At the New School, some students, faculty, and staff are angry that John McCain will be the commencement speaker. As an excellent article at Inside Higher Ed. recounts, McCain was invited by university president and former Senator Bob Kerrey:
Kerrey said the senator's acceptance "is a big honor for our graduates and their families."
But hundreds of students, staff and faculty members at the institution of about 9,000 students have signed paper and online petitions that seek to revoke the invitation.
Several students and faculty members pointed out that McCain has supported banning gay marriage in Arizona, and that, three days before his visit to the New School, McCain will be speaking at Liberty University, whose founder and chancellor, Rev. Jerry Falwell, has openly expressed his opposition to homosexuality.
"Up until a few months ago, I was happy he was coming," said Anthony Szczurek, a New School freshman. "I think the thing that bothers me the most is him speaking at Jerry Falwell's school." Szczurek said that he thinks it's not appropriate to have a speaker that is hostile to the gay community speak on a day of celebration at an institution with a vibrant gay community.
Harper Keenan, a sophomore, has helped organize the dissent. "In all of our classes we're taught the value of inclusion of all people," he said, "and we're taught to question our leaders."
The University Student Senate wrote a letter to Kerrey saying that the commencement speaker "commands a higher profile than an ordinary lecturer, and may be assumed to have the implicit endorsement of the university community."
McCain, who will receive an honorary degree from the New School, pointed out on the Fox News Network that the New School is a "somewhat liberal institution," and some students and faculty members at the university think that McCain is just using his visit to balance out the Liberty stop and seem more moderate than he is.
"John McCain is a conservative politician who supports South Dakota's ban on abortion, and he's avidly pro-Iraq War," said Gregory Tewksbury, a part time faculty member at the New School. "People feel like [the invitation to McCain] made commencement into a political platform."
Tewksbury added that this isn't a free speech issue, and that he had no problem with Paul Wolfowitz, President Bush's former deputy secretary of defense, having given a speech at the New School in 2003. "There was give a[nd] take," he said, whereas at commencement, "there will be no chance to engage any of his views."
Students at the New School aren't the only ones revolting against politically charged graduation speakers. Hundreds of students and faculty members at Boston College have voiced their opposition to having Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, appear at graduation and receive an honorary degree. . . .
McCain will also be speaking at . . . Columbia University for the undergraduate college's Class Day, the first of two days of graduation ceremonies.
At Columbia, Laura Cordetti, a senior, has organized opposition to McCain. When Cordetti heard McCain would be speaking, she started a Facebook group — "John McCain Does Not Speak For Us" — that quickly started attracting other students. As at the New School, much of the opposition is in light of McCain's stop at Liberty. Inviting someone "who has directly been hurting gay people in a legislative way to come here on a day which is supposed to be about celebrating what we stand for is insulting."
Cordetti, who is graduating, likely won't have champagne for McCain after his talk. She said that she isn't trying to trample on free speech, but that having McCain for graduation is like inviting someone you don't like to your party.
Kerrey said that McCain is "clearly within the mainstream of American political thinking today."
The New School petition, which is short and clearly written is here. It currently has 409 signatures.
The idea of diversity is to listen to people who are saying different things that you might not have thought of or agree with, not just to listen to your friends and people like your friends. As Randy Barnett once said, "People want different voices so long as they are all saying the same thing." Indeed, Columbia's Laura Cordetti thinks "that having McCain for graduation is like inviting someone you don't like to your party"--in other words, having to listen to people with whom one differs is a bad thing.
A similar lack of perspective is suggested in the comments of New School part-time professor Gregory Tewksbury, who "had no problem with Paul Wolfowitz . . . having given a speech at the New School in 2003" because "There was give a[nd] take." Of course, it's generally better in an academic setting to have a give-and-take, but (as Tewksbury notes) that's not realistic at graduation. Unfortunately, if McCain says anything partisan or offensive, Tewksbury will just have to suffer in silence, like many students hearing partisan speeches have had to do at so many graduations.
Note that in an otherwise superb story David Epstein at Inside Higher Ed. writes: "Students at the New School aren't the only ones revolting against politically charged graduation speakers." True — but the implication here is that the reaction is to "politically charged graduation speakers," rather than just to the politicians on the right discussed in the article.
As Bob Kerrey notes, McCain is "clearly within the mainstream of American political thinking today." Indeed, it is likely that, on a range of issues, McCain is closer to the political center than those protesting his speeches. One would expect that universities would be more open to the views of the political mainstream, whether correct or wrong.
I will have more on politics and convention speakers in another post.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Did Ted Sorenson Ghostwrite Profiles in Courage?--
- Political Commencement Addresses.--
- Conservative Commencement Speakers Not Welcome.--