Quotes of the day

Forget about their students not making it to graduation. Now colleges have to wonder whether their speakers will.

From former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the head of the International Monetary Fund and the ex-chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, the list of commencement speakers backing out following student and faculty protests continues to grow…

“We refer to it as disinvitation season,” said Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who sees the move toward getting — or trying to get — controversial speakers kicked off programs intensifying…

“The students absolutely have the right to protest decisions,” Shibley said, “but given how often this happens, you start to worry that this is going to make it very difficult to ever invite anyone who’s even the slightest bit controversial to speak on a college campus.”


While controversy over commencement speakers has made headlines, it’s not entirely new. Back in 1990, some Wellesley College students protested their school’s decision to invite Barbara Bush to speak at commencement. And, in 1998, Ted Turner backed out of speaking at Macalester College’s graduation after students protested the use of an Indian mascot by the Atlanta Braves.

“I think we are seeing a disturbing trend,” says McCartney of Smith College. “I’ve been describing it as a lack of tolerance for a wide variety of views.”

Lawrence Bacow, the former president of Tufts College, says the uptick in back-outs is worrying. Universities are meant to be environments that promote free speech and open-mindedness, but, he argues, by protesting, students are self-selecting speakers who only reinforce what they believe.

“The role of a speaker — any speaker — who seeks to educate the audience that they’re speaking to is to challenge their beliefs and not necessarily to reinforce them,” Bacow says. “And so if the test for giving a speech on campus or commencement speech is that one has never offended anyone by virtue of anything ever one has done in public life, there are going to be very few people who can give commencement speeches.”


The commencement speaker purity bug has hit Smith College.

The Northampton, Mass., women’s college announced Monday that International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde has withdrawn as the school’s 2014 commencement speaker due to faculty and student protests over the IMF’s policies…

Lagarde is one of the most accomplished and powerful women in the world. She has made history several times — as the first female head of the IMF, the first female finance minister of a G8 nation and the first female chairman of international law firm Baker & McKenzie.


Haverford College on Tuesday joined a growing list of schools to lose commencement speakers to protests from the left, when Robert J. Birgeneau, a former chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, withdrew from this weekend’s event.

Some students and faculty members at Haverford, a liberal arts college near Philadelphia, objected to the invitation to Mr. Birgeneau to speak and receive an honorary degree because, under him, the University of California police used batons to break up an Occupy protest in 2011. He first stated his support for the police, and then a few days later, saying that he was disturbed by videos of the confrontation, ordered an investigation…

Michael Rushmore, a Haverford senior who was one of the authors of an open letter to Mr. Birgeneau, said his critics were not setting an unfairly high standard, though, “I think that’s a fair concern.”


How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card

In the 21 years leading up to 2009, there were 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking because of protests. Yet, in the past five-and-a-half years, there have been 39 cancellations.

Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is persona non grata at Brandeis University for attacking the prophet Mohammed. But Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a misogynistic … sadomasochistic … malevolent bully” and the mob yawns. Bill Maher calls the same God a “psychotic mass murderer” and there are no boycott demands of the high-profile liberals who traffic his HBO show.

The self-serving capriciousness is crazy.


Rice occupied one of the most important offices in the whole country. But you’re right, kids, she probably has nothing interesting to say or any good advice because she was involved in a senseless war.

Colin Powell (also: Iraq) is scheduled to deliver the commencement at High Point University. Sean Combs is going to address the graduating class at Howard University. I am personally offended by both of those people, but you know what? I bet they’ll both have something interesting to say—even if I don’t agree with every item on their CVs.

Millennials have grown up in a world where you are never forced to see, hear or read anything that you haven’t personally selected. 7,000 TV channels, a DVR to skip commercials, millions of websites—we have been able to curate our own little worlds using technology, wherein nothing unpleasant or offensive can creep in. So when we’re forced to sit through a commercial or, heaven forbid, listen to someone talk who isn’t Mary-freakin’-Poppins, we can’t handle it.


Why is such moral preening so common in the university? Why are professors so prone to ostracize those who they disagree with? Especially when it accomplishes nothing whatsoever beyond convincing the protesters of their own moral superiority?

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that when students are repeatedly taught to take precisely these kinds of self-important moral stands, at least some of them listen…

The point is that getting the IMF’s managing director disinvited from a college commencement ceremony brings us not one millimeter closer to either goal. Making that progress would be hard — enormously harder and less instantly gratifying than a passing act of cathartic moral posturing. To be done right, it would require expertise in numerous specialized subject areas and not just the admirable but utterly insufficient desire to make the world a better place.

And that’s what might be the most disheartening thing of all about this year’s commencement protests — how each of them grows out of a longing to simplify the world, to wish away our conflicts and deny the need to get one’s hands dirty. Fighting for the rights of women can be morally messy. The same can be said of serving as America’s leading diplomat. And overseeing the global economy.


Here’s the short explanation: You’re all conservatives now.

Years ago, when the academic left began to ostracize professors identified as “conservative,” university administrators stood aside or were complicit. The academic left adopted a notion espoused back then by a “New Left” German philosopher—who taught at Brandeis, not coincidentally—that many conservative ideas were immoral and deserved to be suppressed. And so they were…

The slow disintegration of the humanities into what is virtually agitprop on many campuses is no secret. Professors of economics and the hard sciences roll their eyes in embarrassment at what has happened to once respectable liberal-arts departments at their institutions. Like some Gresham’s Law for Ph.D.s, the bad professors drove out many good, untenured professors, and that includes smart young liberals. Most conservatives were wiped out long ago…

Still, it’s a tragedy. The loonies are becoming the public face of some once-revered repositories of the humanities. Sic transit whatever.


You are right, of course, that an “invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads,” and that “such a test would seem anathema to our core values of freedom of thought and diversity of opinion.” What I want to suggest is that protesting a commencement speaker is not an endorsement of censorship or in opposition to academic freedom. I have trouble understanding what constitutes a free exchange of ideas when a commencement speech inherently and explicitly does not include space for a response. In this context, protest is the only means of responding, and opposition becomes a vigorous, if unwieldy, expression of the kind of exchange institutions like Smith should prize.

And this protest does not represent an unwillingness to hear differing viewpoints. Lagarde’s prominence ensures that her ideas are in wide circulation. I suspect that most of those who objected to the invitation are familiar with Lagarde’s views—and I suspect that many in the Smith community, and elsewhere, are far less familiar with the views of those who oppose her…

These students exemplify the meaning and value of a Smith education. They understand that they cannot wait for an invitation to speak up. They know, as Frederick Douglass wrote, that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” We should applaud those who face the dais (and sometimes turn their backs to it) as much as we applaud those who speak from it; sometimes we should applaud them more. To speak back to the place you love—to the place that has been your home—requires courage, insight, and intelligence. We should be proud of them.


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