Virginia as Free Speech Zone

George Mason University as free speech zone.

Free speech zone at George Mason University

Three Virginia universities received high rankings in the Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges for their commitment to diverse viewpoints. The University of Chicago and Purdue University garner the top “heterodoxy” scores for freedom from politically correct strictures on speech, but the University of Virginia, College of William & Mary and George Mason University belonged to a cluster of 12 prominent universities receiving the next highest ranking.

Virginia Tech received one of the lower scores, although it did not fare as poorly as Harvard, Brown, Northwestern and others that have instituted safe spaces and speech codes. The ranking took note of how Jason Riley, a conservative writer with the Wall Street Journal, had been dis-invited from speaking.

The Heterodox Academy is a politically diverse group of scholars concerned about the shrinking diversity of viewpoints on college campuses. States the Academy’s website: “When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.”

It will be interesting to see how UVa fares next year. The chastisement of engineering faculty member Doug Muir for making an unpopular comment on a Facebook page probably was not factored into the Academy’s calculations. Still it is reassuring to see that three of the four Virginia universities listed enjoy more freedom of expression than their peers.

The Academy rated the 150 colleges scoring highest in U.S. News & World-Report‘s college ranking. Key criteria include endorsement of the Chicago Principles on free expression, the presence of restrictive speech codes as determined by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) appraisal of whether a campus is welcoming to conservative and libertarian students.

Update: My deep throat source at GMU saw this blog post and forwarded the following email distributed throughout the university:

Dear Patriots,

George Mason University is a public institution that is committed to freedom of expression and the creation of more just and inclusive communities. The University is proud to support individuals’ rights to express their views. We believe that learning is best achieved through critical thinking and open dialogue.

We are mindful that certain topics elicit stronger emotional responses than others, especially when those participating in the conversations have contrasting opinions or seek to provoke. It is our expectation that members of our community engage respectfully in such dialogue, even when what is heard may seem offensive or distasteful. Several recent incidents on the Johnson Center North Plaza have involved hostile behavior directed at guests to the campus, including physical confrontations. Such displays of incivility undermine the scholarly mission of our university, and could carry significant legal and disciplinary consequences.

Our campus community, like others, will continue to be challenged by activities that some may view as personally distasteful or offensive. However, unlike many communities, we have the opportunity here at Mason to set an example and lead. I ask that you please remain respectful of opposing viewpoints and not engage in acts of incivility. You most certainly can counter speech you are offended by with your own speech. You can counter activities that are disagreeable to you with your own activities. You can choose to engage with those who have opposing viewpoints or you can walk away. Although the University supports your right to express discontent in a lawful manner, it is also obligated to uphold the rights of those who visit our campus to engage in constitutionally protected activities. Therefore, your cooperation is appreciated as the University continues to serve as a venue for engaging dialogues and freedom of expression.

Rose Pascarell
Vice President for University Life

GMU has just risen in my esteem. What a contrast with my alma mater, UVa.


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