UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue

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.”

The UVa administration has committed to review and clarify appropriate regulation of the Lawn before the next academic year. Meanwhile, says the letter, “we join with President Ryan in describing the current expressions as ‘offensive’ and ‘disheartening.’ It is a matter of sadness and regret that those privileged to live on the Lawn wish to sully that space with insulting profanity rather than to engage in reasoned debate.”

The statement in support of the administration also sought to put the Lawn controversy in a larger context.

The University of Virginia, like all institutions of higher education, faces a trifecta of evils – an unprecedented and deadly pandemic, a deep financial crisis, and a national climate of extremist rhetoric and unrest.

President Ryan and his team have made Herculean efforts to respond to those challenges. They have converted some 4,000 classes to virtual instruction in the spring semester; absorbed a loss of nearly $90 million in the hospital in March and April; brought 24,000 students and 20,000 employees back to Grounds with scrupulous attention to safety; and managed to reopen the University for in-person instruction. To date, these efforts look successful. They certainly excite our admiration.

The University of Virginia is a great institution. Despite the distractions of the moment, the University is performing extremely well, every day, in its core mission of educating young people. Passing controversies should not be allowed to displace our pride in the accomplishments of our students and graduates – accomplishments in academics, athletics, health, public service, and so many other endeavors.

Read the full statement here: BOV Statement in support of Ryan

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29 responses to “UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue

  1. Looks like FU 1 and Civility 0. FU’s bullpen is too deep to win this series.

  2. Good for the BOV

  3. I think that is a pretty reasonable statement, assuming they are sincere in their promise to review and clarify appropriate regulation of the Lawn before the next academic year.

    Given the First Amendment issues, I do not think they have much choice but to ride it our this school year. With that said I hope they decide to go the “UNESCO Heritage” route by adopting new rule(s) forbidding anyone from altering the exterior appearance of any door, window or wall on the “the Lawn”. If the new rules apply to everyone and if they go into effect after the current group of residents have vacated the premises, but before the next group signs contracts and moves in, I think they will be able to show that they have met the requirements outlined in the letter.

    • Or even, “…ride it out this school year…”

    • Okay Wayne, here’s what you do.

      I want you to stand in front of a mirror, the one you shave in front of will do, pretend you are presenting your argument to the 9 Justices, and say out loud, “as a UNESCO Heritage site, we clearly must adhere to our United Nations Treaties, and agree to surrender our sovereign right of political dissent and free speech while on the site.”

      Now do it again without laughing. Remember, these were Constitutional scholars at one time.

      • The proposal I presented actually has nothing to do with free speech. It has to do with historic preservation. It would prohibit ANY modification or alteration to the exteriors of the historically significant structures at the site – including signage, paint, decorations, etc.

        In addition to being a UNESCO Heritage site, “the Lawn” at UVA is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, is designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark District and is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register. Each of these designations places restrictions on what and how the owner of the designated site, building or landmark may alter, change, demolish or rebuild said site, building or landmark.

        I have a bit of experience dealing with the restrictions associated with working on a building which is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You might be surprised at some of the things you cannot do at/to an historic place. While I did not ask about it specifically, the bureaucrats’ attitudes regarding signage, lighting, safety railings and even seat placement, lead me to believe that if I had posted a “F*CK Thomas Jefferson” sign on the front door, the Historic Place designation of the building would have been in serious jeopardy.

        That gives me an idea, though – UVA could divest themselves of any/all historic designations, making them unquestionably free and clear to allow students, faculty and C’ville residents to post, paint, carve, engrave or otherwise write “F*CK [fill in the blank]” absolutely anywhere and everywhere on “the Grounds”.

  4. Yet schools have time and resources to allocate to bull shit like this from Williamsburg:
    https://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2020/wm-board-committee-approves-principles-for-naming,-renaming-campus-spaces.php

  5. “if it were narrowly trailored to protecting the environment, if it applied neutrally to all opinions and points of view, and if it preexisted any particular controversy.”

    Narrowly trailored?

      • Noooo… put it back. It’s more fun, and the picture better fits the likelihood of an attempt to get such an argument past a conservative SCOTUS. The ACLU eats arguments like that one for afternoon snacks.

    • a back-door way to limit free speech?

      Let’s assume they could do that. Who would decide what is “permissible” and what is not? That’s the problem with folks that think like that.

      The underlying concept of free- speech is thrown away and someone is put in charge of “content” – oh but it’s okay because it’s “narrowly” done.

      • Hey, it’s UVa. Knowing those wingnuts, they’d prominently display a sign on the lawn stating;
        “Students are free to express any political opinions with signs by afixing, with appropriate non-damaging fasteners, said signs to their doors. Please refain from using “F**k” as it upsets some people.”

  6. “that the Lawn’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site allows for regulation of expression ”

    Hahahaha… oh god that’s funny. Conservatives using the UNESCO status to restrict the speech of persons in America. UNESCO! Really?!

    You do realize that this is the same UN as in the UN in United Nations, right? So, now they’re a good thing? Even as this UN runs roughshod over American civil rights with Conservatives’ blessings.. oh that’s rich.

  7. I’ve been told that the best way to get the UVA Board of Visitors to back something is to get the item on the agenda immediately prior to the post-meeting lunch and cocktail hour. By the time you can hear the cocktail shakers mixing the ice cold martinis Dean Wormer could have insisted on storing nuclear waste in lawn rooms and gotten the BOV’s assent.

    More seriously – does anybody believe that the UVA BoV is anything but a rubber stamp operation for the administration?

  8. I know several of them. One once worked for me. Actually, they so seem to lean left quite a bit. No, they’re not dummies. Neither are the people who play in the member-member golf tournaments at my country club. Dinner follows the tournament. It’s a social event. Like being on the UVA BoV. Appointed by the governor (after years of donating). Heady stuff. But we saw what happened when the BoV acted like a real governance tier and fired Theresa Sullivan. She was reinstated within a week. When was the last time you hear a Board of Directors fire a CEO only to have their decision overturned and the CEO reinstated?

    Here’s one BoV member. Barbara Fried, Real Estate developer from Crozet, Va. Lifetime personal political donations to Virginia state politicians? $1.6M, almost all to Democrats.

    How about the Rector – James B Murray, Jr. He’s the chap who gave Tim Kaine use of his private Caribbean island for a week. Estimated value – $18,000.

    Those were the first two I looked at. You can research the rest if you’d like.

    This is a high end cocktail party for political donors.

  9. What would Mr. Jefferson say?
    Didn’t he inspire Madison to enshrine Freedom of Speech into the Bill of Rights?
    Didn’t he encourage his countrymen to risk their lives by signing his Declaration of Independence?
    How respectful and orderly was the student body during his tenure as president?
    Would he appreciate the societal evolution of the last fifty years, versus the white male society of his age?
    While lauding Jefferson’s genius in designing the nation’s only two buildings designated as World Heritage Sites, how much prominent credit is given to the army of workers – from laborers through highly skilled artisans – that constructed both sites? How many of these workers were slaves – not reimbursed for their efforts?
    I am proud to be an alum of a great university that believes in evolution.
    Peter Maxwell, Arch 76

  10. From: Tom Neale
    Date: October 2, 2020 at 3:37:50 PM EDT

    Subject: URGENT REQUEST FROM ALUMNUS TOM NEALE ’74, LIFETIME MEMBER: Letter from Rector Murray and President Ryan

    See my letter to the UVA Alumni Association President, VP Communications, and Secretary below. Trying to get them to send Aubrey Daniel’s and my letters/emails out to the extended UVA Alumni Association world.
    Stay tuned.
    Tom Neale’74
    Thomas Matthews Neale
    Founding Partner and Corporate Finance Executive Board Member

    From: Tom Neale
    Sent: Friday, October 2, 2020 3:10 PM
    To: Lily West ([email protected]) [email protected]>; Richard Gard ([email protected])

    Subject: URGENT REQUEST FROM ALUMNUS TOM NEALE ’74, LIFETIME MEMBER: Letter from Rector Murray and President Ryan
    Importance: High

    Dear Ms. West, Ms. Lockard, and Mr. Gard,

    I am contacting you with an urgent request to circulate the emails below and attached letters to our University Alumni. Ms. Lockard, I was copied on your email today showing President Ryan’s response to the BOV decisions, including his and their conclusion that the profane signs on the Lawn cannot be removed due to First Amendment concerns (Stars and Stripes article on his award: https://www.stripes.com/news/army-s-top-lawyer-honors-prosecutor-in-1971-my-lai-court-martial-1.543723#.

    UR Alumni Magazine: https://magazine.richmond.edu/features/article/-/16573/capt.-daniel-vs.-the-president.html?

    Not only do I and over 200 signatories disagree strongly with President Ryan’s conclusion based on principle, but led by Aubrey Daniel ’63 and his efforts, can provide substantive legal precedents that would allow the Administration to immediately remove the signs. Aubrey Daniel is one of the University’s most illustrious living alumni. After graduation from UVA, he obtained his law degree from the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond in 1966, then embarked on a five year career in the US Army JAG Corps. Aubrey was the prosecuting attorney assigned to the Lt. William Calley My Lai massacre trial. He went after Calley with a vengeance and obtained a guilty verdict in the most famous military trial of the past century. Aubrey then went on to a distinguished 3+ decade career with Williams and Connolly in DC as a superb corporate litigator. He is undeniably one of the top litigators in the United States over the past 50 years. Aubrey is now retired in Italy, and to quote him, “I’ve taken on the removal of the signs desecrating the Lawn as my last cause.” Below are two links that will provide background on him:

    Stars and Stripes article on his award: https://www.stripes.com/news/army-s-top-lawyer-honors-prosecutor-in-1971-my-lai-court-martial-1.543723#.

    UR Alumni Magazine: https://magazine.richmond.edu/features/article/-/16573/capt.-daniel-vs.-the-president.html?

    As of now, our alumni/ae have only heard the Administration’s side of the story. They need to hear a countervailing perspective from caring, thinking alumni who have passionate yet reasoned opposing viewpoints. I have attached my current list of signatories who agree with Aubrey’s position on the Lawn signs as well as my letter to President Ryan and the BOV on the Jefferson statue “contextualization” issue. Every single signer has been a loyal contributor to UVA, several in the seven figure range. As our representatives to the University, we are collectively asking you as the Alumni Association’s leaders to publicize our responses to the Administration and BOV.

    Perhaps an email to all alumni/ae with a link to the emails/letters on the Alumni Association website would be in order? I do not want to sound hyperbolic, but I would offer that the future of the Alumni Association is at stake. Those of us on this letter strongly believe that the University is at an existential inflection point. We need alumni support to let the Administration and BOV know thousands of us are pushing back. I’ve gathered quite a few names over the past two weeks but can assure you there are thousands more who feel the same way but have no avenue of redress.

    I would ask you to respond to this email if you can help. I am sharing this email with my signatories.

    Thank you very much for listening.

    Best,
    Tom Neale
    Baltimore, MD
    College ‘74
    Thomas Matthews Neale
    Founding Partner and Corporate Finance Executive Board Member
    Murray Hill Associates, LLC

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