A Breath of Fresh Air at Haverford College, in the Year of the “I am offended so you can’t talk” Suppression of Commencement Speakers

At Haverford College’s May 18th graduation this year, replacement commencement speaker William G. Bowen used the opportunity to lambast those in the student body who successfully protested the originally invited speaker, Robert Birgeneau. Bowen, the former president of Princeton, called the Haverford protesters’ approach “arrogant” and “immature.” His remarks drew a standing ovation.

Among the nearly 300 graduates at Haverford, around 40, or 13% of the class, along with a grand total of 3 professors chose to initiate a protest after the school announced that Robert Birgeneau would be delivering the commencement address. Birgeneau, a former chancellor at UC Berkeley, was at the helm of that school in 2011 when the campus police used force during an Occupy-styled student protest about college costs.

Haverford’s tiny but resolute and unabashedly vocal band of protesters wrote to Birgeneau setting out nine conditions they demanded he meet including that he apologize, and support “reparations” for the students. Birgeneau declined all demands and withdrew as speaker, in a reportedly curt email.

The Haverford episode was paralleled in the dis-inviting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis over this Muslim-raised woman’s statements about how women are treated in Islam, the quasi-forced withdrawal of Condi Rice as speaker at Rutgers over her role in the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq, and Christine Lagarde's withdrawal as the 2014 commencement speaker at Smith due to protests of the IMF.

In each case the speaker withdrew or was disinvited due to the actions of a tiny segment of the school who, as Bowen described it at Haverford, issued an indictment as a “self-chosen jury” that had reached its decision “without hearing counterarguments" from the speaker. And also of course without giving any weight to the views of the rest of the student body, also known as the majority.

The growing viewpoint intolerance on the American Left says not only that “I never have to listen to or tolerate anyone who offends me,” but also “I am entitled to attack and besmirch anyone who holds any views I disagree with.” It extends beyond college campuses, and into a multitude of policy arenas and social issues. Just ask Brandon Eich, or any scientist who dares to challenge the global warming/climate change true believers, even with data and facts.

“Victorious” college students could understandably emerge from such speech-silencing episodes with the wrong-headed notion that disagreements on issues small and large are resolved by brute force or petulant protest, instead of the intelligent exchange of ideas. America needs more William G. Bowen’s to bring a little free-speech sanity back.

 

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