We are quick to criticize elected officials and government bodies when they seek to limit the public's access to information, either by operating behind closed doors or concealing documents which should be readily available for the asking. It is similarly important to single out such groups for praise when they make a decision respecting those principles.
That brings us to the University of Virginia, the commonwealth's flagship institution, which smartly walked away from a worrisome aspect of a proposed "statement of expectations" being prepared for its Board of Visitors by a subcommittee of that board.
A draft circulated earlier this month attempted to quash dissent by members, instructing them to avoid speaking publicly on board decisions "whether past, present or imminent" unless granted the approval of the board's leader. Essentially it would require the board to speak with one unified, unquestioning voice.
The intent behind the policy has its roots in the embarrassing 2012 attempt to oust President Teresa A. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan was pressured to resign before public outcry led to her reinstatement in what can charitably be described as a debacle for the university's Board of Visitors and a highly visible black eye for the entire U.Va. community.
Those associated with the university want to protect it from further harm, but an official policy that limits dissent is a ham-handed attempt to do so. The provision has since been removed from the latest draft, posted on the university's website, which reflects a more thoughtful approach.
It is worrisome to think that board members wouldn't want to confront hard questions head-on — especially when posed by their colleagues. Debate about the school, its mission and its future should be encouraged. Such discussion makes for a more focused and successful institution of higher learning.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to celebrate public affairs and instill in students a strong sense of civic duty. As such, the Charlottesville campus should foster, not squelch, the free exchange of ideas at every opportunity.
The school's "no dissent" policy represents the antithesis of those principles, and we are pleased to see it abandoned.
Show your papers, please
When voters head to the polls in November, they will be asked to verify their identity in accordance with Virginia's revised voter ID law, which took effect July 1. It means they will have to show a valid driver's license, passport, college or university ID, another government-issued ID or an employee identification card with a photo on it.
As the bill moved through the General Assembly, voting rights advocates accused the bill's supporters of voter suppression and there are concerns that the ID provision could disenfranchise thousands. Proponents say obtaining a photo ID is easy and free from any local registrar's office. (Contact GotIDVirginia.org or 1-866-687-8683 for more information.)
Now that it is Virginia law, the debate's focus has moved to what constitutes a "valid" ID. Sen. Mark Obenshain, who authored the legislation, contends expired ID should not be accepted at the polls. The State Board of Elections disagreed in June, ruling expired but otherwise valid identification is fine.
Last week, the board modified its position, deciding that licenses or other forms of ID expired within the last 12 months would be accepted. That could set up a showdown with Attorney General Mark Herring, who has questioned the constitutionality of the law and intimated that setting arbitrary time limits on what constitutes a "valid" ID could treat voters unequally.
Ultimately the question is one we have asked repeatedly: Is the law's intent merely to match a voter and a photo to an address and registration? We believe that could be accomplished through the various forms of ID, even expired ones, and worry the board's decision will discourage turnout and participation.
Policies that deter citizen participation, especially at the polls, have no place in Virginia. Even as we urge voters to make sure they have a valid ID for the upcoming election, we continue to question the propriety of the law and this latest effort at its enforcement.