Virginia Universities Battling Free Speech

Three universities in Virginia associated with our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, James Madison University, and George Mason University, are embroiled in free speech battles over what faculty, students, and employees can or cannot say.

University of Virginia

Last week, UVa faculty released a letter to President Sullivan wherein they requested that she stop quoting Thomas Jefferson in mass emails to faculty, students, and employees.

For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey (here.)

Ostensibly, the rationale had something to do with the idea that Jefferson owned slaves when he wrote that “All men are created equal,” and that Jefferson’s writings do not convey a message of “diversity and inclusion.”

What’s going on here?  This is a case of the left eating its own.  The University of Virginia is a far left globalist institution.  Some faculty are upset that President Sullivan is not far left enough, and that she still pays lip service to those who revere Jefferson.

Here is the reality.  In an address to gathered alumni in June 2016, President Sullivan laid bare a globalist agenda for the university.  Here are some of the phrases from her address:

...“global outreach important for UVA” / “global century of connected nations” / “global labor market” / “we prepare UVA students for global citizenship” / “we recently launched a new major in Global Studies” / “global development” / “global public health” / “created a new Global Careers Taskforce” / “globally-oriented education”  / “problems are global, their solutions must be global” / “this is not global citizenship as an abstract concept; this is global citizenship in action” / “global Academical Village” / “The UVA family is a truly global family.” (The transcript is available from the alumni association.)

That is the plan for UVa, and it’s not far left enough.  What does this mean?  It means that it’s not likely that you will ever see UVa found a new American Program of Anything.

It means that the UVa administration does not believe that America’s radical political system, founded on the idea the state is subordinate to the individual, is any different from all the world’s other political systems, where the individual is subordinate to the state.

University of Virginia

Early in October, Douglas Muir, an adjunct lecturer for UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, replied to another individual’s Facebook post by saying:

Black lives matter is the biggest rasist [sic] organization since the clan. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!!

As a result, he “agreed to take leave” (here and here,)  the restaurant that he owns was boycotted by the Vice Mayor of Charlottesville (here,) and he wasn’t reinstated until he apologized (here.) During the controversy, UVa Provost Tom Katsouleas said that the university:

…stands firmly against racism and social injustice of any kind. … This position in no way squelches academic freedom, which welcomes dissent and encourages the voices of others whose perspectives may differ from ours” (here.)

In fact, the university’s position exactly “squelches academic freedom.”  It’s quite clear that Muir was fired, pending an apology, and that his dissenting voice was disallowed, and that if Muir had refused to apologize he never would have returned to UVa.

Can Muir sue UVa for a violation of his First Amendment rights?

If Muir were to bring a First Amendment case against the university, it might hinge on the court’s perception of whether or not his speech represented true or false statements.  In Pickering v Board of Education, the court wrote that:

In sum, we hold that, in a case such as this, absent proof of false statements knowingly or recklessly made by him, a teacher’s exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment (here.)

It’s painfully obvious that Black Lives Matter is a racist organization.  The entirety of its mission is centered on righting grievances that mainly can be claimed by black people, or “people of color.”  Black Lives Matter is also a dangerous anti-government movement involved in stoking protests, riots, and the spread of its Marxist ideology (here, here, here, and here.)

Based on an abundance of facts, the court would have to agree that Muir’s statement was substantially true, and logically would have to conclude that UVa violated his rights.

Muir’s case is an ideological repeat of the UVa rape hoax.  When Rolling Stone magazine published its story of an alleged rape at a UVa fraternity, President Sullivan fully supported the rape culture myth. The same administration is now supporting the myth that Black Lives Matter is a courageous social justice group, and is suppressing free speech based on its support for a movement that is actually violent and dangerous.

George Mason University

A mirror image to the Muir case was reported in early November, when it was shown that GMU Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Andrew Bunting commented on Facebook about people who agree with the National Organization of Marriage (NOM):

If you agree with them then that is your opinion. Just know that to the rest of us, you are a piece of worthless trash (here.)

As of now, Bunting has not been disciplined by GMU, despite his attack on millions of Americans who believe in the sanctity of marriage.

In comparing the UVa and GMU Facebook incidents, it’s clear that academics who use Facebook privately to express political opinions will be given a pass as long as their opinions comport with leftist politics.  Academics whose opinions don’t comport with leftist politics will be disciplined or threatened with termination.

In addition to attacking NOM supporters, Bunting also has openly supported collecting sexual orientation information on admissions applications (here.)  Can “affirmative action” for sexual politics be far behind?

Politics by Facebook has become a leftist wedge to divide academia, and the tactic is working. At the University of Rochester, a program director in the Department of Computer Science was forced to apologize and resign his directorship for a Facebook joke about students protesting against Trump (here.)

Warning to academics: don’t use Facebook to joke about or disagree with leftists – you will be sent to the gulag.

University of Virginia

Late on election night Nov. 8, students allege that UVa  police officers yelled “Make America Great Again” into the speaker system of their squad car, and thus taunted a group of students who were unhappy about the election results (here and here.)  Several police officers have been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.

On Friday Nov. 11, during a Board of Visitors meeting, students protested outside the Rotunda. According to news reports, some students demanded that the police officers be fired, while others demanded that the university police force be defunded.

Students chanted “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

It’s hard to fathom how the MAGA theme equates to racist police, though the mind of a liberal snowflake is admittedly an unfathomable place.  As a political matter, the phrase “Make America Great Again” is so innocuous as to beg credulity as an actionable complaint.  Do we really want to fire people over the MAGA phrase or litigate someone’s hurt feelings about an election?

As a counterfactual exercise, imagine that eight years ago, on the night that Barrack Obama was elected, that university police officers in their squad car had yelled “Hope and Change” at a group of students.

In that case, can anyone in their wildest imagination conceive of a student protest and calls to fire the police?  No, it’s not imaginable because, as we all know, liberal slogans never hurt anyone.

It’s always assumed that only slogans from the left’s opponents hurt people.   And when conservatives lose, it’s just expected that they will knuckle under, man up, and go on with life.

When leftists lose, the delicate snowflakes expect mommy and daddy to step in and administer retribution.

James Madison University

At the beginning of October, the administration at JMU gave student leaders a list of 35 things they should avoid saying during new student orientation (here.) For illustrative purposes, consider just one example.

I don’t see difference. We are all part of the same race, the human race.

As reported in The College Fix (here,) a representative of the JMU administration later attempted to spin the list as just an exercise:

James Madison University’s director of communications Bill Wyatt told The College Fix via email that “this was just an exercise, prior to orientation, to get our volunteers to understand how language affects others. The list was not distributed to our first-year students nor were the volunteers instructed not to use the phrases.”

While the administration’s ham-handed attempt to censor student leaders was an obvious attempt at suppressing free speech, no one’s actual speech appears to have been suppressed.  Nevertheless, taxpayers are paying state employees to sit around and cook up these batty schemes, and that’s an abuse of the public trust.

This is a case where students should rise up and protest against an administration that holds their First Amendment rights in contempt, and students should demand that there be consequences for conspiring to experiment against their rights.

In summary, the common thread to these speech controversies in Virginia is the suppression, threat of suppression, or demand for suppression, by leftists, of speech that leftists do not like.  For those of us who believe that Donald Trump was elected to drain the swamp in Washington, we must do our own part to drain the swamp of leftist ideology from our public universities.  Write, speak, petition, and, as the leftists say, fight on.

James G. Robertson is a University of Virginia alumnus.

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