‘Disinvitation Season’ Begins on College Campuses

A college commencement is a splendid time to celebrate student achievement. But it’s “disinvitation season” again, as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education observes: the time when intolerant students and faculty advocate against their school’s choice of commencement speaker, sometimes causing the speaker to be disinvited.

These power-hungry protesters demonstrate how little they have learned about tolerance in a diverse society where people say and do things that others dislike. And all too often, as at Harvard and at Rutgers, they have learned this intolerance from their own professors.

Is former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg so evil that there is no room for him on Harvard’s Tercentenary Theatre stage? Some students think so, arguing that because they disagree with him on important issues such as “stop-and-frisk,” they feel excluded: “the negative reaction to his selection has, understandably, been intensely personal. … [O]ur lived experiences inform our emotions.”

It would be a shame if Harvard University’s commencement were to pretend that the rest of the real world were all rainbows and unicorns–as though it were students’ last chance to stay within the bubble. It is an even bigger shame that Harvard students have learned intolerance from Harvard professors.

In an almost self-parodying opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson, a student advocated for the end of free inquiry in the name of “academic justice.” Why “put up with research that counters our goals”? She recalled a dark day for free speech–to her, a bright day–when Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences effectively fired one of its own, Subramanian Swamy, in 2011 because of an op-ed he published in India that had zero to do with his Harvard teaching.

It was far from the only example she could have used. Feelings have long trumped rationality in certain areas of Harvard Law School, including the dean’s office. FIRE’s Harvey Silverglate tells story after story of deans and faculty members teaching students that certain ideas–even certain areas of academic study–are simply off the table if they seem too hurtful.

These stories include the 2005 hysteria over Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers, who was severely criticized for exploring ideas about gender in a way that made others uncomfortable. Summers himself thus became the victim of a disinvitation by the University of California in 2007. No matter what good Mr. Summers may have done in and for the world and for Harvard, narrow-minded and anti-intellectual protesters choose to harp on their one or two favorite notes of protest.

Making matters worse, Harvard’s leadership on the world stage emboldens intolerant faculty elsewhere, whether the influence is direct or indirect. At Rutgers University, hundreds of faculty members have been protesting against the university’s decision that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be commencement speaker.

Intolerant teachers like many at Harvard and Rutgers are leading students down a dark path of anti-intellectual injustice. They are producing a generation of intolerant students who welcome the use of a university’s power to shut down and shut out the people and ideas they hate.

Adam Kissel

Adam Kissel is an independent scholar living in Arlington, Virginia.

One thought on “‘Disinvitation Season’ Begins on College Campuses”

  1. Dear Adam,

    Nice article. But you forgot to delve further into these Harvard students who have learned intolerance from their Harvard professors and who have been fed a non-stop diet of “unicorns” and “rainbows” since infancy.

    They are the product of their own families who gave them trophies and pizza parties when they lost their academic wiffle ball tournaments and cried their eyes out. Poor dears. Just get them to Chucky Cheese and tell them they are “all special” and there are “no losers.”

    These kids have been fed this stuff from eons. Then they get to academia and these professors continue to feed their egos with rainbows and unicorns. Telling them everyone is special. Everyone deserves this or that whether they worked for it or not. This way of raising kids and teachings kids from K-12 is simply being extended at Harvard and other fluffy bunny schools of higher education.

    So they didn’t want to hear or debate Bloomberg? What a missed opportunity. I would have paid to go to that commencement speech and paid for the cocktail party and mini ritz appetizers afterward just to get a shot at debating him over the soda fiasco.

    Where are the chops on these kids? Why are they such wimps? Where are the backbones? Oh. They were never developed. They never will be at this stage. You see I am of the opinion that you have to develop backbone in a child from early on through hard work and acceptance of failure. So my kids never got a trophy or pizza for losing. They got the orange slices. And mini juice boxes. That’s it.

    They were taught they had to earn the pizza party and trophy by competing and winning. They had to practice extra hard to beat better teams. They knew that. Academically and otherwise.

    But I guess I just screwed up my kids and was intolerant and harsh as a mother. That is why I have three college graduates and three functioning working children with careers.

    I guess I was just a bad mother. Oh well.

    Cheers. Grandma.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.