More commencement speakers pull out due to political incorrectness

First Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation to speak at the Brandeis commencement was withdrawn, and now there are more, for Political Correctness season is upon us. Certainly universities have the right to choose their speakers, but it’s bad form to choose someone and then rescind their invitation, or to cave in to student pressures that make speakers withdraw.

According to a piece in the May 14 Wall Street Journal, this business is getting out of hand. Indented quotes from the WSJ (my emphasis) document two more cases of speakers being policed.

1.  On Monday, Smith announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund. And what might the problem be with Madame Lagarde, considered one of the world’s most accomplished women? An online petition signed by some 480 offended Smithies said the IMF is associated with “imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.” With unmistakable French irony, Ms. Lagarde withdrew “to preserve the celebratory spirit” of Smith’s commencement.

2. On Tuesday, Haverford College’s graduating intellectuals forced commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau to withdraw. Get this: Mr. Birgeneau is the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, the big bang of political correctness. It gets better.

Berkeley’s Mr. Birgeneau is famous as an ardent defender of minority students, the LGBT community and undocumented illegal immigrants. What could possibly be wrong with this guy speaking at Haverford??? Haverfordians were upset that in 2011 the Berkeley police used “force” against Occupy protesters in Sproul Plaza. They said Mr. Birgeneau could speak at Haverford if he agreed to nine conditions, including his support for reparations for the victims of Berkeley’s violence.

What the hell?

3. And, as we know from several weeks ago, Condaleeza Rice withdrew from speaking at Rutgers after student protests

The WSJ is, of course, a conservative organ, and goes on to decry the “loopiness” of the left wing and the ostracism of conservative professors, as well the tendency of universities to allow “the nuttiest professors to dumb down courses and even whole disciplines into tendentious gibberish.” That’s an exaggeration, but still, it’s disturbing that we see the left attacking, in effect, freedom of speech. If you don’t like Condaleeza Rice (and I sure don’t), that doesn’t mean you should mount such a protest against her that she has to withdraw. Are all speakers to be vetted for signs of cryptic conservatism? Are students that loath to hear views that might disagree with them?

I’m no conservative, but these Commencement Police frighten me, and paint students as self-entitled, fragile beings who can’t countenance dissent—unless it’s their own. At my own commencement at William and Mary in 1971, we had an undistinguished state legislator as speaker—and this after many of us wanted a more leftist person.  But we didn’t shout him down, or pressure the university to withdraw his invitation. Instead, we organized a “counter commencement,” held at a different time and place, and our class invited and paid for Charles Evers, the older brother of slain civil rights worker Medgar Evers.

On one point the Journal has it right:

No one could possibly count the compromises of intellectual honesty made on American campuses to reach this point. It is fantastic that the liberal former head of Berkeley should have to sign a Maoist self-criticism to be able to speak at Haverford. Meet America’s Red Guards.

Indeed. The remedy for speech you don’t like and have rational arguments against, is this: more speech—counter speech.






  1. Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Overall I agree with you, but in the instance of Condoleezza Rice it’s worth considering the viewpoint of Siva Vaidhyanathan, expressed on an Esquire blog (, that it’s not Rice’s conservatism that was at issue but her role in deceiving the country into “an illegal and unjustified war”.

    Vaidhyanathan adds (with my interpolation): “Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean [also a conservative] will speak instead. He’s about the most boring person in American public life. But he is honorable and worthy.”

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I just see someone getting on their moralistic high horse as an excuse to impede free speech. If they really think this person is some kind of war criminal, then that person giving a Commencement speech is the least of their problems. The campaign should be to get them tried and incarcerated.

      I mean jeez, it’s not like Commencement Speakers are really being given medals for outstanding altruism according to some official list of criteria. I agree with Jerry; these protesters are relying on the “I’m offended and it’s your fault for exercising your right to free speech” card, and it’s bad enough when religious zealots play that dirty trick.

      • JBlilie
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink


      • Greg Esres
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        This is not a free speech issue. Failing to give someone a platform to spread their ideas is not censorship.

        • Jeff J
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink


          Lagarde, Birgeneau and Rice are still free to say whatever they please. They are not short of platforms.

        • JBlilie
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          Read Jerry’s post more carefully. He’s not objecting to anyone failing to receive an invitation. He’s objecting to supposed institutions of higher learning being bullied into withdrawing invitations for reasons of PC.

          Graduating university students can’t take listening to a contrary opinion (or even someone who happens to hold contrary opinions, even if they aren’t expressing them at the time)? Really?

          Sounds like the university failed to educate them.

          • Filippo
            Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            “Sounds like the university failed to educate them.”

            I reasonably gather that you are not saying that in jest. Do correct me if I’m wrong.

            Starting in kindergarten, teachers (the vast majority female and mothers) strive mightily to inculcate character values, including courtesy/good manners. Of course there are influences on students outside school.

            More than a few adults can’t discipline themselves to rest their voices while listening to someone speak, including at least one representative who couldn’t resist ululating (“no doubt American Exceptionalism at its finest) during and disrupting Obama’s State of the Union address. Is this because they were never diligently instructed by teachers and parents to do better, or because (as Hitch reflected) humanity is half a chromosome away from chimpanzees (and putatively devoid of free will)?

            I gather that those university students, so predisposed, over the last couple of decades have become more juvenile and possessed of an even greater sense of entitlement. So, perhaps universities necessarily are the last of society’s defenses against hubris, even though bad habits acquired over 18-20 years are very hard to break.

          • Timothy Hughbanks
            Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

            I suspect that Condi’s political views have changed little since she served in the Bush administration, and if she had been removed as a speaker before she committed the crimes she committed while in office, you would have a valid point. It isn’t her views that were being protested against, it is her record.

            If Condi were fairly tried for what she did, and she were found not guilty or found guilty and she served a sentence commensurate with her crimes, then having her as a speaker would be dandy.

          • Scote
            Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

            “Read Jerry’s post more carefully. He’s not objecting to anyone failing to receive an invitation. He’s objecting to supposed institutions of higher learning being bullied into withdrawing invitations for reasons of PC.”

            Indeed, yet fixing a wrong is the right thing to do if it is really a wrong, as in Jerry’s campaign to get wrong-headed, one-sided Christianity out of college science classes. Just because they were in doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been withdrawn or changed.

            I’m largely of the same mind as Jerry on the PC nature of the withdraws, yet Condi Rice was instrumental in starting and maintaining the Iraq war, which has cost tens of thousands of lives directly, and hundreds of thousands indirectly – all started on false premises. Of all the people a university could invite is there really no-one more qualified to speak at a commencement?

            Why the heck do universities even need famous commencement speakers?

            • Filippo
              Posted May 24, 2014 at 4:14 am | Permalink

              University commencement speakers should occasionally pro bono offer their pearls of wisdom to 5th Graders (certainly no later than 8th grade), telling them what speakers themselves would have liked to have been advised at that age. It would do a lot more good at that younger age, providing youngsters had the wherewithal/predisposition to pay attention to and heed that advice. Not a few don’t, as those laboring in the vineyards of basic education can all too well attest.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Fundamentally, I think, it is the usual youth view of democracy because it is too slow/biased/doesn’t do what ***I*** think should be done/et cetera.

        It takes time to get to grips with real life democracy as opposed to idealized, and it is ironic that the humanities has the worst of it.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Oops. Disclaimer on bias needed here: I have outgrown youth. Maybe.

        • thh1859
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          You’ve nailed it.

      • Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        Not sure who’s on the moralistic high horse here. Are you saying that unless those students also campaigned for putting Rice on trial, they shouldn’t campaign for not giving her the honor (it *is* sort of an honor — let’s admit that — just maybe not the highest one in the world) of speaking at their graduation? I wouldn’t think that the possibility of doing a greater amount of good could ever be a reason for not doing a smaller amount of good, or for criticizing others for doing the smaller amount.

        • reasonshark
          Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

          “Are you saying that unless those students also campaigned for putting Rice on trial, they shouldn’t campaign for not giving her the honor (it *is* sort of an honor — let’s admit that — just maybe not the highest one in the world) of speaking at their graduation?”

          They’re perfectly within their rights to oppose Rice’s crimes, but in the current context it’s clearly just pathetic spite. They don’t accomplish anything other than waving their “thou art not worthy” flags at people they don’t like, and that’s where it goes wrong. So yes, as it stands, because if they believe she’s a criminal, then why are they settling for such inconsequential jabs when they could aim for a trial? It’s cynical.

          I’m saying that, if you hold to the principle of denying somebody an “honour” because you disagree with their views or policies, then what you’re really saying is that it’s OK to snipe at people you don’t agree with. If it were an argument, it would be an ad hominem. That is not only antithetical to the principle of free speech, but completely petty. It doesn’t achieve anything other than cynically displaying your moral credentials: “Look at me, I’m so moral I spurn the morally degrading poison that is Rice!”

          Getting Rice on trial because of her actions is the proper thing to do because the law is supposed to decide what happens to people who did what she did. Yet they act like letting her give a speech at their graduation somehow tarnishes them, as if it meant they tacitly agreed with her policies. It doesn’t. That’s a childish and backwards attitude, and only encourages people to silence opposing views by harassing people they disagree with. Even if that person is effectively a war criminal, that doesn’t make it suddenly right.

          • Barney
            Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

            There was an explicit honor for Dr. Rice involved:

            While Rutgers University stands fully behind the invitation to Dr. Rice to be our commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree, we respect her decision not to participate

            No, it’s not an ‘ad hominem’; the award of an honorary degree and invitation is not about her view on one topic, it’s about her as a whole. It’s not ‘spite’, it’s telling their university authorities they are making lousy picks for people to honor, and to pay money to. That the students have not been able to arrest Rice does not mean they should stop any criticism of her, and accept her receiving money and honors in the name of their institution – on the day that is supposed to be specifically about them.

          • Posted May 24, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            reasonshark, read my comment. I didn’t say it’s OK to snipe at people you don’t agree with. I said it’s OK to try to do a small good — which you might actually accomplish — without trying to do a greater good (which in this case is practically hopeless). In particular, it’s OK to deny someone an honor s/he doesn’t deserve.

            Let me also point out that you have been going out of your way to be unfair to protesters at Rutgers.

            1. In your comments you implied that they protested because they disagreed with Rice’s view, when in fact — read the news Jerry linked to — their objection was based on Rice’s role in the war.

            2. You also suggested that they were motivated by a desire not to acquiesce (or a fear of being seen to be acquiescing) in Rice’s policy, an attitude you were quick (and right) to call “childish”. But your suggestion is entirely baseless — or do you have evidence up your sleeves that you are not showing? Let me just remind you that many reasons for protesting are possible. (What about objecting to someone getting an honor s/he doesn’t deserve?) Don’t read a worse reason into other people unless you have evidence that that *is* their reason.

            • reasonshark
              Posted May 25, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

              gillsj, I apologise for my response. I realize it was, as you rightly pointed out, extremely unfair and uninformed, and if I could, I would delete it and retract my comments. Again, I am sorry. 😦

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Sure, but is that the only thing that defines Rice? She is still a very accomplished woman. Yeah, I know I will probably take heat for this even though I’m a leftie – but I often take heat from the Left.

      One thing that impressed me with her is in reading my book that I mentioned here before by Angus Roxburgh, The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia, he tells of a meeting with several former soviet states and NATO folks. While everyone was mingling, Merkel & Rice walked over to a bunch of these guys and actually hammered out a solution that had taken everyone else months to even think about. These women, were able to get this done in no time, speaking in Russian (neither of their native languages). In my book, I’ve written “women get the job done!”.

      • JBlilie
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I am very favorably impressed by Rice, as a person. Incredibly accomplished. And a wonderful pianist into the bargain.

        I can’t stand her politics though …

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          Me too. I read Madeline Albright’s biography years ago & she talked about how she called her up to ask if she wanted to come work with her in Clinton’s administration. Rice told her she couldn’t because she was a conservative & Albright was shocked. She opined that she couldn’t believe it because they had the same father (Albright’s dad taught Rice).

          • Filippo
            Posted May 24, 2014 at 4:56 am | Permalink

            If I correctly recall reading from a journalist’s magazine article or a quote from a book review), Albright once (mildly? moderately?) chastised Colin Powell with words to the effect that “we have this wonderful military and are not doing anything with it.”

            on the face of it this is a rather cavalier sentiment not much imbued with cautious reflection on the consequences of sending flesh-and-blood human beings in harm’s way. I wonder if she would have put it quite that way had her own daughter been in the military.

            Re: Albright’s “shock” re: Albright’s father’s insufficient influence on Rice, sounds like Dawkins’s Argument from Personal Incredulity.

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        She’s a war criminal. She actively participated in a campaign of deceit to lead the US into an unnecessary and unjustified war that killed tens of thousands. She should be in prison.

        This is not a minor footnote to a laudable career. It defines her.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          She also came extremely close to brokering agreement with Russia, until the neo cons in Bush’s government axed her work.

          I don’t think she is as bad as that despite her politics but perhaps I am more forgiving of political leaders and their poor choices.

          • Posted May 24, 2014 at 2:54 am | Permalink

            iirc you may be in ON

            voting for the red clowns then? 😉

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:36 am | Permalink

              No. I’m one of those people who refuse to pick one party or another and will pick the one that best represents me even though I know that first past the post voting will probably make my vote useless. We get to do this in June then in October for the Feds.

      • Curt Nelson
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        I can’t stand CR’s politics, either, but that is nothing. It’s her playing along with the scheme that produced the Iraq war that I can’t stand.

        Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about marital infidelity; hundreds of thousands are dead and CR is an admired speaker.

        But she does have many fine qualities.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        If tomorrow we should discover that Dick Cheney has been concealing creations in his basement which would establish him as the world’s finest sculptor since Michaelango, he’d still be war criminal and guilty of crimes against humanity. And as far as I’m concerned, that would still define him.

        With regard to reasonshark’s comment, getting Cheney or Rice eliminated as a commencement speaker would be far less important than trying him or her and sending them to a penitentiary, but when you live in an age when prosecuting the aristocracy has been ruled out by the next group in control of the government, you take what you can get.

        If students have exercised their free speech rights, and thereby shamed Rice into not speaking, that’s a win. Calling that “political correctness” doesn’t make sense to me. As far as I’m concerned it is just a smidgeon of “accountability”.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          Still define him, sure but only define him. Surely, he’d be sinister war criminal and talented artist. He’d actually become interesting then.

      • dieter
        Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Condoleezza Rice’s alleged fluency in russian is contentious.

        Even Fox News reported about her clumsy attempt to give an interview in Russian, during which she accidentally announced that she was about to run for president and ended up switching to English:

        (I could not find the original reuters article)

        My guess is that Merkel did the talking.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 24, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          Could be. Her understanding probably exceeds her ability to converse, like it usually does with languages.

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I cannot understand why the so-called Left are now happy to embrace the idea that “this offends me” can only lead to “therefore they must shut up” as if this is going to achieve a damned thing.

    You would think that at very least you would want to know what your opponents think, better still if you can then engage with their ideas and show where and why they are wrong.

    This weird and illiberal trend of trying to silence or shun people for not quite fitting into your approved world view is more the sort of behavior you’d expect to see in a kindergarten. It’s childish, ineffectual and does their side more damage than they could possibly know.

    It is also utterly peculiar behavior from universities. After all, they don’t just employ and teach quasi-leftist, slack-witted offense-seekers, do they?

    I used to consider myself left-wing. But they are far too conservative and paternalistic for my tastes now.

    • sensorrhea
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Every once in a while I am shocked into awareness of this sophomoric party purity fetish.

      Recently this sentiment appeared in my twitter feed from a social justice warrior:

      “The act of giving oneself the title ally is an act of oppression in itself.”

      This is reductio ad absurdum.

  3. Michael Day
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    When I graduated from college in 1991, our commencement speaker said, “you will not remember what I told you today”. That’s the only part of his speech I do remember. Maybe these students will better remember their speakers if the speakers say something that makes them think–or that they actually strongly disagree with.

  4. Jeff J
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I think it’s encouraging that we see the left expressing, in effect, freedom of speech.

    Condoleeza Rice withdraws, but it is the protesters who are the “fragile beings who can’t countenance dissent?”

  5. moarscienceplz
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how these invitations are decided in the first place. Does the university/college administration choose? If so, I think that’s wrong. Commencement is for the benefit of the graduates. The graduating students should choose who is invited to speak. However, once the choice has been approved by the majority, those in disagreement should accept it graciously and not try to protest or otherwise complain.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I think there should be a New Rule: colleges and universities may now only invite the Care Bears to talk at these events.

      • Bob Murray
        Posted May 24, 2014 at 3:52 am | Permalink

        I believe Professor Coldheart is petitioning his students to reject the proposed commencement address by Pink Power Bear.

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    If they don’t like the speakers, wait’ll they have to deal with in-laws, who’ll last a lot longer.

    • merilee
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I was particularly disappointed by the cancellation of Christine Lagarde. You might not like every single thing she’s done in life but what a wonderfully articulate and powerful woman to have speak at Smith. Yes, just wait till these kids have in-laws…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha or bosses! I came across stick figure art today that was all about working in an office. One scene had an employee stick figure offering poisoned coffee to his boss. That is how their bosses will make them feel. We have all suffered through them.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        I read elsewhere today that some students put rat poison in their teacher’s water (bottle, I gather). I speculate that her “offence” was pressing them to do what they ought to do.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Jeez, teachers are going to have to start taking small doses of poison to build up immunity just lie Rasputin!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Jeez, teachers are going to have to start taking small doses of poison to build up immunity just like Rasputin!

          • Filippo
            Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:18 am | Permalink

            Hey, the students surely have a legal defense: the teacher’s water bottle is an “attractive nuisance,” beckoning them to put something into it more consequential than pepper in the nanny’s tea (“Mary Poppins”), and which the teacher and officials should have reasonably known would cause these outstanding scholars to succumb to temptation.

  7. Kiwanda
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    There’s a difference between having a war criminal such as Rice speak at a college, and giving her the honor (and fee) of being a commencement speaker. I’m less familiar with the other examples, though they do sound ridiculous.

    I would hope that Rice could give an uncompensated talk at Rutgers without interruption, but I’d hope that she would receive some protest for her role in torture and illegal wars.

  8. peltonrandy
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I have nothing but contempt for the whole idea of political correctness. Those who hurl this charge are attempting to shame or guilt into silence those whose views they find objectionable. It is a shallow tactic that reveals the lack of commitment of a person to free and open speech and dialogue. I’m with Jerry. The only appropriate response to speech you find objectionable is more speech. We don’t correct bad ideas, nor diminish the influence of bad ideas, by shutting down discussion of them. And that is what charges of political correctness are all about: trying to shut down discussion.

  9. krzysztof1
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I can’t help but think that if Socrates himself were alive today and invited to speak at a commencement, there would be some calling to rescind the invitation.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I think he might’ve preferred that to being forced to drink hemlock.

      • krzysztof1
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        True that. . . .

  10. truthspeaker
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I’m with the students on Rice. She was behind one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history and was an apologist for torture. Inviting her to speak at a commencement would be like inviting Vladimir Putin. Failure and incompetence shouldn’t be rewarded.

    I also agree that the IMF is an imperialist organization, if global loan-sharking qualifies as imperialism.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      So only people who you would personally vote for or agree with politically should be allowed to be invited to speak?

      I mean, would Obama be allowed? Are drone attacks on civilians acceptable?

      You’re insisting that the only people worth hearing are ideologically pure (at least pure to your personal tastes). Do I need to tell you how much like 1984 that sounds like?

      • Peter Moore
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        No, we are saying that the honor of being a commencement speaker shouldn’t be granted to someone who is not worthy of the honor.

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          “No, we are saying that the honor of being a commencement speaker shouldn’t be granted to someone who is not worthy of the honor.”

          I agree, so the question we should be discussing is what to do about it when a dishonorable person is invited. One solution is for the university to provide a comparable forum for a teach-in on the controversy. It is deplorable when a university will pay $35,000 to present a war criminal to its graduating students, suggesting that this is a person worth emulating.

    • JBlilie
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      So what? Muzzle the people you don’t like? Why would you want that? It’s not like a commencement speaker has some big impact on your life.

    • Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      As Hitch said repeatedly… (and I paraphrase) who do you appoint to the task of deciding in advance who is to be heard and who is not to be heard?

      Whoops. Bad example. I was thinking of him as a public figure, a journalist, and an advocate of free speech and the free exchange of ideas, not as a cheerleader for the Iraq war. I think I’ll weed out his titles from my collection and burn them now.

      • JBlilie
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Good one! 🙂

      • Peter Moore
        Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        So instead of letting the students form their own opinion over who deserves an honor of being their commencement speaker, they should rather defer to your or the administration’s judgement on what is important?

        Or are they allowed to form that opinion, but not allowed to express it if it disagrees with yours?

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          This is a rude comment. Please apologize.

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          You talking to me? I thought that comment was directed at truthspeaker, as it would’ve made more sense in that context. I put two and two together when I saw your other comment up above, so I’ll assume it is directed at me.

          The only mention I could find of how the selection process at Rutgers proceeded was from this article

          Rice’s speech had been two years in the making. She was first nominated, through the usual Rutgers process of asking students and faculty for recommendations, in 2012 to speak at the 2013 commencement ceremony.

          I’m not sure if that meant they asked two Young Republican students and a couple faculty members before moving the decision making to the 6-member panel for reviewing nominations… or exactly what. But it appears there wasn’t anything special about this nomination process, except for the fact that Rutgers is (unwisely, IMHO) doling out speaker fees from private donations – probably to get higher profile speakers.

          So my only take on matters is that people should get more involved EARLIER in the process, especially in political matters. And if things don’t go so well, perhaps it’s time to work toward more involvement / transparency of the nomination process if that’s where the problem was, rather than being whiny bitches in the 11th hour leading up to the event.

          It looks like many students and faculty did the right thing by turning this unfortunate series of events into teaching moments — but I wonder if this was as effective as having the commencement speech ITSELF be a teaching moment for the apathetic, like this student quoted in the same article:

          Anna Reyes, 21, said a chemistry professor of hers opposed Rice giving the commencement speech, but it didn’t bother the sophomore. “I didn’t know much about her,” said Reyes. “I had no opinion. It didn’t really affect me. My friends feel the same way.”

          Remember this person was 10 years old when we invaded. Do you think she’ll remember this kerfuffle any better now, or would she have been taken more aback if people in the stands all around her protested the speech itself say, by turning their backs? I’m not positive, but I think the answer would be the latter course of action.

          It’s either that, or you get such non-controversial and eloquent speakers to give these inconsequential speeches; I notice that Puff Daddy gave the speech at Howard. I just checked my alma mater, and it looks like Eric Stough (senior South Park animator) did the trick with such wise words as:

          As Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo would say “Howdy Ho! and he’d go on about how you all look swell and smell “an awful lot like flowers”… …And with all the 20 years experience I’ve had I have to honestly say there’s nothing I can do about Starbucks… …Right over there in a building now torn down, South Park was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone or as you may know them here in Colorado as “Matt Parker and Trey Stone”.

          …and an “enough about me” that segues into more anecdotes about him.

          I happen to love South Park & crass humor generally, but this is kind-of like picking a random lottery winner as your speaker. Maybe as Student Councils dumb down even further, we’ll see the day when commencement addresses are given only by reality TV pseudo-celebs, their speechwriters, and their coaches. The tyranny of the majority.

        • Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          An update: I missed this article where faculty member Janice Fine takes issue with the nomination process, calling it irregular.

          If true, this would undercut my previous argument – and two years with a nominee on a list is a pretty long time — half a typical undergrad’s scholastic career. The most of the affected graduating class would’ve been sophomores at the time of the decision, much more likely to be as apathetic as the sophomore I linked to in the first article.

          When (not if) Sec. of State Hillary Clinton is called upon to give a commencement speech, will the same standards be applied as were to Condi? It seems our present administration has been getting around the sticky issue of renditions by stepping up extra-judicial killings, damn the consequences (and the collateral damage). A career promulgated by Koch money, where the pair (Bill at the helm) set the ball in motion for the global financial collapse… How much guilt by association do we assign, esp. when the specifics are next-to-impossible to uncover?

          Very sticky stuff, with nothing terribly cut and dry. Which is what makes discussions on this site so informative (i.e. we’re not all simply agreeing on a blue sky looking blue).

  11. pktom64
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Maybe Reed college could have looked a bit more into their commencement speaker

    May 20, 2014 – Portland, Oregon. Graduating Reed College students and their parents gave a standing ovation Monday to an announcement by their commencement speaker that the college had decided to divest from fossil fuels.

    But the President and Chair of the Board of Trustees, who were sitting onstage with the speaker, quietly wrung their hands—because the announcement was a hoax, and the board had recently decided exactly the opposite.

    Though I’m glad they didn’t! 🙂

  12. Curt Nelson
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand this point of view – that complaining about a speaker is wrong (political correctness run amok), that instead the speaker’s views should be heard and rebutted.

    When someone like Condoleezza Rice is invited to speak they are being honored. The implied message to the audience, especially a graduating class, is: here’s someone who is exemplary who you should emulate.

    No. This is a bad person. I don’t want them honored and I don’t want them giving advice to graduates. I object!

    How bad does someone have to be before it is appropriate to vigorously speak out against their being lauded with invitations to speak? What about the leader of boko haram? “Sir, thank you for your words on this important day, but I think you failed to adequately justify your kidnapping of school children.” (Note that I avoided using Hitler as an example.)

    • Scote
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      ” The implied message to the audience, especially a graduating class, is: here’s someone who is exemplary who you should emulate. “

      I do think that is the issue, that the role of commencement speaker appears to be an *endorsement* by the university of that person as exemplar, as opposed to the role of a speaker invited to speak.

      This is a challenging subject. I disproved of the disinvitation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but I see valid reasons to do the same to Condi Rice. So, I guess my problem really isn’t with disinvitations being rude but rather that I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali is more honorable than Condi Rice.

    • Posted May 24, 2014 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      I’m confused in this way as well.

      Rice was asked to speak.

      The students spoke.

      Rice backed out because she didn’t like being called a war criminal, for selling invisible pink unicorns WMDs and water-boarding to people like Hitchens.

      As mentioned elsewhere, if Rice hadn’t chicken-hawked out, the turning of backs and walking out would have been nice – as was done recently when our Large Inebriated Mayor rose to speak at City Hall.

      It seems the protest is over what disgusting things Rice has done and said, not what she might say now that millions have suffered for her lies.

      She does not deserve the honour her selection brings. Should bring.

      Mentioning Hilter made me laugh, as this usually will get your argument nullified, no matter how apropos.

      The Godwin Gang is most often brought up by the faithful as an example of an atheist society, as we know. Christians wouldn’t behave that way.

      Except that behaviour has deep Christian roots predating Martin Luther, a great hero of Christianity to many in the Godwin Gang.

      And to many today, despite Luther having written the playbook for the Holocaust with his Seven Step Plan.

      Luther wrote beer drinking songs!

      Which Condi plays on the piano.

      What interesting people.

      • Posted May 24, 2014 at 4:15 am | Permalink

        i forgot, no strike-out for the ‘invisible pink unicorns’

  13. JBlilie
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Bertrand Russell would be appalled:

    The fundamental difference between the liberal and the illiberal outlook is that the former regards all questions as open to discussion and all opinions open to greater or less measure of doubt, while the latter holds in advance that certain opinions are absolutely unquestionable, and that no argument against them must be allowed to be heard.

    — Bertrand Russell, Freedom and the Colleges, 1940

    This PC crap turns his whole point on its head. Wake up people.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      I think actions like these indicate that the schools have failed their students in not teaching them how to hear and respect opinions different that their own. To start, at that age, listening only to opinions with which one agrees, is the worst possible preparation for life in civil society with its diversity of opinion and mores.

  14. Posted May 23, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    There seems to be some confusion about the meaning of free speech in this blog entry and in some of the comments. Students have a right to protest commencement speakers – that is their free speech in action. If Rice or any other speaker decides they don’t want to speak because of the controversy being discussed, that may be lamentable, but it is the speaker’s choice not to speak.

    Universities that rescind speaking invitations because of protests do a disservice to the notion of free speech and the purpose of a university. They should be condemned for not using the controversy as a teaching opportunity.

    It is never right to shout down a speaker and prevent them from speaking (the “heckler’s veto”), but there should be a forum for expressing alternative views. That doesn’t work out well at commencements, so students may be limited to picketing and speaking to the media about their opposition to the speaker. This does, however, preserve their free speech. I have picketed a speaker and then listened to what they had to say. That way, neither party’s free speech was trampled. The creative alternative suggested by Coyne is also an effective way to counter the official speaker, but preventing speech we don’t like diminishes us all.

  15. Greg Esres
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really see this as an issue of suppressing undesirable viewpoints; I see it as an opportunity to gain publicity for a particular point of view, the metaphorical throwing of a pipe bomb. The victims are just collateral damage.

  16. Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Don’t attend, but if you must do not stand to recognize a speaker whose presence you protest. Do not applaud any portion of the person’s speech, even the parts where they mention how great your U is, or how remarkable you are for graduating from good ol’ State.

    Once an invitation to speak at an event is confirmed, refusal to recognize the speaker is the only legitimate form of protest remaining at one’s disposal.

    Done nonviolently — and interfering with a speaker by heckling or jeering is a form of violence — silence maintained during a speaker’s address itself is quite powerful speech.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      ” — and interfering with a speaker by heckling or jeering is a form of violence —

      I think you have just perpetrated violence on the word violence.

      • Posted May 23, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        That hurts. I don’t think it is deserved, either. See 4 & 5 below.

        1. the exercise or an instance of physical force, usually effecting or intended to effect injuries, destruction, etc
        2. powerful, untamed, or devastating force: the violence of the sea
        3. great strength of feeling, as in language, etc; fervour
        4. an unjust, unwarranted, or unlawful display of force, esp such as tends to overawe or intimidate
        5. do violence to
        a. to inflict harm upon; damage or violate: they did violence to the prisoners
        b. to distort or twist the sense or intention of: the reporters did violence to my speech

        • darrelle
          Posted May 23, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          It was not my intent to offend you or denigrate you. I was merely attempting to be somewhat humorous and light hearted while expressing that I think your use of the term violence was a bit hyperbolic. I accept full responsibility for not doing that successfully. In other words, sorry, my bad.

          Let me be more straight forward here. Your listing of the defintions and uses of the word “violence” clearly do not, in my opinion, support your use of the word in your original comment. Hyperbole as a rhetorical tool can certainly be appropriate, again in my opinion, but I think you are being straightforward here, yes? If that is the case then I stand by my claim that your usage of “violence” here is incorrect. The word does not accurately describe the actions you are applying it to.

          Also, attempting to persuade others that actions such as booing a speaker are acts of violence is to degrade the seriousness of truly violent actions, and to slander those you are accusing.

          Please note, I am not accusing you of anything or attempting to be rude or sarcastic. I am “speaking” generally, and just straight forwardly describing my opinion.

  17. ascanius
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    not a commencement speech, but here’s a good way to deal with a deeply offensive speaker.

    in this case, it’s anti-gay hate group leader peter la barbera (aka porno pete) at a community college, foiled in his attempt to further spread his vicious anti-gay fact-free propaganda.

  18. julianhb12
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t agree with all the complaints about disinvitation. It would be one thing to disinvite a speaker on a college campus on almost any other day, because curtailing voices opposes the ideal of having a forum of ideas. Graduation, however, is another story. Graduation speakers are almost always given an honorary degree. There is no forum for questioning them, but rather they are given a pedestal to give advice to new graduates. It makes sense that if a graduation speaker is antithetical to your views or morally objectionable to you, you may find you want to agitate against their being honored in this way, especially if it is the last lecture you will here at college. Kudos to undergraduates (of any stripe) who can get beyond the general malaise and debauchery of college life to make their voices heard!

  19. Diane G.
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink


  20. Leslie
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I disagree with Professor Coyne about Condolezza Rice. A commencement address is not the place for students to hear the “other side”. It’s a celebration of the accomplishment of graduating.

    If the majority of students opposed Ms. Rice’s invitation (and honorary doctorate) then she was right in backing out.

    Freedom of speech is a right in our country. It means the government is not allowed to squelch someone’s speech. Protesting against Rice’s involvement at graduation has absolutely nothing to do with free speech as she is not prevented from speaking anywhere she is wanted.

    I would bet if she was speaking at the school in an educational event, there’d be no issue. That is where listening to the other side has merit.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      If we take up petitions every time someone is offended, no one will talk. I’m sure there is something we can find on just about everyone that groups of various people will find offensive.

      This isn’t about free speech; it is about the perception that one should never be offended.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      “Freedom of speech is a right in our country. It means the government is not allowed to squelch someone’s speech.”

      That is true in theory at least.

      Certainly not true if one is beholden to a private corporate tyranny. I’m reminded of listening to Chomsky online, quoting John Dewey to the effect that Government is the shadow cast by Business. It was John Jay, the president of the constitutional convention, who said words to the effect that those who own the country should run it.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Freedom of speech isn’t just a wuestion for the speaker, but also for the listener. It’s always the other side to someone, on some topic. It isn’t conceivable that everyone in these situations objects to the speaker, or would approve of an alterate selection, unless the person were a non-entity. This is a public event, which means the chance of hearing or seeing something they don’t like. Perhaps they should pay the $25 (that’s what it cost when I graduated), and not attend themselves. It would be a bold statement of dissent. It isn’t obviously fair, though, to deny others the opportunity to hear the speaker. Very few commencements, for instance, have a former Secretary of State, which is in fact an honor, and certainly notable than having an associate professsor from the music department ( as we did).

  21. Aw
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    You’re wrong Jerry. The students aren’t protesting speech. They are protesting conduct or direct support for conduct that hurts a lot of people.

    Regardless of what someone has done their whole life, one bad action tarnishes that person for life. I wouldn’t let a torturer or supporter of police brutality speak to me either without conditions, regardless of their past.

    • Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you mean Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the former chancellor of Berkeley? THOSE torturers and supporters of police brutality?

  22. Matt Bowman
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink


    The replacement commencement speaker for Haverford, was William Bowen, former president of Princeton. In his speech he criticized the students who protested calling them arrogant and immature.

    Haverford College commencement speaker lambastes students

    “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,” said Bowen, who led Princeton from 1972 to 1988 and last year received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama. “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.”

    There is more in the article.

    ~ Matt Bowman

  23. thh1859
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    I own a collection of essays by Professor Wayne C Booth, published in 1970 by University of Chicago Press. The title is Now Don’t Try To Reason With Me.

    Here’s a paragraph from the back cover: ‘At a time when “open mistrust of rational argument is in the air” Wayne C. Booth offers a lucid, refreshing, and sorely needed plea for rational persuasion.’ Plus ça change…

    Interestingly, one of quotations prefacing an assay is by ‘Hillary Rodham, senior honor student, at Wellesley Commencement 1969’.

  24. Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Just on the Rice case, I guess I disagree with Jerry.

    It would be a mistake in many ways to honor a war criminal by giving her a chance to speak at a graduation ceremony. Now there are several ways to undo or mitigate the mistake. And while organizing a walk-out or counter-speech may be a more productive way, it’s not crossing the line for the students simply to say “I don’t like the idea of having Rice speaking, please invite someone else.” They have the right to say so, and saying so is not necessarily a sign that they are refusing to rationally engage other people’s view. Inviting people to speak at your graduation is not the only way to engage their view.

    Sure, it’s rude to dis-invite. But civility carries just so much weight. Sometimes it’s worth being a little rude to prevent something worse.

  25. hank_says
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    The administration Rice was part of was a shameful era in US politics. She enabled and participated in some of the most egregious illegality and brutal imperialism that country’s ever engaged in. It’s gratifying that people of a younger generation realised that and let their school know that they did not want to hear from her on such a significant day – that they did not consider her an aspirational figure, someone to be emulated, someone to be looked up to, someone with an honourable legacy.

    I can understand the “forget her politics and let her speak” point of view, but that’s hard to do. It’s not like her politics are some mere abstract difference of opinion – her politics enabled her to rise to her position in the GOP and the Bush administration; her politics informed her decisions and actions while she was there. Rice’s “politics” had real, measurable and tragic consequences for untold numbers of innocent people – it’s not “PC gone mad!!1” to point this out and object to it, it’s completely justifiable. Also, considering the extreme unlikelihood of Rice (or any of her co-conspirators) ever being held to account in court for their crimes while in office, having students successfully object to you speaking at their event is a miniscule price to pay.

    And I’m afraid I can’t accept this student protest as anything approaching equivalency with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s disinvitation by Brandeis (I don’t know anything about the other people on the list in the OP). Students objecting en masse to the presence of a speaker who participated in a demonstrable breach of international law is not comparable to a college board withdrawing an invitation in response to pressure from a typically thin-skinned Islamic lobby group (also, Brandeis have censored Ali’s film “Honour Diaries” in which she documents Islamic oppressen, on the grounds that it would offend Muslims). Brandeis are far more guilty of censorship and “PC gone mad” than are the student body of Rutgers – it’s their day and they expressed their opinion of a speaker.

    Finally, I would only consider Obama speaking instead (for example) as a minor improvement on Rice. He’s expanded the drone-murders and the illegal domestic surveillance, kept Gitmo open, kept the PATRIOT Act and more or less kept or expanded all of the Bush era’s anti-human policies and it was his government that rewarded the banks responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008 with a $700 billion bailout. He’s no lefty by any means, he’s centrist at best and corporatist all the way through.

    • hank_says
      Posted May 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      I should add that the LA Times piece linked to in the OP also mentions that Obama has himself faced numerous protests regarding his presence at similar events (mostly and surprisingly civilian).

      The Times also reports that, after being announced as a commencement speaker, the infamous Ben Stein faced opposition at the University of Vermont in ’09 due to his well-known evo-denial and statements like his post-Expelled insistence on a Christian TV show that “science leads you to killing people”. I can’t recall anyone objecting to protests against Stein or invoking “political correctness”.

      In both cases, I think their “politics” are far less inspiring of dissent and opposition than their actual public words and actions.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        ‘Ben Stein . . . his well-known evo-denial and statements like his post-Expelled insistence on a Christian TV show that “science leads you to killing people”.’

        As if Law, Economics, Business and Religion are pure as the driven snow in this regard.

        I read here and there economists holding forth on a depth and breadth of topics (like “value-added” theories of teacher [but not student and parent] effectiveness). I gather that by virtue of being an economist (or a corporate CEO) one is qualified and competent to hold forth on most anything. 😉

        • hank_says
          Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          Heh 🙂 Or a famous musician, for that matter.

  26. JimV
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I think the recent posts at LGM “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” answer the “freedom of speech” concerns (a commencement speech is not a debate or a lecture, and not apt to consist of anything but platitudes), point out that in most of the cases cited by the WSJ the speakers withdrew rather than having their invitations rescinded, and suggest that, for example, the students have a right to complain that their tuition money is being used to pay Condi Rice $35K and honor her with a honorary degree which they feel she does not deserve (due to her role as apologist for the GWB administration).

    In no case, according to LGM, did the protesting students plan to disrupt the speech or ceremony with noise or violence. I think their parents should be proud of them. (I wish I had been as knowledgeable of and concerned with world affairs when I was their age.)

  27. Posted May 23, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    The trigger warning shenanigans would be perhaps a better example of the trend. Or the situation in the atheist community three URLs away — the bottom line is correct, though.

    There is a trend to go “meta” on other viewpoints, by declaring them, by shutting them down, by shouting them down, by making people avoid them by labelling them “triggering”, by blocking and banning them, by protesting, by attacking perceived motives or features of the person with a (possible) different view. All kinds of things just that one has not to deal with the content of their speech.

    These are all effective ways to obstruct freedom of speech. The only thing it does, it corks up frustrations over time and it creates insulated ideologies. The counter-argument of course is that someone can express whatever they like everywhere else they want to. This isn’t wrong, but also disingenuous.

    It requires an authoritarian mindset, where not individuals decide what they like or not like to hear, but vocal ingroups decide that for everybody else, and followers absolve themselves from making such decisions. It’s like “curated content” taken to an extreme.

  28. Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    I can kind of see both sides here. On the one hand, one should have enough of a thick skin to stand somebody from the other side of the political aisle speaking publicly. On the other hand, I would also draw the line somewhere and would have problems with my institution providing a forum for war criminals or lunatic hate-mongers. In that sense it is merely a matter of degree because some people draw the same line as I do only in a different spot.

    So with that being said, I will now approach the issue from a different angle:

    (1) What is a commencement speech? At my (German) university, a dean gave a speech when I got my doctorate. That. Was. It. There was nothing when I got my undergraduate degree. I never listened to any other speech during my whole time at uni, unless you count the time Terry Pratchett came to town on a book signing tour. Somehow my student generation turned out alright nonetheless.

    (2) Is it necessary to have commencement speeches by a celebrity? Why should I want to listen to any of those people, regardless of whether I agree with them or not? Don’t they have better things to do with their time? Don’t the students have better things to do?

    Sometimes it is useful to challenge one’s underlying assumptions instead of discussing the details.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      I don’t even remember who spoke at my commencement speech. They were rarely celebrities if some did occasionally speak at them. I think it is more of an American phenomenon to have celebrities.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      ” . . . commencement speeches by a celebrity? Why should I want to listen . . . ? Don’t they have better things to do with their time? Don’t the students have better things to do?”

      I guess celebrity speech-making suddenly becomes a better thing to do, here in The Land of the Fee and the Home of the Craven, when one is offered $35,000 or more to do it.

      Students surely have better things to. (Unless of course they are sufficiently paid to attend their graduation ceremony. Also, a carrot for students is that they are somewhat the celebrities – it’s putatively all about them – at graduations.) If one has been on a full scholarship for four years, seems one has a bit of an ethical duty to attend, a very small price to pay for that full ride.

  29. Posted May 23, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Wait… $35K? Really? That alone is reason enough not to have celebrity graduation speeches!

  30. Posted May 24, 2014 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    That reminds me of something that happened when I was in highschool, 1980, 10th grade I think.

    We got a visit from the then current Minister of Defence. (This guy: He had graduated from my highschool.

    Most of the student body disagreed strongly with the politics of that time. The student representative during his speech gave Minister Apel a pack of eggs, stating that common courtesy would not allow us to throw them, but we didn’t want to deprive him of the value of these eggs.

    The Minister took it with good graces, commenting that he would make himself some scrambled eggs in the evening.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      That was an excellent student approach.

      I gather that they politely, civilly listened and did not boo. Did they give him courtesy applause?

      Gets me to generally thinking, why courtesy-applaud a one-time speaker whose position(s) one opposes? If it’s a government official (a prime minister, president, state governor), some say that the applause is due as a sign of respect for the office, not the specific person. If so, how energetically ought one applaud?

      • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        I was an undergrad at Kansas State U when then-President Nixon was invited to speak in 1970 at a Landon Lecture. Most of the people I mixed with had great antipathy toward his administration, so I (quite naively, as it turned out) expected an unfavorable outcome to result from the President’s bet that Kansas Straight University was a place to show America that college students did too support his administration.

        My part-time campus job prevented me from arriving at the field house before it filled up past SRO capacity. I had planned to sit in stony silence with a group of about fifteen co-conspirators until we rose as one and stalked off somewhere mid-speech, thus showing America what we thought of the guy and maybe even making it on CBS’ televised coverage. But instead I stood outside to listen on loudspeaker with some other long-hair protestors who had been turned away by the Secret Service.

        Crowds are pretty easily manipulated when emotions at events like these run high. The president of the campus Young Republicans was in one of my classes. A couple of days later he explained to members of our American Presidency class how a couple hundred YR’s strategically placed themselves throughout the seating area in order to stand, cheer and applaud at the conclusion of just about every sentence that slimed out of Tricky Dick’s mouth, sure that the majority of the herd inside would go with the flow.

        This satisfied my curiosity about why I could hear all the way from the parking lot outside such deafening approval for such obviously trite, banal, and misleading propagandistic speech.

        This morning I googled this event and learned that the future wife of Steven Ambrose also attended, and she probably had a similar opinion of the President as I.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Daintily. Always applaud daintily.

  31. DrBrydon
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I made this observation above, but would like to repeat it here: This is a freedom of speech issue. There are undoubtedly students at these schools who would like to hear the speakers in question. Freedom of speech applies to the audience as well, and it seems unfair to deny them the opportunity to hear the speakers because of the objections of others. It is the same as removing a book from the library.

    In addition to my comments above, I would like to point out that several commenters have labeled Secretary Rice a war criminal. In the absence of any legal proceding establishing that as a fact, such statements are merely opinion, however strongly felt.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted May 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      That’s right, it is our opinion that Rice is a war criminal. Do you, or anyone, think that any legal proceeding that would support or negate our opinion is even remotely likely?

      How convenient it is for our political class that despite their supposed extreme partisan polarization, they do agree that they can confect phony pretexts for war, torture wth impunity, and use sophisticated technology to rub out even citizens without, as you say, “any legal proceding establishing” the guilt of the people they target.

  32. Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Ali was never invited to speak. Just receive an honorary degree.

  33. Posted May 24, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Condoleeza Rice condoned torture and helped to lead the country into a war where the evidence of weapons of mass destruction turned out to be absent. On the first charge, yes torture is considered a war crime according to international agreements. The unfortunate thing is that the majority of countries in the world ignore this law to varying levels. As other posters have pointed out, Obama still allows drones to annihilate our citizens abroads, sans trial. Advocating water boarding on suspected terrorists is hardly on the same plane. Should we be upset over Rice’s support for this? Absolutely, but we can hardly pretend that America’s foreign policy is stellar on either side of the aisle. I have strong doubts that any type of protest would be held against Obama, or even Hillary Clinton, who also supported the war until she needed to walk her statements back for the 2008 campaign.

    If the war criminal charges against Rice are based on the horrible decision to go to war in Iraq, to allege that something more sinister, or criminal was going on, we need evidence. Did she falsify claims or was the information she had the same information that Congress had available when they supported Iraq by a 72 to 22 margin? There is enough evidence to safely say that she was a key element in the Bush administration’s decisions to act much too quickly and enter into a ill advised war, but this is something that also permeated the ranks of both our parties.

    Politicians are liars; this is not new. The one thing I will say is that I think the students were right to exercise their free speech and it Rutgers defense, they did not withdraw the invitation. If I were Rice, I probably wouldn’t have backed out, as Jerry always says, disagreements in speech should be settled with more speech and open discourse, not by trying to squash opponents. But the students actions here still seem to border on hysteria, If they are this convinced that Rice should be tried as a war criminal, why on earth aren’t they out constantly protesting and raising a ruckus about it?

    I don’t doubt that they do on some level feel strongly about this, but the whole thing fits a disturbing pattern of people being wholly uncomfortable listening to someone with viewpoints that are different. This is not the path to progress.

  34. JimV
    Posted May 25, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Perhaps not all of these cases which are being lumped together are the same, but as I see it, in the Condi Rice case, the students who did not want her as their commencement speaker (as well as any who did) had a right to peacefully make their views known. This right is called “freedom of speech” in the U.S.A..

    Dr. Rice then decided of her own free will (if she has one) to decline the invitation. I don’t know what all of her reasons were, but one must have been that what she was going to say was not worth standing up for.

    • Posted May 25, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Good point. I had some discussions with friends when it happened where I criticized Rice for stepping down. She could have used it as an opportunity to both applaud the students for exercising their rights and at the same time reinforce the idea that there will be many times in life when one will have to not only listen to opposing ideas, but work with people who have opposing ideas.

      Also, not lost in this is the irony of her stepping down and not exercising her speech when it was the same lack of open discourse and transparency that allowed the Bush administration with the near full support of Congress to lead America into that war to begin with.

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