Former university president takes on free speech bullies in commencement address

commencement speech
(AP/The Philadelphia Inquirer Clem Murray)

HAVERFORD, Pa. – A Haverford College commencement speaker received a standing ovation from the audience after he delivered a speech that included sharp rebuke of students and professors who successfully ousted another scheduled speaker from the ceremony due to political disagreements.

Former Princeton President William Bowen said the actions taken by students and professors who protested plans to have Robert Birgeneau speak at Sunday’s commencement were “immature” and “arrogant.”

Birgeneau is the former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley. The protestors were upset that in 2011, Birgeneau had UC Berkeley police use force against students who were protesting college costs as part of the “Occupy” movement, reports.

The Intolerant Leftists at Haverford wanted Birgeneau to – among other things – publicly apologize for his role in the protest crackdown and to support reparations for the “victims,” reports.

Birgeneau refused and withdrew from the ceremony.

Bowen addressed the “sad” and “troubling” episode in his commencement speech:

“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands.’ In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments.”

Bowen even responded to one of the student protestors who had publicly called Birgeneau’s withdrawal “a minor victory.”

“It represents nothing of the kind,” Bowen said. “In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford – no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”

Bowen is obviously out-of-step with the goals of left-wing activist professors who value every form of diversity there is – except diversity of thought and opinion.

These radical academics no doubt saw the students’ protest of Birgeneau as proof that they’ve successfully completed their (self-appointed) job of transforming ignorant and apathetic high school students into loudmouthed members of the Intolerant Left who shut down people with whom they disagree.

The Intolerant Left – which exists at virtually all colleges and universities in one degree or another – has had a very busy spring. As USA Today reports, left-wing student protestors succeeded in getting a number of high-profile commencement speakers with who they disagreed politically to cancel their speeches, including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

“It’s about this idea that students are expecting only to hear from people who share their viewpoints,” Robert Shibley, an official with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told USA Today. “They want to drive off campus anyone they disagree with.”

What’s interesting about the Haverford situation is that Bowen’s smack-down of a speech was greeted with a standing ovation from the audience of 2,800, according to That suggests that the majority of Haverford students and faculty members had no problem with Birgeneau’s selection as a commencement speaker.

But the “silent majority” – as Richard Nixon would have called them – failed to defend Birgeneau from the attacks of the malcontents and activists.

It’s great that Bowen had the courage to stand up against the free speech bullies, but conditions at America’s universities and colleges won’t change until those who value the First Amendment push back against those who seek to subvert it.

Authored by Ben Velderman


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