Holding VT Accountable: Virginia Association of Scholars Writes Again

Carey Stronach


2241 Buckner Street

Petersburg, VA 23805-2207

(804) 732-8993

[email protected]

May 5, 2009

Dr. Charles W. Steger

President, Virginia Tech

210 Burruss Hall

Blacksburg, VA 24061

Dear Dr. Steger:

I write to express my disappointment at your decision reflected in your letter with provost McNamee of April 30 to the Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students. In that letter you affirm your commitment to a set of policies that are political in character and that do profound harm to the quality of education at the institution that you serve. 

I wrote to you on April 5 on behalf of the Virginia Association of Scholars—an organization that represents a significant number of faculty members in the Commonwealth and that has played a responsible part in academic debates for nearly a quarter of a century. It surprises me that, so far, we have not received an answer from you. For a moment, it appeared that your answer might consist of actions rather than words. It was reported that on April 14 you had instructed the provost to "rework the guidelines" that included the politicized standard for faculty promotion and tenure. We understood this to mean that you had heard the widespread criticism of the proposed policy and had sensibly intervened to stop it. 

Clearly we were mistaken. Your action on April 15 now appears to have been a tactical pause while your administration decided how to advance the same political goals under cover of more opaque language. But putting the emphasis on obfuscating terms such as "inclusive excellence" doesn’t change the reality. And that reality is that you and your administration are attempting to force a political doctrine on the faculty and students of a public university.

Although the Virginia Association of Scholars has members at Virginia Tech, we do not pretend to know the internal workings of your administration. Recent statements from Dean Sue Ott Rowlands and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Committee, however, suggest an unusual devolution of authority. 

It did raise our curiosity about Dean Ott Rowlands, and following the lead of the National Association of Scholars, we looked at her curriculum vita and inquired about her actions as dean. We were surprised on both scores. It is not clear on what academic basis she holds her current position; and her deanship appears to a fair number of VT faculty members to be almost entirely an issue of political advocacy. 

This is not a personal criticism of the dean, but a statement of facts relevant to the current controversy. We are concerned about the assault on academic freedom and the decline of educational integrity at Virginia Tech. The assault and the decline are, in some substantial part, the work of an administrator who lacks appropriate academic credentials, has no significant accomplishment in any of the fields she oversees as dean, and is best known for her strident advocacy of political causes. To us this is disheartening. 

And we wonder about the role of a university president who is not only complacent in the face of these facts but who has gone out of his way to express his enthusiasm for the same policy goals this dean has enunciated. 

Virginia Tech would better serve the people of Virginia by adhering to the ideals of the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act, and the principles of academic freedom. Individuals should be treated as equal before the law and not divided into groups on the basis of race and other accidental characteristics. Faculty members should be judged on the quality of their scholarship, teaching, and—to a lesser degree—service to the institution. And "service" should mean service, not conformity to a political credo dictated from above. 

For over a century, American faculty members fought hard for the right to be judged by the quality of their work rather than by their degree of conformity to various political standards. It is, apparently, a never-ending battle. As one form of loyalty oath gets chased from the scene, another always arises—and always in the minds of its proponents, it is a wholesome thing. What could be wrong with requiring every faculty member to demonstrate commitment to "diversity?" 

There is plenty wrong with it. But there are two main things. One, as emphasized by Adam Kissel and FIRE, is that forcing faculty members to espouse an idea is the very definition of violating their academic freedom. In that respect, it doesn't matter what the idea is. It is the coercion that is poisonous. And it doesn't become less poisonous by being made covert. Eliminating the word "required" doesn’t eliminate the violation of academic freedom if the coercion continues out of sight.

The other main thing is that the concept of "diversity" and its tag-alongs such as "inclusive excellence" are for many of the advocates using them code words for rejecting rigorous intellectual standards in favor of policies that admit students, appoint faculty members, evaluate academic work, and otherwise conduct the affairs of higher learning on the basis of racial favoritism and the privileging of identity groups. 

Some university administrators understand this and shrug. They tell themselves it is just political reality and that to do any good at all in their jobs they have to accept this reality. We hope that you are not among this number. But that remains to be seen.

On a personal note, as a professional physicist with over forty years experience in the field and over 120 publications, I have long realized that the delivery of quality education to all students requires fairness and objectivity unperturbed by the irrelevancies that are magnified by the "diversity" agenda.

We of the VAS hope that you will rethink your position. We intend to work hard to end the "diversity" agenda at Virginia Tech.  We see how entrenched it is and we understand we face an uphill battle. But we also understand that the advocates of the diversity policy have counted on lack of public awareness of what they are doing. That's the one thing we can change—and will change. Dean Ott Rowlands, Provost McNamee, and you have decided to be public advocates for an extraordinary assault on academic freedom and educational standards in the Commonwealth of Virginia. You have chosen thus far to answer your critics with silence and then with affirmations of your original position. We think the people of Virginia need to know this, and we will work tirelessly to ensure they do. 

Very sincerely yours,

Carey E. Stronach, Ph.D.

President, Virginia Association of Scholars

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