Reaction is beginning to set in against the campus trend of letting angry protesters act to remove commencement speakers they don’t like. In one of the three graduation speeches at Haverford College yesterday, former Princeton President William G. Bowen criticized both Robert Birgeneau for withdrawing as a commencement honoree, and the activist students and professors who pressured Birgeneau to withdraw. Bowen called the student protesters “immature” and “arrogant,” and faulted Birgeneau, a former chancellor at Berkeley, for a heavy-handed response to the protesters. Bowen said Birgeneau had “failed to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors,” Bowen said. “Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”
Reacting to a series of commencement speaker cancellations and withdrawals, the Richmond Times-Dispatch said that colleges are supposed to foster openness and tolerance, but “instead they resemble bastions of intolerance, places with minds closed to ideas beyond their ideological preferences.”
At the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi noted that two powerful women, Condoleeza Rice and Christine Lagarde, withdrew under pressure as commencement speakers this year at Rutgers and Smith “because of opposition from a seriously uptight and holier-than-thou student body.”
At Haverford, protesters had asked Birgeneau to meet nine conditions, including publicly apologizing for calling in campus police to handle an Occupy protest at Berkeley in 2011. One condition was a penitent Birgeneau letter to Haverford students explaining his position on the events and “what you learned from them.” Bowen’s remarks to his Haverford audience of about 2,800 drew a standing ovation.