Congressmen Put University in the Hot Seat Over Its Suspension of Medical Student Questioning 'Microaggressions'

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

A group of congressmen are looking into the University of Virginia (UVA).

In April, I covered the story of Kieran Bhattacharya, a medical student who allegedly got a little too curious.

In October 2018, Kieran attended a UVA panel discussion covering microaggressions.

During a Q&A segment, he asked as follows:

“Thank you for your presentation. I had a few questions, just to clarify your definition of microaggressions. Is it a requirement, to be a victim of microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?”

Presenter and Assistant Dean Beverly Cowell replied that it wasn’t a necessity.

Yet — as Kieran observed — a slide during the program had stipulated that microaggressions do indeed involve people who are marginalized.

A back-and-forth ensued, during which the student expressed doubts over whether a microaggression could be distinguished from an unintentionally rude remark.

Fast-forward to an assistant professor/event organizer filing a “professionalism concern card” with the school:

“This student asked a series of questions that were quite antagonistic toward the panel. He pressed on and stated one faculty member was being contradictory. His level of frustration/anger seemed to escalate until another faculty member defused the situation by calling on another student for questions. I am shocked that a med student would show so little respect toward faculty members. It worries me how he will do on wards.”

In the end, Kieran was told he’d have to be psychologically evaluated before returning to class.

At a hearing, he was labeled “extremely defensive” and told to correct his “aggressive, threatening behavior.”

Eventually, campus police ordered him off school property.

He was suspended for “aggressive and inappropriate interactions in multiple situations.”

Subsequently, he filed a lawsuit.

In response, UVA purportedly made quite the claim: “Offensive student speech does not enjoy First Amendment protection.”

And now, a group of congressmen are bearing down on the medical school’s dean.

As reported by The Washington Free Beacon, Republican Virginia Representatives Bob Good, Ben Cline, and Morgan Griffith — along with UVA alumnus GOP Rep. Chip Roy (Texas) — have requested a meeting with Dean David Wilkes.

Per a letter, they want to talk about Kieran’s “incredibly concerning” punishment — it’s ripe for “examination and discussion.”

As for the med student’s September 2019 suit, on March 31st, a judge allowed the case to go forward.

But University of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy has a different take on the whole situation: Kieran wasn’t suspended over speech rights.

Rather, it was simply an issue of safety.

Via a statement:

[A]s the university’s filing in answer to the plaintiff’s claim in this case makes clear, the student in question was dismissed from the School of Medicine after a series of incidents and repeated instances of erratic behavior that raised security concerns as well as questions about his professionalism and fitness to practice medicine. In response to these incidents, the university took action to protect the safety of other students and our community.

Related to his “behavior,” you can hear Kieran’s tone during the panel discussion here, beginning at 28:44.

As for freedom of speech not covering objectionable expression, the university’s got some support from others in academia.

As I indicated last month, two professors at Tennessee State Tech University recently proclaimed — via posters, no less — “Hate Speech is Not Free Speech.”

Back to Virginia, to hear the congressmen tell it, UVA’s a might far from the ideals embraced by its founder, a fella named President Thomas Jefferson.

Amid the school’s construction, Jefferson was advised by another notable: James Madison.

According to the letter, the group intends to get to the bottom of the case of Kieran Bhattacharya.

We question how the university’s actions toward Mr. Bhattacharya support the ideals that Jefferson and Madison so ardently defended. These actions appear to starkly undermine Jefferson’s vision of this institution. As did the founders, we believe it is imperative that students can freely speak, question, and discuss ideas without fear of reprisal.

Stay tuned.

-ALEX

 

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Find all my RedState work here.

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