Joshua Wheeler Named Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

July 26, 2011 — J. Joshua Wheeler, a lecturer at the University of Virginia School of Law and former associate director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, has been named director of the center.

Wheeler succeeded longtime center director Robert M. O'Neil, a former president of U.Va., when O'Neil retired in May. O'Neil founded the center and served as its first director beginning in 1990. He is a U.Va. professor of law emeritus.

A 1992 graduate of the Law School, Wheeler had been the center's associate director since 1999. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a master of arts degree in liberal studies from Hollins College, now Hollins University.

The Thomas Jefferson Center is widely known for its annual Jefferson Muzzle Awards, which it presents on or close to Jefferson's birthday, April 13, to identify publicly individuals and organizations that restrict free speech.

"Unfortunately, some people view free speech as 'free for me, but not for thee.' But if you don't have free speech for everyone, you don't have free speech for anyone," Wheeler said.

This past April 13, the center presented its 21st annual awards. "The political left and the political right are equally amenable to attempting to restrict speech when it suits their political agenda. At the Thomas Jefferson Center, we believe free speech is a non-partisan issue," Wheeler said.

Wheeler began work at the center in 1994 as director of programs and development. He previously worked at the law firm Parker, Milliken, Clark, O’Hara & Samuelian in Los Angeles as an associate from 1992 to 1993.

At the Law School, Wheeler is co-director and instructor for the First Amendment Practice Clinic where law students gain practical experience by working on current First Amendment cases. He also is an adjunct instructor at Piedmont Virginia Community College in American government and politics.

– by Carl Briggs