University Names New Committees on Free Speech and the Historic Landscape at UVA

Outside Rotunda railings as the sun goes down

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications

An important part of University of Virginia’s ongoing commitment to free expression and to fully and honestly explore UVA’s complex history is moving forward this week with the creation of two new committees.

UVA President Jim Ryan and Provost Liz Magill have announced the creation of one committee to articulate the University’s commitment to free expression and free inquiry, and another to examine naming and memorials on Grounds.

“We are working to give voice to our commitment as an educational institution to the free and open exchange of ideas, and to grapple with the complexities of our University’s history and the names that we honor,” Ryan said. “These committees will help us forge a path forward as we continue to address these issues as a community and as a nation.”


Rotunda Logo with the Text UVA




First Amendment expert Leslie Kendrick, White Burkett Miller Professor of Law and Public Affairs and vice dean at UVA’s School of Law, will chair the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. The group will craft a statement that identifies the role that free expression and free inquiry play in UVA’s academic enterprise and how they shape engagement with the ideas of others. The statement will reflect the University’s values, its history and its legal obligations as a public institution.

“Free expression and free inquiry are the lifeblood of universities; these principles underpin this University’s educational missions of producing knowledge, developing citizen leaders, and serving,” Magill said. “In a moment where the country is experiencing heightened conflict, we believe it’s essential to concisely articulate those foundational commitments of University life.”

The members of the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry are:

  • 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 and 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 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.

University Counsel Tim Heaphy will serve as counsel to the committee, whose work will begin soon.

“President Ryan and Provost Magill have assembled a highly accomplished and diverse group of scholars and University representatives to consider these important topics,” Kendrick said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the committee.”

Michael Suarez, English professor and executive director of the Rare Book School, will chair the Naming and Memorials Committee, which is a reconfiguration and reconstitution of a previously existing committee. The group is charged with delineating principles and protocols for naming and, under certain limited circumstances, renaming buildings on Grounds. The committee is also tasked with making recommendations about the status and contextualization of memorials.

In each case, the committee will carefully review and develop recommendations that will then be sent to President Ryan for his review and, if advanced, to the Board of Visitors. 

“Our University, as a public institution of higher education, is not a place stuck in time, but a dynamic community where history is alive and ever-changing,” Suarez said. “We have a responsibility not only to record that history, but also to interpret it for current and future generations, to give it context and meaning. The Naming and Memorials Committee has been entrusted with an extraordinary educational opportunity: to help the University to continue to tell our long and complex story.”

The formation of the committee comes on the heels of the Board of Visitors’ approval in September of five recommendations from UVA’s Racial Equity Task Force regarding changes to UVA’s historic landscape.

The members of the Naming and Memorials Committee are:

  • Michael Suarez, committee chair, executive director of the Rare Book School, Jesuit priest, professor of English and University Professor.
  • Rusty Conner, Board of Visitors member, former rector, and partner in the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.
  • Kevin Gaines, Julian Bond Professor of Civil Rights and Social Justice and professor of history and African American and African studies, and Miller Center senior fellow.
  • Claudrena Harold, chair of the Corcoran Department of History, professor of African American and African studies and history.
  • Jessica Harris, Presidential Fellow, Office of the President.
  • Meredith Jenkins, chief investment officer, Trinity Church Wallstreet, and member of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company’s board of directors.
  • John Jeffries, counselor to President Jim Ryan, and David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law.
  • Mazzen Shalaby, Board of Visitors student member.

The committee’s consultants are:

  • Martin V. Burks III, manager, J.F. Bell Funeral Home;
  • Alexander Gilliam Jr., emeritus University protocol and history officer.
  • Mark Luellen, vice president for advancement.
  • Phyllis Leffler, professor emerita of history.
  • Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and community partnerships.
  • Louis Nelson, vice provost for academic outreach and professor of architectural history.
  • Alice Raucher, architect for the University.
  • Colette Sheehy, senior vice president for operations.
  • Elizabeth Varon, Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History and associate director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History.

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