Board of Visitors ‘Unequivocally Endorses’ Statement on Free Expression and Inquiry

Side view of the Rotunda looking towards the left side of the lawn

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors has heartily endorsed a new statement on freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry put forth by a committee representing a broad array of people with widely divergent viewpoints and experiences.

The board unanimously endorsed the new statement Friday afternoon in the Pavilion Room at the Boar’s Head Inn.

The statement, contained in the document detailing the meeting of the full board, opens thusly:

“The University of Virginia unequivocally affirms its commitment to free expression and free inquiry. All views, beliefs, and perspectives deserve to be articulated and heard free from interference. This commitment underpins every part of the University’s mission. Free and open inquiry is the basis for the scientific method and all other modes of investigation that produce, expand, and refine knowledge. It is at the heart of the principles of academic freedom that protect faculty from interference with their research and their views. Likewise, the educational endeavor for students requires freedom to speak, write, inquire, listen, challenge, and learn, including through exposure to a range of ideas and cultivation of the tools of critical thinking and engagement. These tools are vital not only to students’ personal intellectual development but also to their futures as citizen leaders equipped to assess contending arguments and to contribute to societal progress. For all of these reasons, expression of ideas should be given the widest possible latitude.”

The statement is the result of months of intensive work by a committee appointed by UVA President Jim Ryan and Provost Liz Magill in February and intentionally including members with a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. At the time, Ryan said “We are working to give voice to our commitment as an educational institution to the free and open exchange of ideas.”

“I am thrilled with the statement, frankly” Ryan said at the meeting Friday afternoon. “I am confident that it reflects not just general values with respect to free speech and inquiry, but the special character of history of UVA,” he said.

“I’m pleased that it talks not just about history, law and our values, but also our aspirations and our commitment to each other to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners. The statement strongly favors open expression of all viewpoints in every aspect of University life, but especially with regard to our academic mission,” Ryan said.

John Griffin, a member of the board as well as a member of the committee that crafted the statement, said the statement will distinguish UVA.

“I really believe this could be a distinguishing characteristic of the University of Virginia as a place where different viewpoints are listened to or digested, with the ultimate goal of having better decisions and outcomes and beliefs,” Griffin said. “It was an honor to serve on the committee.”

Committee Drew Diverse Voices

Leslie Kendrick, a First Amendment expert and the White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs, was the chair of the committee, which was charged with crafting the statement identifying the role free expression and inquiry play at UVA.

She said the group of faculty, staff, students and alumni “were diverse in their viewpoints, backgrounds, expertise, and roles in the University’s intellectual life.”

Members of the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry include:

  • Kendrick, committee chair and vice dean of UVA’s School of Law and director of the Center for the First Amendment at UVA Law.
  • Mary Kate Cary, practitioner senior fellow at UVA’s Miller Center and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush.
  • Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Commonwealth Professor of English.
  • Dr. Susan Kirk, professor, endocrinologist, associate dean for graduate medical education, and chair-elect of the Faculty Senate.
  • Joel Gardner, former senior managing director at Burnham Securities, and a UVA and UVA School of Law alumnus.
  • Allen Groves, dean of students.
  • John Griffin; Board of Visitors member and founder and president of the Blue Ridge Capital investment firm.
  • Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and community partnerships.
  • Jahan Ramazani, University Professor and Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English.
  • Saonee Sarker, senior associate dean of the McIntire School of Commerce and Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Commerce Professor.
  • Frederick Schauer, David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law.
  • Mazzen Shalaby, Board of Visitors student member.

“The committee and its various members reached out to all faculty and students, held an open listening session, were in touch with leaders of approximately 90 student organizations, liaised with the Faculty Senate, engaged with alumni, and received individual input throughout the process,” Kendrick said.

In its work, she said the committee, “reviewed similar statements from other institutions and, more importantly, brought to bear their own considered views and the input of others regarding the importance of free inquiry to the University’s academic mission.

“The process of crafting the statement involved reflection, listening, deliberation, and ultimately consensus across the entire committee,” Kendrick said. “The committee members’ consideration, effort, generosity, and good faith were a model of the values articulated in their statement.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

Office of University Communications