A new Dark Ages at Virginia Tech
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
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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