Wall Street Journal columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jason Riley was disinvited from a scheduled speech at Virginia Tech due to concerns over his conservative perspective on racial issues.
In his column last week, Riley explained that the invitation he received to give the BB&T Distinguished Lecture at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business was quickly rescinded after concerns emerged that his writings on race in The Wall Street Journal would spark student protests and chaos.
Riley has been been a prolific writer on racial issues in America for over 20 years and has worked with prominent publications like USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. He gives about 15 campus speeches a year. Despite his undeniable notability, Virginia Tech’s Finance Department Chair, Vijay Singal, rescinded the invitation extended to Riley a week before the scheduled speech date.
On May 5, after significant pressure from students, alumni, and the media, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands put out a statement that reinvited Riley to campus which claimed that the rescinding of Riley’s invitation was due to “miscommunication” among faculty members and not because of the journalist’s political persuasions.
The move to disinvite Riley was perhaps a reactionary measure taken in response last year’s BB&T Distinguished Lecturer Charles Murray, who caused such significant chaos on campus that President Tim Sands sent a University-wide email condemning Murray’s work, claiming it to be “largely discredited” and “used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.” Murray, who is widely known for his controversial book The Bell Curve, has been published in several prominent publications including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
According to a database kept by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is headed by “pro-choice liberal” attorney Greg Lukianoff, disinvitation for conservative speakers isn’t uncommon. In fact, they have records for over 300 rescinded invitations just since the year 2000, and claim that campus efforts to reject dissident speakers are at their peak in 2016.
Tension created by opposing ideas on campus is so high that students who organized Riley’s April talk at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moved to clear his name with liberal student groups before choosing to book him. It seems as though administrators have no interest in reminding conservative and libertarian students that pressures from liberal student groups shouldn’t discourage them from inviting speakers who they find significant.
Riley claims that he has experienced very few issues in the past as a speaker, and like most other conservative campus speakers, leaves more than adequate time for questions so that he can interact with curious liberal students: “Students who disagree with my lectures don’t hesitate to speak out during the Q&A. The back-and-forth is spirited but civil, and I have never been shouted down or physically threatened.”