A new Dark Ages at Virginia Tech

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 13 07:55:23 MST 2003


Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, March 13, 2003

Virginia Tech Bans Speakers With Extreme Views and Relaxes 
Antidiscrimination Clause
By MEGAN ROONEY

The governing board of Virginia Tech voted on Monday to bar advocates of 
extreme political views from speaking on the campus. Under the new 
policy, student groups must seek the president's approval if they wish 
to invite speakers who support or take part in activities that could be 
construed as "domestic violence or terrorism."

At the same meeting, the Board of Visitors voted to change the 
university's antidiscrimination clause so that it no longer prohibits 
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Those decisions were made at the same quarterly meeting on Monday at 
which the governing board effectively ended the use of affirmative 
action in admissions, hiring, and financial aid (The Chronicle, March 12).

"That meeting was an unbelievable step backward," said Edd Sewell, who, 
as president of the Faculty Senate at Virginia Tech, is a nonvoting 
member of the Board of Visitors. "I have been reading a book about 
Germany in the 1930s, and I almost feel like I'm experiencing déjà vu."

Neither the resolution concerning political extremists nor the 
resolution about sexual orientation was listed on the agenda that was 
made available to board members before the meeting.

The resolution concerning political speakers on the campus follows a 
February speech given by a member of Earth First, an environmental group 
that advocates such tactics as preventing logging by sitting in trees or 
chaining oneself to a logging site. According to Lawrence G. Hincker, a 
spokesman for the university, that speech raised the ire of a group of 
professors from the department of forestry. Furthermore, the member of 
the Board of Visitors who introduced the resolution, Mitchell O. Carr, 
is president of the Augusta Lumber Co., based in Waynesboro, Va., and is 
a former director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association.

Mr. Carr did not return telephone calls for comment, and Charles W. 
Steger, the university's president, also was not available.

The resolution reads in part: "Be it resolved, no person, persons, or 
organizations will be allowed to meet on campus or in any facility owned 
or leased by the university, if it can be determined that such persons 
or organizations advocate or have participated in illegal acts of 
domestic violence and terrorism."

While the resolution does not define domestic violence and terrorism, 
the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Web Site includes a spectrum of 
political groups in its description of domestic terrorism, including 
white-supremacy organizations and socialist organizations like the 
Workers' World Party and Carnival Against Capitalism. It also cites the 
Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, two groups whose 
representatives have spoken at Virginia Tech during the past two years.

The university is currently reviewing the resolution with the office of 
the state attorney general to ensure its legality, particularly 
regarding the Constitutional guarantees of free speech, free assembly, 
due process, and equal protection.

In an editorial decrying the resolution, the student newspaper, 
Collegiate Times, describes the measure's language as "irrefutably 
ambiguous," and says it "could be applied to many speakers and 
organizations that have visited Tech's campus in recent years."

The board also removed sexual orientation from the list of factors -- 
including race, sex, and national origin -- that the university will not 
use to discriminate against students, faculty members, and applicants. 
Mr. Hincker said the board made the change to conform Virginia Tech's 
rules with federal and state laws, which do not include gay and lesbian 
people as a protected class of citizens.

On Tuesday, as academic departments met to discuss the pivotal changes 
enacted by the Board of Visitors, one professor described the campus 
mood as "a brewing storm."

"We're still trying to figure out exactly what happened," the professor 
said. "We're sort of astounded."

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