Striking Back at Commencement Censors

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.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

One thought on “Striking Back at Commencement Censors”

  1. Dear John,

    The state of academia in this regard is deplorable. This year has seen so much hostage taking by these universities and if these universities don’t stamp this out they won’t have any credibility left.

    I would like to see university faculty select a commencement speaker and leave the student body out of the decision. Make these kids listen. Have a cocktail and cracker party afterward where they can ask respectful questions in an atmosphere of open inquiry.

    But i fear these students would cause a ruckus. Throw punch or soda on the speakers they don’t like. Kids are out of control.

    They are indulged and that has been the fruit of permissive parenting from way back when. And permissive schools. They were taught they were all special and no matter the circumstance got awards for things they did not earn. They all got pizza parties and trophies for competitions they did not win but lost. This indulgence has caused them to have not one iota of self control or respect for anyone else.

    They are often snobbish in their attitudes towards those they differ with and vengeful towards those who vigorously oppose their views and defend the opposite. I would venture to say that many of them harbor violent tendencies that they can barely keep below the surface. They will act out one day. That is to be sure. In fact they are acting out right now on campuses in all manner of drunken disorderly and rape. Maybe that is how they get it out?

    Fake outrage over someone else’s views has become commonplace on college campuses as they become ever increasing fortresses of youthful rebellion and social justice crusaders. Where as the crusaders of old actually had to defend themselves physically from marauding Islam armies these kids have none of those pressures for life or limb. They simply have to be sober enough to make the grade and graduate. Perhaps it is a mental disorder that they think they are fighting some kind of deadly force on their campus? Do they truly believe that Halo 5 or World of Warcraft suffices for actual combat?

    This fantasy world they live in causes them to not be able to differentiate between actual battle and fictional battle played out on computer screens. When they take to talking to another person they disagree with they resort to a World of Warcraft sword in their minds and use jargon that “slays” their opponent.

    They are “fighting injustice everywhere” and “releasing those unjustly imprisoned” and “standing up for the lowly who have been trounced by their over Lords” and “giving to the trolls the sword of death they deserve.” It goes on and on in their rhetoric which comes from these games they play non-stop in their dorm rooms as they either sip beer or cola and eat cheese puffs non stop. Then they cram for class and exams and wonder why they are not Straight “A” students.

    Are the halls of academia to be thus so polluted? I guess so.

    Thanks for the article.


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