We welcomed the statement this morning from Virginia Tech University’s president Timothy Sands saying that the university is inviting Jason Riley to speak on campus. President Sands’s decision to invite Mr. Riley reverses a disinvitation sent to Mr. Riley last week. This is very good news, and it has now been confirmed by telephone to Mr. Riley by the dean of the business school. The dean has also retracted his “open letter” statement claiming that Mr. Riley was never invited in the first place, and promised that he would make a public apology. Mr. Riley has been offered his choice of giving the BB&T lecture, which he was originally invited to present, or to speak in another venue.
Reversals of this sort on the part of a university are extremely rare. This one came about because of the pressure of thousands of people who responded to our original report on the invitation in National Review, the army of bloggers and tweeters who took up the issue, Mr. Riley’s compelling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and his appearance on Fox with Megyn Kelly. Behind all these lay one indispensable piece of evidence: Mr. Riley had saved the e-mail invitation that the authorities at Virginia Tech said did not exist.
Mr. Riley benefited from a degree of media access and support that is seldom available to the casualties of political correctness. His victory is to be celebrated, but we should not forget the many others who get similarly dismissive treatment from colleges and universities but who do not have recourse to mass media.
With this outcome in hand, the numerous and contradictory statements of the Virginia Tech administration over the last few days can be allowed to settle into obscurity. We should not forget, however, what drove the disinvitation. The head of the business school’s Finance Department got the jitters after students protested Charles Murray’s speech on March 25. With the support of some other committee members, the head of the Finance Department called for Mr. Riley to be disinvited and someone else to be invited in his stead.
None of this speaks very well of Virginia Tech. The funders of the BB&T lecture must be wondering whether the university has the fortitude to bring conservative speakers to campus without wallowing in excuses that compromise the spirit of independent exchange. The supporters of the business school must be wondering about the managerial chops of the faculty, who have managed to turn a minor contretemps into a major embarrassment, and who have served up the primary lesson that the mere possibility of a protest by leftist black students is good and sufficient reason to disinvite a black conservative speaker. And the supporters of the university as a whole must be wondering that its president, try as he might to position himself as a champion of free speech, comes across yet again as a temporizer who looked for a loophole to avoid having Mr. Riley speak.
Is all now well at Virginia Tech? It will take some time to gauge whether the Virginia Tech administrators make good decisions only when under the glare of close public scrutiny. We hope they treat these events as a case study in the costs of institutional cowardice.