A Message from President Ryan

May 4, 2024
Side view looking through the pillars of the Rotunda

Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications

To the University Community, 

This is a tense and trying time for higher education, as the conflict in the Middle East has given rise to turmoil on campuses across the country. This comes at the end of a difficult academic year, one in which many of our own students and their families have been affected by the violence and heartbreaking loss of innocent lives in Israel and in Gaza. 

Beginning Tuesday afternoon of this week, a small group, including members of our community, participated in a peaceful public demonstration near the UVA Chapel.  Until last evening, they complied with requests to adhere to University policies, including a long-standing prohibition on erecting tents absent a permit. We also learned last evening, after the protesters had made a public call for others to join, that individuals unaffiliated with the University – who also presented some safety concerns – had joined them. Despite numerous requests to comply with multiple University policies, the protesters refused.

Early this morning, Chief of Police Tim Longo offered a final warning to the protesters, reminding them once again of their University policy violations and pleading for a peaceful resolution.  That request was ignored. We hoped and tried to handle this locally.  But when UPD’s attempts to resolve the situation were met with physical confrontation and attempted assault, it became necessary to rely on assistance from the Virginia State Police. This afternoon, the police declared an unlawful assembly, issued no trespass orders to those who refused to disperse, and arrested those who continued to refuse dispersal. 

UVA permits – and strongly encourages – speech in a wide variety of venues, facilities, times, and formats. In fact, making space for speech and expression is an essential part of what it means to live and learn at a university like ours.  The UVA Statement on Free Expression and Free Inquiry makes our commitment to expressive activity clear; freedom of speech is not only protected by the Constitution, it is a bedrock University value.  This entire year in particular, we have given wide berth to free expression, including protests, because this is at the heart of what universities do.

That said, public universities like ours rely on time, place, and manner policies, which are a way of ensuring that speech is free but does not interfere with the rights of others.  These policies must be applied consistently without regard to the content of expression, whether the protest is peaceful, or whether we agree or disagree with the cause. The neutral and even-handed enforcement of these rules is the only way to ensure that all members of this community have an equal opportunity to participate in the life of the University.  We also have a duty to ensure the physical safety of our community.   

Unfortunately, a small group today made a choice to willingly break the rules after being given many opportunities to comply, and they then refused to leave the site voluntarily.  I sincerely wish it were otherwise, but this repeated and intentional refusal to comply with reasonable rules intended to secure the safety, operations, and rights of the entire university community left us with no other choice than to uphold the neutral application and enforcement of those rules.  

I recognize and respect that some will disagree with our decisions.  This entire episode was upsetting, frightening, and sad. It was also an aberration.  This semester, we have seen the vast majority of our students, faculty, and staff rise to the occasion and build bridges across religious, ethnic, and political divisions. They have shared meals; engaged in respectful discussion; and listened to experts. They have participated in academic programming; held peaceful protests and rallies; and met with University leaders. I am grateful for those efforts and for the countless students, faculty, and staff who have listened generously and spoken thoughtfully, even in the face of deep disagreement.  That approach is what makes UVA the strong community it is.


Jim Ryan 

Media Contact