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.
The Ryan administration’s program of institutional transformation through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is ideologically driven and based on a false premise that predates the 2018 climate survey.

Ryan has said the events of August 2017 provide proof that the university needs to continue to pursue equity and inclusion. He was quoted as saying, “The ideology underlying the whole march was that some people are worthy and some people aren’t. It was targeted at people of color and Jewish people. I think the only way to combat that is to double-down on the fact that is not what UVA is about.”

In short, Ryan wants to prove that UVa is not a racist institution. To whom and by what metrics remain open questions.

But UVA had nothing to do with the alt-right demonstrations in August 2017. Appropriate condemnation of their white nationalist views came swiftly from the then-Rector Frank Conner and then-President Teresa Sullivan.

Since the early 1970’s, the University has bent over backwards to matriculate women and people of color from all socio-economic backgrounds while maintaining the highest academic standards and promoting a strict code of honor. Character and competence have always been the core values of the University.

In other words, UVa has nothing to prove and is not in need of institutional transformation.

The fundamental mission of UVa is to educate thinking, reasoning adults for participation in a self-governing republic. In correspondence about his new University, Mr. Jefferson wrote “for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

Higher education, by its very nature, requires students to exercise control over their own emotions and respond to adverse ideas with facts, reason and civility.
But the administration’s response to the events of 2017 has gone well beyond the appropriate use of reason to combat an ideology anathema to nearly everyone and inconsistent with the founding ideals of America itself.

Sullivan appointed a working group to review “how to heal the anger and fear” the demonstrators left behind. President Ryan’s reliance on a climate survey focuses on feelings, not thoughts, ideas or reason. The language of “healing” and “feelings” is the language of psychotherapy, not education.

Joel Gardner has demonstrated how the DEI program threatens the core foundations of academic free speech and is likely, at least in part, unconstitutional.

But it is worse than that. The administration’s DEI program is slowly transforming the day-to-day work of the University from education to therapeutic support for every petty grievance or perceived microaggression.
Thus, the question is not whether the DEI program is “working” as demonstrated by a climate survey. The question is whether the program, as implemented, is consistent with the core mission of the University.

I would hold that it is not.

The Board of Visitors has tolerated this “error” for at least two years and running. Perhaps it is time to “combat” it with “reason.”

Charles L. Weber, Jr. is an attorney and UVa graduate living in Charlottesville. He serves on the board of The Jefferson Council.

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11 responses to “UVa Needs Facts and Reason, Not an Opinion Survey”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Oh joy. Yet another “We hate UVa story.” Is this a VT publication?

    1. For the record, I am a double Hoo and my daughter is a double Hokie. Can’t win all of life’s battles. Perhaps I am naive but I suspect that is not your real name

    2. Rafaelo Avatar

      U Va needs to return to its roots: reason and good character, says the article. It quotes the Scripture of Thomas Jefferson. Why is this a we hate U Va story? I think it a heartening reminder of what is right about U Va. If only we can rediscover it.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        How far back? Remember, built by slaves.

        1. Rafaelo Avatar

          Oh so you are the one who hates U Va. Well, I differ.

  2. Wahoo'74 Avatar

    Excellent article. The author is spot on.

    The 2017 racist march on the Lawn had NOTHING to do with UVA. Nothing. The Administration is now using the false premise of systemic racism that doesn’t exist to perpetuate their DEI agenda.

    I’m a fan of facts not feelings. Prove the marchers on the Lawn had any connection to UVA. They didn’t. Prove there are verifiable incidents of racism perpetuated against University students, faculty or administrators. There aren’t or we would surely have seen them covered by the media.

    A revised UVA BOV with new Governor Youngkin appointees must hold the Administration to task.

    1. Unfortunately this is not entirely accurate. Richard Spencer, the erstwhile leader of the alt-right movement, and Jason Kessler, the local organizer of the events in Charlottesville, are both graduates of UVA. Charlottesville was chosen because our mayor put a target on our back when he declared that we would be the “Capitol of the Resistance.” UVA became an additional venue because the organizers knew it was ground zero for the constitutional rights of free speech, toxic or otherwise.
      I have lived in Charlottesville for 28 years. I know many people who are tired of being called racists or white supremacists simply because they are white and refuse to bend their knee and confess their so-called white privilege. But I know no one, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, town or gown, who espouses or even tacitly supports the white nationalist views of Spencer and Kessler. They represent a fringe movement. I stand by my assertion that UVA had nothing to do with the alt-right demonstrations in August 2017.

  3. Greg Long Avatar
    Greg Long

    Charles Weber – Jim Bacon Can connect you with COL (Ret) Morris. He has some information on surveys that may help you.

  4. Buddy, I agree with almost everything you write. We are in total agreement that university policy should be guided by facts and reason rather than ideology.

    The question is how we can move from A (a policy driven by ideology) to B (a policy driven by facts and reason). I would suggest that it would help to get more facts.

    What kind of facts? Facts about perceptions — the perceptions of African-Americans at UVa. A follow-up poll could disprove the premise underlying current UVa policy that African-Americans feel less “belonging” (I think that’s the buzz word du jour) because of systemic racism, and that only a vigorous prosecution of “anti-racist” policies can change that. I contend that conducting a follow-up survey could either verify or falsify that premise. If, after the renaming of buildings, erection of a slave memorial, growth of the DEI bureaucracy, implementation of DEI training, employment of DEI litmus tests in hiring and employee reviews, ramping up of Jefferson-as-slave-owning-rapist rhetoric, and other system-wide changes, African-Americans feel less sense of belonging than they did four years ago, that’s pretty good proof that the policies aren’t working, and, indeed, might be the actual problem.

    A follow-up survey might show that African-Americans feel better about UVa than they did four years ago, in which case my hypothesis (that the obsession with race is self-defeating) would take a hit and require re-examination. I’m willing to live with that risk.

    Would such a survey change Ryan’s mind? If he is driven by ideology, perhaps not. But it could change a lot of other peoples’ minds.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      might take more than a few months or a year for perceptions to change.

    2. Jim: As usual your logic is impeccable. Nonetheless, I disagree.
      My underlying concern is the very nature of surveys to guide policy. Surveys do not produce facts. They produce data points within data sets. Each data point is marred first by the bias of those who draft the questions, then by the bias of those who answer the questions. The data sets can be skewed by political activists who seek advantage from answering the surveys in a particular way.
      In my view, a climate survey will not provide an accurate reflection of perceptions but rather a snapshot in time of existing factions at UVA.
      James Madison defined factions as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
      He also wrote, “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man.”
      Throughout history, human nature has proven to be notoriously impervious to interventions by governments or institutions. See, e.g., the utopian concept of the New Man.
      The administration simply needs to stop trying to prove that UVA is not a racist institution and begin treating the students like adults instead of infantile snowflakes in need of safe spaces and therapy.
      That’s how I would define “great and good.”

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