The higher-education disinvitation sweepstakes continue. Virginia Tech has just disinvited Jason Riley, a Wall Street Journal columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow. Riley had been asked to deliver the BB&T Distinguished Lecture at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. But late last week he received an e-mail from the faculty member who arranged the lecture informing him that the head of the Finance Department, the J. Gray Ferguson Professor of Finance, Vijay Singal, had vetoed the invitation. We obtained a copy of this e-mail.
Why? Mr. Riley, who is black, has attracted some negative attention since his publication in 2014 of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed. Professor Singal feared that whatever controversy Riley had attracted so far would be amplified once he set foot on Virginia Tech’s campus. He imagined there would be amplified controversy over Riley’s speech because Virginia Tech is still reverberating from the last BB&T Distinguished Lecture, delivered by Charles Murray on March 25.
It emerged that Dr. Sands actually knew little of Murray’s scholarly work, but relied instead on hearsay from Murray’s distempered critics. Murray answered Sands with a pungent open letter of his own; delivered his scheduled lecture despite some protesters; and left the campus with only one significant casualty — namely President Sands’s reputation.
What makes Jason Riley’s disinvitation notable is how little prompted it.
The head of the finance department had not initially objected to Riley as the next BB&T speaker but later, when he realized that Riley had “written about race issues” in the Wall Street Journal, he decided Riley would have to go. The department head and others in the finance department “worried about more protests from the looney left” and were unmoved by arguments that it was wrong to give in to such intimidation.
For the past six months, cry-bully activists on campuses from Mizzou to Princeton to Dartmouth have bowled over craven administrators who have deferred to their demands and declined to exercise jurisdiction. The Riley disinvitation shows just how low campus authorities are willing to bow to the fancies of their students. Higher education can offer intellectual freedom little more than lip service when it authorizes the heckler’s veto.
— Peter Wood is the president and Rachelle Peterson is the director of research of the National Association of Scholars.