Video: Commencement speaker lashes out at “arrogant,” “immature” student body

posted at 10:41 am on May 19, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Call this The Revenge of the Commencement Speakers, even though it comes from one who actually managed to make it to the dais for a college graduation. William G. Bowen lambasted the protestors at Haverford College in his speech to the class of 2014 for their “immature” and “arrogant” demands on a previously-invited speaker who withdrew rather than pick up an honorary degree. Bowen called the atmosphere on Haverford’s campus “sad” and “troubling,” two words that could also describe the intellectual environment at other universities as well:

In a surprising move, a commencement speaker at Haverford College on Sunday used the celebratory occasion to deliver a sharp rebuke to students who had mounted a campaign against another speaker who had been scheduled to appear but withdrew amid the controversy.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton and a nationally respected higher education leader, called the student protestors’ approach both “immature” and “arrogant” and the subsequent withdrawal of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley, a “defeat” for the Quaker college and its ideals.

Bowen’s remarks to an audience of about 2,800 that gave him a standing ovation added a new twist to commencement speaker controversies playing out increasingly on college campuses across the nation. Bowen faced no opposition, but chose to defend a fellow speaker who was targeted, calling the situation “sad” and “troubling.”

A handful of students and faculty protested the invitation to Birgenau because of the police response to Occupy protesters in 2011. The police ended up using force, producing an iconic photograph of a woman getting a face full of pepper spray by riot police as they cracked down on the encampment. What the protesters likely omitted from their outrage this spring is that the Berkeley protest had already turned violent, with two reported sexual assaults and an attempt to attack the police station.

The protesters at Haverford finally offered a deal in which they would allow Birgenau to grovel to them:

They wrote a letter to Birgeneau, urging him to meet nine conditions, including publicly apologizing, supporting reparations for the victims, and writing a letter to Haverford students explaining his position on the events and “what you learned from them.”

Birgenau responded by telling them to pound sand, in so many words, and withdrew rather than deal with their arrogance. Bowen criticized his response, but put it on the Haverfordians:

“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands.’ In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments.” …

“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”

I don’t blame Birgenau for dumping Haverford from his schedule. Why spend your quality time talking to a bunch of self-righteous jackasses who already have demonstrated that they don’t want dialogue but surrender?

The awarding of an honorary degree is still a different issue, though. It’s one thing to defend an unpopular position in an open debate, which should be encouraged. An invitation from a college or university to someone with a heterodox view on an issue does not equate to an endorsement of that point of view. Awarding an honorary degree does carry that kind of implicit endorsement, and is a valid point of criticism when it comes to speaker invitations. Why, though, do universities insist on issuing these meaningless documents to their speakers? It’s an absurdity, especially for those who have already earned advanced degrees in their fields of expertise. Get rid of the phony degrees and maybe we can marginalize the phony elites even further.


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If they are paying the ‘criminal’ tuition money for a college degree, they have a right to demand whoever they like.
Colleges respond to the ones who write the checks. It won’t be changing anytime soon.

weedisgood on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM

…a bunch of self-righteous jackasses…

Yeah, there’s a virtual pandemic of this disease nowadays.

EA_MAN on May 19, 2014 at 10:47 AM

Ha Ha! – Nelson Muntz

22044 on May 19, 2014 at 10:47 AM

Bowen’s remarks to an audience of about 2,800 that gave him a standing ovation…

These students were too busy earning their degrees to mount a counter protest to the gaggle of malcontents. But the malcontents got their way nonetheless.

Cleombrotus on May 19, 2014 at 10:49 AM

Cleombrotus on May 19, 2014 at 10:49 AM

America in microcosm.

Cleombrotus on May 19, 2014 at 10:51 AM

If they are paying the ‘criminal’ tuition money for a college degree, they have a right to demand whoever they like.
Colleges respond to the ones who write the checks. It won’t be changing anytime soon.

weedisgood on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM

You speak as if the loud, shrieking, exceedingly small minority of students and faculty who protested represent the views of every student paying that money.

The standing ovation is an indication that the view of the loud, shrieking, tiny minority was actually NOT the view of the majority of students who are also paying that money.

Good Lt on May 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

What’s the over-under on this guy getting sued from here to next Christmas by the parents of the fragile little snowflake he called out in front the entire class?

CurtZHP on May 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

blink on May 19, 2014 at 10:53 AM

Careful, dude. You’ll, like, harsh his mellow, man.

And don’t bogart the nachos.

CurtZHP on May 19, 2014 at 10:55 AM

So, the long knives are being set aside for Professor Bowen. If a majority applauded him in the moment, they will be useless in sparing him when the campus Jacobins measure his neck size.

catsmeow on May 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Good for Bowen. He showed a bit of courage – this time. As one in his position as an educational elite and leader, he can do more to get ahead of this and speak against the evils and danger to the Constitutional principles upon which this country was founded; the dangers as represented by the PC indoctrination of our ‘leaders’ of the future and the ‘dumbing down’ of students, in general. I fear for our Republic, as did Ben Franklin…

vnvet on May 19, 2014 at 10:58 AM

The future waiters and waitresses (no insult intended to waiters and waitresses), baristas, and in many cases basement dwellers at their parents house, and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of college loans that they cannot pay…

mnjg on May 19, 2014 at 11:01 AM

Kudos to Bowen for putting the protesters in their place.

Commencement speakers are supposed to be mature adults who can relate their own experience to inspire the new graduates to use their knowledge to do good in the working world, and it’s not up to knowitall students to decide who among those with double or triple their age and wisdom is suitable to address them.

If a graduating student doesn’t agree with the point of view of a commencement speaker, just ignore him/her quietly, take your diploma and show us what you can do in the real world.

Steve Z on May 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM

If they are paying the ‘criminal’ tuition money for a college degree, they have a right to demand whoever they like.
Colleges respond to the ones who write the checks. It won’t be changing anytime soon.

weedisgood on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM

Liberals control the college sector and hence you liberals have to ask them why they are so “greedy”…

mnjg on May 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM

At least the Haverford College Class of 2014 now has heard that commissar is not an entry-level job. That’s more than most people learn from a commencement address.

Mr. D on May 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Why, though, do universities insist on issuing these meaningless documents to their speakers?

For the same reason that the speakers accept these meaningless documents. Because academia has morphed into one big, meaningless joke. Expensive but meaningless.

The way Philly allowed the Occupoopers to illegally camp out at City Hall for months should have earned both the poopers and much of the city government housing in city jails. It was insane. Meanwhile, if someone tried to set up a little cart on the streets of Philly – selling decent food, but without the required permits – they’d be shut down in no time and fined to high heaven. but the Poopers were allowed to take over the center of the city and make it a hell for normal people. They should have all been pepper sprayed until they were drowning in it and hauled off to jail.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on May 19, 2014 at 11:15 AM

weedisgood on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Liberals control the college sector and hence you liberals have to ask them why they are so “greedy”…
mnjg on May 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM

They NEVER connect the dots.

Cleombrotus on May 19, 2014 at 11:17 AM

What’s the over-under on this guy getting sued from here to next Christmas by the parents of the fragile little snowflake he called out in front the entire class?

CurtZHP on May 19, 2014 at 10:54 AM

I hope he used a “trigger warning” before he started his speech.

Walter L. Newton on May 19, 2014 at 11:18 AM

Impudent young pups. But in America as it is, will they ever grow up?

NOMOBO on May 19, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Bowen wasn’t brave here. He mildly chastised them for chasing Birgenau away but only because they were kinda rude in how they did it. He pretty much said that he, too, was down for the struggle with them but to keep it classy from here on out, okay?

trapeze on May 19, 2014 at 11:19 AM

As I watch what is going on at universities throughout the country, I’m absolutely convinced we are screwed as a nation. Liberal academia has one the battle. Maybe when liberal is too far to the right (you read correctly) will they realize their folly.

COgirl on May 19, 2014 at 11:20 AM

That was won not one.

COgirl on May 19, 2014 at 11:20 AM

If they are paying the ‘criminal’ tuition money for a college degree, they have a right to demand whoever they like.

Colleges respond to the ones who write the checks. It won’t be changing anytime soon.

weedisgood on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM

I suspect that parents, not the students, are paying in the overwhelming number of cases. Who do you think is co-signing all those loan documents? The Obama tooth fairy? The problem is that colleges have parents over a barrel. Parents have no idea what’s occurring on college campuses today. They graduated 20 to 30 years ago when campuses were somewhat sane. They started careers, got married, raised kids, worried about those matters, and didn’t pay attention to colleges. All the while, they held the belief that, as with them, a college education was the ticket to the American dream.

In the past 20 years or so, liberals on campuses have been able to pull off an incredible scam. Maybe it was apparent before then, but I have to say that I couldn’t tell you what ideology the profs who taught me intro to Western Civilization courses, political science courses, and three upper-level American history courses had. But they didn’t strike me as anti-Western, anti-American crackpots.

BuckeyeSam on May 19, 2014 at 11:23 AM

Why spend your quality time talking to a bunch of self-righteous jackasses who already have demonstrated that they don’t want dialogue but surrender?

Indeed. The nine(!) conditions almost read like a parody…they may as well have said if you grovel before us on bended knee, only then can YOU have the honor of our presence.

Utterly ridiculous, but practice for for when these libs will go out and do the same thing with bigger targets that don’t hold the same views they do.

changer1701 on May 19, 2014 at 11:24 AM

Why spend your quality time talking to a bunch of self-righteous jackasses who already have demonstrated that they don’t want dialogue but surrender?

Best summary of this type situation I’ve seen. Bravo!

Ricard on May 19, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Let’s nit forget that Birgenau blamed the Giffords shooting on the same Arizona political atmosphere that produced anti-illegal-immigration laws. So maybe there’s common cause to be had here, or at least irony to be savored.

calbear on May 19, 2014 at 11:41 AM

“Bowen wasn’t brave here. He mildly chastised them for chasing Birgenau away but only because they were kinda rude in how they did it. He pretty much said that he, too, was down for the struggle with them but to keep it classy from here on out, okay?”

trapeze on May 19, 2014 at 11:19 AM

It’s amazing how two people can hear/read the same speech, yet come away with completely opposite interpretations. But I guess you were there, right, so you were privy to all the subtleties and dog whistles which signalled Bowen’s lack of “bravery”? He seemed pretty straightforward to me– but I wasn’t there, so what do I know? Odd, though, that the audience gave him a standing O– just keeping it classy, I guess.

ricoliv on May 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM

Haverford is so far Left of Berkeley(I grew up down the street), it had to cross the Pacific, the Eastern Hemisphere, and the Atlantic to find a place.

formwiz on May 19, 2014 at 11:52 AM

I see the concern about “triggers” as relating to the feminization of our culture. Teasing and bullying is more a problem for middle-school girls and homosexual boys than it is for boys. A synonym for “trigger” is “hurt feelings”. Sometimes words hurt. So, we need to monitor our words, and self-censor, and if we don’t self-censor, then someone else will censor us.

LashRambo on May 19, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Time for all of us to stand up to the bullies. And we know who they are.

Enough already. They have shown their true colors and we are not impressed, not a smidgen.

Lee Jan on May 19, 2014 at 12:06 PM

…ha Ha!

KOOLAID2 on May 19, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Liberalism is a mental disorder. How many more examples do we need?

Ta111 on May 19, 2014 at 12:44 PM

Good choice, this generation does not deserve speakers like Birgenau. A new generation will come along and replace this one. One that respects and seeks out learned speakers. To their chagrin they will see, after the fact, how they were duped by their professors.

jake49 on May 19, 2014 at 12:45 PM

there is a reason Mao utilized young students in the cultural revolution witch hunts and purges. Young people have passion looking for an outlet. Thoughtfullness and thinking of the future is beyond them. they live for the moment and the instant gratification of “something meaningful”. with the perspective of time and experience things look different to normal people. If you are a lib this means you never grow up.

warmairfan on May 19, 2014 at 12:50 PM

This one is a loss for the leftists.

Next.

Meremortal on May 19, 2014 at 12:51 PM

I don’t blame Birgenau for dumping Haverford from his schedule. Why spend your quality time talking to a bunch of self-righteous jackasses who already have demonstrated that they don’t want dialogue but surrender?

Because they weren’t the majority. The problem isn’t the protesters, it’s the speakers who back down so easily under pressure from a bunch of whining children. If you’re in that position, don’t let them have their way. If the university is so worried about backlash, force them to disinvite you.

Caiwyn on May 19, 2014 at 12:56 PM

I kind of think Birgenau should’ve told them to f*ck off *AND* still shown up to give the address.

Like the Mozilla guy and an increasing number of spineless people that knuckle under when bullied, people have to stop bowing out, and *make* the companies/universities take the action of letting them go.

When you let the bully win without a fight, we’re just going to get more of it. Stop letting the companies/universities off the hook by removing yourselves from the equation.

Midas on May 19, 2014 at 1:32 PM

It would be fitting if the arrogant liberal narcissists (but I repeat myself) who protest these speeches be publicly humiliated.

John the Libertarian on May 19, 2014 at 1:35 PM

Why, though, do universities insist on issuing these meaningless documents to their speakers?

The answer is; money. Money through donations from the new honoree and that persons associations as well as adding to the list of degreed “alumni” when asking for donations. It’s all about the money. Follow the money!

earlgrey on May 19, 2014 at 3:35 PM

Awarding an honorary degree does carry that kind of implicit endorsement, and is a valid point of criticism when it comes to speaker invitations.

I’ll take the “only 75% uberliberal”, thank you very much.

WryTrvllr on May 19, 2014 at 4:22 PM

What do you do when someone with a liberal arts degree is on your porch?

Pay em for the pizza.

faol on May 19, 2014 at 4:42 PM

In my (limited) experience, the only reason a guy I worked with got an honorary doctorate was because we “donated” $5,000 to the school. This was back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and to a small-ish university. I don’t know if that’s the case in all circumstances.

chelie on May 19, 2014 at 5:22 PM

I have a wonderfully ornate piece of paper, signed by the then governor, making me a “Kentucky Colonel”. It’s worth about as much as an honorary degree from Harvard. I agree, let’s ditch the paper, and let the debate flow.

tngmv on May 19, 2014 at 7:15 PM