We support free speech… unless it’s hate speech… and hate speech is anything that offends us.

by James A. Bacon

The leaders of Virginia’s colleges and universities are sensitive to the public’s distrust of higher-ed’s ability to protect freedom of speech and “cultivate robust and divergent viewpoints.”

“Today’s students may hesitate to discuss difficult topics for fear of retribution or ostracism,” write four Virginia higher-ed presidents in an op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Yet free expression and academic freedom are essential to the tripartite mission of learning, discovery and engagement.”

To address these fears the Virginia Council of Presidents has issued a statement expressing support for free expression:

As presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, we unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity on our campuses. Free expression is the fundamental basis for both academic freedom and for effective teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom. Our member universities and colleges are bound to uphold the First Amendment. We are committed to promoting this constitutional freedom through robust statements and policies that are formulated through shared governance processes and through actions that reflect and reinforce this core foundation of education. We value a scholarly environment that is supported by a diversity of research and intellectual perspectives among our faculty and staff. We pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences. We will protect these principles when others seek to restrict them.

Noble words. But I won’t believe the presidents’ commitment to “free speech and viewpoint diversity” until I see massive changes in the way they run their institutions.

The fact that the college presidents felt moved to voice their commitment to free speech, civil discourse, and intellectual diversity is a positive step, not the least in that it acknowledges the existence of a problem that many have contended is a figment of conservatives’ imagination. Here’s the rub: faculty and staff of Virginia’s universities are lopsidedly left-of-center and they are getting less intellectually diverse, not more. The pressure to conform to leftist pieties is intensifying, not easing.

The prime driver is the universities’ commitment to a left-wing or “woke” paradigm for social justice that views society through the lens of racial, gender, and sexual oppression. To institutionalize this paradigm, almost every public university in the state has erected Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracies, and many require employees and job applicants to submit “diversity statements” outlining their commitment to social-justice goals.

The Baby Boomer generation of scholars is more leftist in orientation than the generation that preceded it, but Boomers are marked by a modicum of diversity in intellectual viewpoints. They are being replaced by a younger generation that is far more uniformly leftist. Ideological filters such as DEI statements weed out scholars not committed to a “woke” position on the greatest social controversies of our day. The evolution toward an intellectual monoculture has enormous momentum. Few conservatives are willing to undergo years of graduate-student poverty knowing how dim their academic employment prospects will be. The pipeline of diversity of thought is being shut down at the source.

I’m inclined to view the Council of Presidents’ statement as political posturing while a Republican occupies the Governor’s Mansion and Republicans in the House of Delegates control the public purse strings. I’ll believe the presidents are genuinely committed to free speech and intellectual diversity when they scrap their diversity statements, rein in their DEI bureaucracies, and stop punishing students and professors for violating the woke orthodoxy.

It is ironic that Timothy Sands affixed his signature to the op-ed, even as Virginia Tech soccer player Kiersten Hening continues to pursue a lawsuit against a coach who benched her two years ago for refusing to kneel to show support for Black Lives Matter. Demonstrating solidarity with Black Lives Matter may not be official Virginia Tech policy, but Sands has fostered a campus culture where Hening’s experience is hardly unique.

The assault on free expression runs deep. University presidents need to rein in their EEOC offices, bureaucracies that enforce left-wing speech standards under the guise of combating “discrimination.” They need to scrutinize the many other ways, often arcane, in which mid-level administrators and student institutions of self-governance suppress heretical views.

Article 35 of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China promises the right to freedom of speech. We know how well that works. In the absence of concrete action to change campus cultures, abstract expressions in support of free speech and intellectual diversity in America don’t mean much more.

Full disclosure: Jim Bacon is executive director of The Jefferson Council, a University of Virginia alumni group dedicated to protecting free speech and advancing intellectual diversity.

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44 responses to “You Support Free Speech? Show It.”

  1. “Here’s the rub: faculty and staff of Virginia’s universities are lopsidedly left-of-center and they are getting less intellectually diverse, not more.” Educated people tend to be left of center, and college educated people have abandoned the Republican party is droves in the last six years. Those dynamics will not be reversed for a very long time. I therefore don’t think it’s realistic to try and attain true balance in higher education in terms of politics. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do more to accommodate and welcome conservative viewpoints. But the viewpoint balancing thing, especially for faculty, is misguided.

    1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

      It’s the garbage we are hiring today for our colleges and universities. I took a course from Dean Carl Auerbach at the University of Minnesota Law School years ago. Had Humphrey won the 1968 election, Auerbach would have been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — no conservative he. But Dean Auerbach and all my other professors, irrespective of their personal political views, always respected the right of any student to express her or his views on any issue. There were often great debates forcing all students to support their position, but no views were forbidden even when much of the class disagreed. Their remedy was to come up with a better argument.

      And back then, I was quite active in Minnesota’s DFL Party.

      1. Yes, I agree that most colleges are not bastions of free speech, with some notable exceptions. I just don’t think that the hiring issue is really going to solve anything. It think it’s more of a cultural issue than it is a function of viewpoint homogeneity, although obviously those thing are related. I mean, realistically how many conservatives are there to hire in academic fields? Hell, how many conservatives go to college in the first place? And if they do, do they come out conservative on the other end? Universities, higher education, hell, educated people are basically a lost cause for conservatives for the foreseeable future. Why not fight for a change in attitude rather than a change in demographics?

        1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

          Impose financial penalties on faculty and staff who suppress or discourage free speech and debate. If their predecessors could do it, despite many of them being left leaning, why not today’s crowd?

          I’ve worked with people all over the political spectrum. Most were respectful enough to keep their political views to themselves while working with others and when it was appropriate for political discussion, they realized not everyone agrees with their views.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Star Chamber trials for those suspected?

          2. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            Don’t stop at faculty and administration. Take away student meal plans or dorms when suppression is shown.

          3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            For those students engaged in suppression of other’s views. Great idea.

            Who cares about the Confederacy? Two of my 2nd great grandfathers wore Union Blue.

        2. James McCarthy Avatar
          James McCarthy

          Thought the lost cause was a conservative concern. Ought we uneducate the educated; dumb down everything? There are conservative institutions of higher education, perhaps not enough. Attitude adjustments for all!!!

          1. Not sure I fully appreciate your point, but if it’s that we should demand better of our faculty and admins in terms of accepting differing viewpoints, I wholeheartedly agree. If you’re saying that we should hire more conservative profs because of their political views, that seems like a poor solution.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            so.. we’d start ascertaining if an applicant was “liberal” or “conservative” by some sort of test? Or a panel looking at his/her “record” or some such?


          3. Ha, exactly. Or maybe we could use phrenology to determine political persuasion.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            Or they got hired as a moderate and went rogue.. after they got tenure?

      2. Today’s liberals have abandoned classical liberalism. That’s why I prefer to call them Progressives.

        “Classical liberalism promotes individual freedom and liberty, arguing for a limited role for the state, individual and collective civil liberties and economic freedoms. Classical liberalism influenced the European Englightenment – a trend towards scientific enquiry and the application of reason rather than the acceptance of superstitious or dogmatic principles.”


  2. Turbocohen Avatar

    If reality truly reflected political rhetoric about liberty, American college and university students would be enjoying a truly remarkable freedom to speak and express controversial ideas. Public officials routinely declare a belief in freedom of speech and boast of America’s unique status as a nation of unfettered free press and free expression. Some fringe kook left communists and fascists who would create a totalitarian state if they were in power have praised the virtues of the freedom of thought they themselves need for their ideas to take root, despite their coercion, neo-diversity, neo-dialogue and intolerance of the thoughts and ideas to the right of their own..

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Speaking of “Liberty”, how does free speech “work” there and other Conservative higher ed?

  3. Question is, where do the students get it? Their own study and reflection? You’re kidding. Parents? Not enough grandparent leftists left to make red-diaper babies. Internal dynamics of their peer group? Begs the question.

    K-12 schooling? Maybe: Flaccid theories in the ed schools lead to weak “teaching” and sloganeering, at the expense of rigor. Maybe it’s easier for teachers to teach and for students to “learn” slogans rather than to define terms, construct arguments, gather and organize evidence etc. etc. Could public school interest in teaching sexual politics be due to failure in the normal educational mission?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      true at private schools also?

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      Maybe they just see the evil in Conservativism these days… Occam’s Razor and all…

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Conservatism has an awful time keeping up with the changing world and perspective of young folk.

        Cell Phones and social media not K12 “indoctrination” but that’s conservatives “go to” these days.

  4. Students who attend VT after serving in the USMIL routinely tell me that they keep their professional life experiences to themselves in class because when they do bring them up to add to the classroom discussion or to support their position on a test — the profs disparage them publicly in class or grade them down, stating their experience is wrong.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      well they oughta be fired for doing that, no?

  5. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I remain persuaded most of the problem is the students themselves, with the faculty and administration trembling in terror when the woke rise up to punish those who waver from the catechism. The peer pressure we felt decades ago didn’t have social media brownshirts doing the beatings.

    1. Free speech for everyone!

      Whoa whoa, not protest. Not that kind of free speech. Just the kind that allows our views equity, er I mean freedom!

    2. No question, the Twitter Outrage Mob is a major enforcer. But don’t underestimate the power of administrative action. Not every abuse makes it into the news.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        If not into the news, do any of them make it outside of your imagination?

      2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Somebody hasn’t been on Twitter recently…

      3. “But don’t underestimate the power of administrative action.”

        Indeed. All those experts in “Inclusion and Diversity” have to do something!

        The Office for Inclusion and Diversity Organizational Chart


  6. Greg Long Avatar

    I am a litte surprised you did not mention VMI in this. Did Maj. Gen. Wins sign this? The VMI BOV, at a previous meeting, issued a formal statement supporting “free speech” then in their next meeting weere served a formal warning letter from FIRE and the Student Press Law Center (https://www.baconsrebellion.com/fire-to-vmi-hands-off-the-independent-student-newspaper/) for trying to repress or shut down the 125+ year old student newspaper. VMI’s response? Oh… “none of that is true”.. just lies by a “small group” of disgruntled alumni. They try to “negotiate” free speech with students for privileges (like simply being able to miss breakfast formation after working late on their paper or leaving post to sell advertising, do interviews, etc.) by saying theey will be granted if cadets “sever all ties” with alumni and some groups to come under the commandant’s staff. The VMI BOV refuses to allow alumni with a opposing views even 30 minutes to present a counter-argument at BOV meetings. Alumni requested the October 24th Special Executive BOV session be live-streamed and recorded – this was denied. But sudenly the Washington Post publishes an article claiming White Alumni are racist for opposing the Black Superintendent. VMI does not challene it and the story includes a link to a recording a member of the VMI staff made and VMI “discovered” just in time to provide to the Washington Post for the story.

    Where are the public statements those with opposing views made at BOV meetings? They are NOT posted with the minutes. They are only available “in hard copy” in the physical BOV archives within some office at VMI. IF you even know to aske for them.

    It is ironic that those condemning alumni and others now challenging this repressive atmosphere at VMI for Cadets, alumni and faculty are the same ones who condemned the former VMI administration for repressing free speech. If it was wrong then (and it was) it is wrong NOW. VMI is just an example.

    .. ok… time for all the “haters” to jump in and throw wild, unfounded accusations to discredit this (and me)… after all.. I have a right to freely express my opinion, based on facts, so long as it is ONLY to myself or in support of their agenda.

    1. Why do you say that those with opposing viewpoints aren’t welcome at BOV meetings? In the last streamed BOV meeting the founder of the new Cadet newspaper and a vocal former VMI board member went on tirades about their opposition to what’s going on at the school. I think the case for viewpoint suppression is weak.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Where is the evidence to back up the following broad assertions:?

    1. “[F]aculty and staff of Virginia’s universities are lopsidedly left-of-center and they are getting less intellectually diverse, not more.”

    2. “Ideological filters such as DEI statements weed out scholars not committed to a “woke” position on the greatest social controversies of our day.” (Are there any examples of conservative, or any who identify with the Republican party, candidates for academic positions being “weeded out” by a Virginia institution of higher education in favor of a less-qualifed candidate who was considered more progressive?)

    Other questions:

    1. Which presidents have punished student and faculty for “violating the woke orthodoxy?

    2. Here is the crux of your position: “I’ll believe the presidents are genuinely committed to free speech and intellectual diversity when they scrap their diversity statements.” How does “scrapping” diversity statements ensure “intellectual diversity”?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      oh…. Bacon and Sherlock are gonna lecture you again….

    2. Where is the evidence to back up the following broad assertions:? “[F]aculty and staff of Virginia’s universities are lopsidedly left-of-center and they are getting less intellectually diverse, not more.”

      C’mon, man, do you really want to dispute this?

      Do you want to pretend that faculties are evenly balanced ideologically? How lopsided do the political contributions get before you’ll admit that faculties are overwhelming left of center? 100%?

      Even faculty members don’t dispute this!

      Are there any examples of conservative, or any who identify with the Republican party, candidates for academic positions being “weeded out” by a Virginia institution of higher education in favor of a less-qualified candidate who was considered more progressive?

      C’mon, man, do you want to pretend that diversity statements don’t stack the deck against conservatives?

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        JAB… focus on the key words here “getting less intellectually diverse…” which means you have evidence of a trend. Please post such evidence. You did not say they are simply not “… evenly balanced intellectually…” Certainly a graduate from such an esteemed institution (at least back in the day, eh?) understands that you are being intellectually dishonest here… right…?

        Along the same lines, what evidence do you have of Conservatives bring “weeded out”. Again, your response to Dick was dishonest.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          It’s very frustrating when one is convinced that “deep state’ liberals are infesting institutions… They can’t just win elections, they then have to go find and remove the liberals … root and branch…

    3. Paul Sweet Avatar

      Which presidents have punished staff or faculty for suppressing or discouraging free speech and debate by students?

      “Diversity” is too often limited to race or gender issues, rather than different skills or experiences that students can contribute.

    4. PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 7, 2022 — “The largest survey on student free expression ever conducted adds 45,000 student voices to the national conversation about free speech on college campuses — and finds that many are afraid to speak out on their campus. Many others want to silence the voices of those who don’t share their viewpoints, creating campus echo chambers. ”

      “63% of students fear reputational damage if they speak their minds”

      “Majorities say campus speakers with non-liberal viewpoints should not be allowed on campus”


  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Oh, the author has a first name, it’s J-A-M-E-S.
    The author has a second name, it’s B-A-C-O-N.
    I love to read him every day,
    And if you ask me why, I’ll say
    ‘Cause James Bacon has a way of bashing on ol’ Yoo-Vee-Eh…

    Dishing out the baloney too.

    Look, down on the field!
    It’s a mascot!
    It’s a man!
    It’s an eagle!
    It’s a mangle??!
    Oh, t’Hell with it! Go Tribe!

  9. There is a basic syntax problem. We tend to confuse things with what we call them (See Stanford prohibited words list). For progress to be made against the woke, syntax needs to change.

    Currently the woke mantra of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is abbreviated as DEI also Latin for godly. There will be no progress until that is changed, for who will aspire to be against god?

    A simple rearrangement of the acronym to DIE for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity if socialized makes change possible, few will embrace death.

    Similarly, it is not woke, it is woke racism. Kendi et al are racists. Make what they are called match what they do. They are not wonderfully awakened, they are reviled as woke racists every bit as disgusting as the Klan.

    Accept the language and framing of your opponent and you have lost the argument.

    Change the language to change the frame of the debate.

  10. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “I’ll believe the presidents are genuinely committed to free speech and intellectual diversity when they scrap their diversity statements…”

    Was this directly extracted from your Irony101 class back in the day, JAB…?? Conservative Wokism on display…

  11. Things have not changed very much. I was at UVA in the early 70’s and was expecting a healthy exercise of free expression. But Nooooo! When conservatives had guest speakers the normally anticipated punks showed up to interrupt and disrupt the event.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      so it’s a UVA tradition! 😉

      I strongly suspect if a liberal speaker showed up at Liberty, the same would happen?

      1. Feelings:
        “I strongly suspect if a liberal speaker showed up at Liberty, the same would happen?”


        “While Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, likely picked up few supporters with his speech to thousands of students at Liberty University here, he received a courteous welcome and helped all parties demonstrate their willingness to respect the other side.”


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