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University of Virginia Pushes Back Against Free Speech Abridgment

Sarah Chaffee

free speech

We’ve often highlighted that intelligent design proponents face discrimination in academia. So it is encouraging to see an authority at a prominent university push back against abridgments on free speech.

Recently, Jewish groups at the University of Virginia sponsored an event called “Building Bridges” which included a panel discussion with some Israeli military reservists. Other students disrupted the event and prevented it from continuing; the police were eventually called.

The Dean of Students wrote the following, as reported by Inside Higher Ed:

“Last night in Clark Hall, a meeting of Jewish students and a rabbi, properly reserved and wholly peaceful, was disrupted,” he wrote. “I am told the scene in the room felt threatening to many students in attendance.” He added that “with rare exception, there is danger in assuming one’s chosen side of an issue is free of fallibility or otherwise not open to question. We can only learn from each other if space exists to exchange ideas freely and without disruption from those with whom we may disagree. Indeed, having watched the video from last night, it appears clear the Jewish students and their rabbi extended an offer to engage in dialogue with the protesters disrupting their meeting, but that overture was rejected. This was a lost opportunity.”

In a guest column in The Virginian Pilot, Michael Poliakoff, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, an organization that is pro-academic freedom, commended the Dean but called for further action on the part of the school.

Poliakoff notes:

In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote of the university he had founded: “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left to combat it.”

Fast forward to Feb. 22, 2018 [the date of the Building Bridges event]. The spotlight is on the University of Virginia to see if it will honor its founder’s vision in the wake of a grave offense against campus freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech.

UVA, as one of America’s top public universities, can help set the trend for free speech. One hopes it will show itself true to the vision of its founder. And perhaps this wave of support for open dialogue will extend to intelligent design.

Photo: Statue of Thomas Jefferson, University of Virginia, by Troy (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.