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UVA student government restricts access to recordings after conservatives used footage to criticize legislation

Almost complete silence from student council on the policy

The student government at the University of Virginia recently decided to hide public access to its video recordings after Young America’s Foundation used footage from a meeting to create a video critical of several members.

The foundation had flagged a student government meeting in November during which its members voted to support the creation of a “strike system” for professors accused of making comments deemed “offensive.”

“For the foreseeable future, and out of caution for the safety and well-being of student council members, general body recordings are temporarily unavailable to the public,” the student council wrote on its website in all-caps.

“Recordings will be available internally to Council members on an as-needed basis, and are not to be duplicated, edited, or distributed,” a November 25 news release said.

The decision came after Young America’s Foundation posted video of the November student council meeting during which members debated and passed a resolution supporting the implementation of a “strike system” for professors accused of offensive or “racist” statements.

Spencer Brown, a spokesperson for YAF, pushed back against the concealment of videos and the student council accusations.

YAF will continue to cover the UVA Student Council’s attempts to intimidate conservative representatives and push illiberal policies—things the Council have attempted to conceal but YAF has been able to expose thanks to bold students who use YAF’s Campus Bias Tip Line,” Brown said via email to The College Fix.

He also said the conservative organization is speaking with legal counsel about the issue and disputed the student council’s contention that YAF had deceptively edited the videos.

He said:

The videos YAF published were not deceptively edited in any way. The entire video was made publicly available by the Student Council itself, and members of the Council had shared the video even before YAF covered the situation. What’s more, after the Student Council attempted to hide their most recent meeting, YAF published the public comment portion in full on our YouTube channel, ensuring the transparency that the Student Council promises to provide, but didn’t.

Brown said that no one from student council or the university had reached out to the organization.

A legal expert also told The Fix that the student government meetings must remain transparent.

“With respect to the videos of student government meetings, these meetings are held in public or via publicly-available Zoom meetings. Transparency in government — including student government — benefits the student body and the general public,” Adam Steinbaugh, an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said via email to The Fix.

“That’s true even if it means being criticized in ways you think are unfair or unwelcome. But threats of violence are not criticism and should be swiftly addressed,” he said.

MORE: UVA student government denounces Christian group for views on homosexuality

The press release from UVA referenced threats of violence stemming from the posting of the video by YAF.

Neither the university’s media relations office nor the UVA Student Council responded to multiple email requests for comment. The Fix had asked spokesperson David Martel if the university supported the student council’s video restriction policy and what legal authority allows for removal of public access to the recordings but did not receive a response.

The Fix attempted to get on two separate open office hours hosted on Zoom by the student council on December 10 to ask questions. Ellen Yates, the president of the student council, did not host her office hours and has not responded to multiple emailed requests for comment from The Fix seeking a copy of the November 24 meeting and a question on if a university attorney has reviewed the new video policy.

Abel Liu, the chair of the representative body and a sponsor of the strike system resolution, also did not host his regularly scheduled Zoom office hours.

“I am in the middle of finals season before beginning winter break” Liu said via email to The Fix, explaining his absence from his own office hours. He did not answer any further questions and instead copied in Yates and Darynha Gep, the student council vice president for administration. The Fix had also asked him for a copy of the November 24 video meeting and had questioned him about a legal review of the policy.

The Fix also contacted the student council’s email address for the student relations director twice in the past week but did not receive a response. The student government website said to contact the director with any questions about its new video policy.

MORE: UMass student government flap shows necessity of First Amendment

IMAGE: Markus Gann/Shutterstock

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Rachelle Hernandez is a graduate student in public policy at Liberty University. She holds a bachelors degree in kinesiology. She is a podcaster at Facts, Faith, & Freedom.

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