
    Intellectual diversity of the faculty is a whole ‘nother ball of wax!

  3. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    It is amazing that the university president had to appoint a committee to craft an excessively wordy document that may or may not turn out to be effective. He would have been more credible if he had simply said this university will be governed by Thomas Jefferson’s aspiration that ” here we are not afraid to follow through wherever it may lead, nor to tolerated any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

  4. emjak Avatar

    There is an old saying “actions speak louder than words.” Time will tell whether UVA takes meaningful action to adhere to the principles in its statement.

  5. tmtfairfax Avatar

    In response to a recent solicitation from my undergraduate college, I replied that, when the school has signed on to the Chicago Principles, I’ll pay attention to your requests for money. I experienced freedom of speech and debate when I attended college. Shouldn’t today’s students — all of them — have the same opportunity?

    1. Publius Avatar

      I was hoping for more than the Chicago Principles. This is less. Way less. An embarrassment.

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    The most depressing thing of all is that Mr. Jefferson’s university would even see a need to revisit this absolute founding principle and wrap it in so much fog. It should have ended after the first two sentences. Who are they trying to persuade? Oh, yeah, that would be most of the faculty and students, sadly….

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