This week college students incensed the Internet by having the audacity to publicly oppose their commencement speakers. The list of spurned speakers includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and the ex-chancellor of the University of California (Berkeley).
At Haverford College students and faculty had questions for a former University of California chancellor about thetreatment of Occupy protesters in the fall of 2011. Haverford was founded in 1833 to ensure an education grounded in Quaker values, and the Quaker influence on campus is still strong. If students there didn’t have any questions about the use of force on peaceful student protesters, they wouldn’t be living up to their mission.
These speakers are not being silenced. They decided to withdraw when it looked like the attention they would be receiving would not be entirely flattering. Rather than have a conversation about it, they fled.
It’s also part of what makes Vox‘s framing of the issue so off base. “When conservatives are back in power … the left will rediscover the importance of protecting unpopular opinions,” Michelle Goldberg, a journalist with The Nation, tells Vox.
It’s an interesting conversation, but it has little to do with the topic of protesting commencement speakers. These speakers are not some poor oppressed minority just trying to offer colleges students a thought-provoking argument or different political outlook. Rather they are some of the most powerful people in the free world who have come to collect laurels and offer up platitudes about success and navigating life after college. They are not taking questions. Commencement lectures are a one-way, often dull street.