Commencement Activism

Commencement Activism May 19, 2014

Mary Beth Marklein:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education calls it “disinvitation season” – the annual spring standoff between college commencement speakers and the graduating seniors (and others) who will be in the audience.

Former U.S. secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won’t be speaking at Rutgers University Sunday. Students and faculty objected to her role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde won’t be appearing at Smith College’s commencement exercises Sunday. An online petition at the women’s college had called for her ouster, saying she represents a “corrupt system” that oppresses and abuses women in developing countries.

Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor at the University of California-Berkeley, says he won’t apologize for his decision in 2011 to allow campus police to use force against participants in the Occupy movement. Nor will he speak at commencement exercises Sunday at Haverford College.

Technically, the speakers were not “disinvited;” each withdrew as protests grew louder. But the outcome is the same, says Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which monitors campus free-speech policies.

“It’s about this idea that students are expecting only to hear from people who share their viewpoints,” he says. “They want to drive off campus anyone they disagree with.”

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