A couple of weeks back, students at Brown University booed Raymond Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner, off the stage at a campus venue where he had been invited to speak. Such Ivy League inhospitality has a long history. In 1896, when William Jennings Bryan made his first run for president, he was delivering an open-air speech in New Haven, Conn., when a group of Yale students came by to heckle him. Both sides’ rhetoric remained in character during the confrontation: Bryan fired back with some vintage Democratic class warfare, and the Yale men responded with a taunt from Aristophanes, altered for the occasion.
Eventually a loud brass band showed up and Bryan abandoned the speech, but a couple of days later, when leaving the state, he was feeling magnanimous:
Do not criticize the boys too harshly. I am not inclined to criticize them as severely as some others have done. I have been a college boy myself, and I am inclined to attribute their interruptions more to youthful exuberation than to any deliberate intention to interfere with free speech. (Cheers.) I shall always be glad to return to New Haven when circumstances will permit, and I am sure that whatever may be my subject, I will be able to find persons here who are willing to listen, even if they do not agree. (Great applause.)
Later Bryan encountered a similar reception from Cornell University students.
Bryan was a Democrat, of course. In those days the Northeastern WASP elite was solidly Republican, mainly because laborers, Catholics, immigrants, Jews, and Southerners were Democrats. (A thinly attested story holds that when Centre College’s football team went to Boston and shocked mighty Harvard, 6–0, in 1920, the Praying Colonels’ coach, Charlie Moran, ended his pregame speech by exhorting his players to remember that “every one of them Harvard fellows votes the straight Republican ticket!”)
Shouting down anyone who is “not exactly our set, dear” is an old Ivy tradition. Only the composition of the set changes.