Commencement ceremonies now serve as an exclamation point to the horrible education received by students. Too ignorant to know that they don’t know, graduating activists regard successful attempts to block speakers as triumphs instead of reflections on their failures to learn.
Former University of California-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, a champion of illegal aliens receiving in-state tuition, racial preferences, and gay marriage, is the latest unlikely target of the campus Jacobins. A group of Haverford College students notified him through letter that “we are extremely uncomfortable honoring you” and that his presence at graduation “deeply disturbed” them. His offense? During his chancellorship, police arrested a group of protesters, fulfilling, of course, their ambition.
The know-nothing know-it-alls, which included just sixteen of the several hundred graduating seniors, issued nine abasing demands to the elderly physicist. “If you choose not to confront the issues before you,” they warned, “we will have no other option than to call for the college to withdraw its invitation.”
The lengthy missive elicited a two-sentence response from Birgeneau. “First, I have never and will never respond to lists of demands,” he wrote. “Second, as a long time civil rights activist and firm supporter of non-violence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks.” He followed up the letter by withdrawing from the event.
It’s easy to view Birgeneau as Robespierre at the guillotine. As the chancellor of UC-Berkeley, he oversaw one of the most intolerant, conformist campuses in the United States. Surely the idea occurred to him in 2009 when his students tried to torch his home shortly before midnight and left him and his wife in fear for their lives. Demonizing supporters of the traditional marriage ballot measure Proposition 8, and bizarrely demagoguing the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords as somehow related to Arizona’s desire to control its border with Mexico, Birgeneau politicized his office often.
Monkey see, monkey do. Students at such politicized institutions, confused into thinking education involves the embrace of a series of policy prescriptions and a stance two steps to the left of the Left, treat Birgeneau as disrespectfully as he treated people to the right of him.
Haverford’s heckler’s veto may be comeuppance. That doesn’t make it right.
Birgeneau joins Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous critic of Islamic extremism silenced by Brandeis administrators; former secretary of state Condi Rice, forced to withdraw from the Rutgers commencement after an activist brat-fit; IMF head Christine Legarde, run off the Smith College campus by a 500-name petition before she even arrived; and other muzzled graduation speakers.
Young America’s Foundation, which for nearly a half century has been exposing students to the viewpoints denied to them in the classroom and at commencement, makes a point to chronicle bias in graduation speakers every year. Liberal speakers outnumbered conservatives by nearly four-to-one last year and by seven-to-one the previous commencement season.
“At Young America's Foundation we are seeing the same liberal intolerance toward conservative speakers in 2014 as we have in previous years,” Ron Robinson, the group’s president, explained. “It is shameful that colleges and universities are using commencement addresses as their last and final push for liberal indoctrination of young impressionable minds.”
A difference seems that whereas mere bias satiated the mobs in the past, a demand for purity drives them now. When Berkeley isn’t radical enough, fair-minded people will have had enough of radicalism.
Commencement speakers may be guilty of vapid, clichéd, feel-good send-offs. A more disturbing message comes from their ear-muffed listeners. Affirm our prejudices. Don’t dare challenge us.
The world the sheltered walk into gives no such shelter.