Phi Beta Cons

Questioning the Value of One of Higher Education’s Oldest Traditions

Last year saw several high-profile individuals, such as Condoleezza Rice, George Will, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, disinvited from speaking at graduation ceremonies. Campus constituencies – usually “progressive” student groups and faculty – were offended in one way or another by those individuals’ worldviews and pressed administrators to cancel their speaking invitations. So much for tolerance and the “marketplace of ideas” on campuses. 

In today’s Pope Center feature, Harry Painter discusses this year’s crop of commencement speakers and notes that many are uncontroversial figures, and that schools have largely played it safe, not wanting to upset students or alumni. (One exception was the decision by New Jersey’s Kean University to invite the rapper Common to speak at its commencement. A New Jersey police union complained, saying that in one of his songs, Common defends a former Black Panther convicted of murdering a New Jersey State Trooper. Kean University disinvited the rapper, but he is now set to speak at North Carolina’s Winston-Salem State University, a historically black university.)

Painter questions the value of inviting big-name commencement speakers and whether that long-standing tradition is a benefit to students and taxpayers (after all, he points out, those big names often demand hefty honorariums). Read the full article here

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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