The Douglas Muir controversy may have settled down now that the entrepreneurship instructor has abjectedly apologized for a stupid remark about Black Lives Matter on Facebook and will resume teaching at the University of Virginia. But questions about UVa’s commitment to freedom of expression linger. Muir’s comment was a flash in the pan; the worldview of university administrators is deeply entrenched and will govern the institution’s actions going forward.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch asks some pointed questions in an editorial today:
A statement from the Engineering School where Muir lectured said it could not abide “actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission.” This deserves careful parsing.
First: Don’t the school’s values include freedom of thought and expression?
Second: In what way, exactly, did Muir’s post undermine the school’s dedication to diversity? If diversity means, in practice, that harsh criticism of Black Lives Matter will not be allowed, then what other groups are off limits? Perhaps the school should draw up a list.
Third: Does diversity include diversity of viewpoint? If so, then why is Muir’s viewpoint out of bounds? If diversity does not include diversity of viewpoint, then what purpose does diversity serve?
Finally: How does silencing unpopular — and on campus, immensely unpopular — viewpoints like Muir’s advance U.Va.’s educational mission? Colleges already look too much like intellectually gated communities where dissent from prevailing orthodoxies is forbidden. By hanging Muir out to dry for voicing an offensive opinion, U.Va. has just signaled to others who might also might deviate from approved viewpoints that they would be wise to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Students taught in such a stilted atmosphere will be unprepared for the wider world.
Meanwhile, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, affiliated with the University of Virginia Law School, hosted a symposium yesterday addressing free speech in higher education. (Hat tip: Randy Salzman.) Remarkably, none of the speakers addressed the Muir controversy, according to The Daily Progress.
“The entire debate was between center-left influencers bringing up articles by other center-left influencers,” noted attendee Jason Kessler. “I told them, if we’re really going to get to the crux of this thing, then you need to let right-wing and conservative people have a voice in the debate,”