UVA student newspaper criticized for arguing against a campus visit from Mike Pence, 'unjustifiable' speech

“We refuse to condone platforming Pence,” they wrote, arguing that the former vice president’s beliefs threaten “the well-being and safety of students.” The editorial board said the university’s “silence” was “deafening” and shouldn’t be mistaken for neutrality. 

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the National Press Club on November 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pence spoke about the upcoming Supreme Court case involving a controversial Mississippi abortion law that will be heard at the high court on Wednesday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 30: Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the National Press Club on November 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Pence spoke about the upcoming Supreme Court case involving a controversial Mississippi abortion law that will be heard at the high court on Wednesday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Drew Angerer)

Several journalists, political commentators, and more reacted to the editorial board’s piece on Twitter. 

A senior legal affairs reporter for Politico, Josh Gerstein, used a hashtag to say student newspapers force censorship. The piece was first noted by Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf, who said Pence has spoken at several colleges and said there was “zero evidence” of students “being endangered as a result.” 

A Republican pollster, Patrick Ruffini, said it was “idiotic and illiberal.” Mary Katharine Ham, a CNN contributor and senior writer at the Federalist, also took aim at the editorial board’s claims of violence. 

“It does not threaten any lives,” she wrote on Twitter. Others took issue with the editorial board’s argument against what they describe as “unjustifiable” speech. 

“Nobody should listen to Mike Pence, but nobody should stop him from speaking,” Nicholas Sarwark, an Executive Director at the Libertarian Policy Institute, said. 

Pence is expected to speak at the university in April as part of a lecture series sponsored by Young America’s Foundation. 

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A student at the University of Virginia recently wrote in an opinion essay for the New York Times that she, who describes herself as liberal, feels scared to speak her mind on campus. 

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 8: Students walk across The Lawn as in-person classes are underway at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. 

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 8: Students walk across The Lawn as in-person classes are underway at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.  (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“My college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think,” the author wrote in the piece. 

The student paper ran another op-ed Wednesday headlined, “The payoff of rhetorical platforms — and the cost of their denial,” which appeared to counter the editorial board’s piece.

“I am writing in support of him speaking at the University and to dispute the claim that allowing Mike Pence to speak is antithetical to the University’s mission. The University seeks to develop citizen-leaders and to preserve democracy. Not allowing Mike Pence to speak is a departure from these tenets,” the op-ed, from student Sarita Mehta, said. 

Mehta wrote that by “shunning” those with different opinions, people “do not preserve the engagement over differences that is essential to a democratic society.”

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on December 21, 2017.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on December 21, 2017. ( REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool )

The student-paper’s editorial board piece also references the white nationalist rally that occurred in August 2017 at the University of Virginia and said that Pence’s “presence on Grounds signifies a tolerance of rhetoric that has already harmed our community.” 

“Though Pence’s language may not be as overt as the white supremacy expressed during the events of Aug. 11 and 12, we must all be concerned about the message his rhetoric could imply we accept,” the editorial board wrote. 

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