Phi Beta Cons

The Commencement-Speaker Litmus Test

Every year about this time we begin our fun annual tradition of CCSCs — Conservative Commencement Speaker Controversies!!!

The first I’ve heard of this year is reported by Swarthmore College student Danielle Charette:

After weeks of intense and sometimes personal attacks on Robert Zoellick and his political reputation by Swarthmore College students, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. trade representative announced he will decline the college’s invitation to give one of its commencement addresses.

Zoellick, who earned his bachelor’s degree with academic honors from Swarthmore in 1975, said in an email to the college’s president that returning to his alma mater for this June’s graduation ceremony – in which he was also slated to receive an honorary degree – was more controversial than it was worth.

Students in recent weeks have called him an architect of the Iraq War, claimed he characterizes Arabs as evil, criticized his stance on free trade, and even called him a war criminal.

Moreover, there were rumors that students would disrupt Zoellick’s graduation speech. Administrators also did little to quell student unrest over his scheduled appearance, nor did they dispute malicious accusations made against his record.

It was all too much for Zoellick.

“I don’t want to disrupt what should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends,” Zoellick stated. “Nor do I have an interest in participating in an unnecessarily controversial event.”

Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp cited students’ protests over Zoellick’s slated appearance as the reason for his cancellation.

“Administrators did little to quell student unrest”? You don’’t say.

Just look at Zoellick’s radical right-wing résumé: World Bank president and former U.S. trade representative — sounds like a really offensive nut case. I can see why students were so upset.

Apparently, there’s nothing more unacceptable for open-minded liberal grads who have just finished four years honing their critical thinking skills to have to listen to someone say something they disagree with on their graduation day.

What a shock it will be for those students when they graduate and step outside the bubble of elite academic group-think and are faced perhaps for the first time in their lives with an intelligent opposing argument.

Looks like ideological dissent has been effectively banished from the campus grounds.


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