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Don’t Want A Torture Facilitator to Get $35K for a Bad Speech? Why Are You A Bigot?

[ 398 ] May 16, 2014 |

The only way I can explain Timothy Egan’s column yesterday is that he was pitching two or three different columns about the commencement speech issue that all the pundits are talking about this week, but they were all rejected and so he had to combine them all. Alas, none of the arguments is persuasive on its own either.

Egan starts out by citing a couple of unrepresentative examples of commencement speeches, by David Foster Wallace and Steve Jobs. Now, admittedly, if either of these gentlemen were to deliver a commencement address this year it would be compelling indeed, but otherwise I’m not sure how it’s relevant. But you can see where this is going:

This year, there’s the remarkable life story of the African-American scholar who grew up in the segregated South and rose to become secretary of state. Didn’t hear that one? Nobody did. Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to give the 248th anniversary commencement address at Rutgers University this coming Sunday. She canceled after a small knot of protesters pressured the university. It’s no contest who showed more class.

Leaving aside the fact that it’s enormously unlikely that any public figure like Rice would give a speech of the slightest interest, there’s a rather obvious problem here. What’s potentially objectionable about Rice isn’t her life story, but…I’ll let Egan explain:

Near as I can tell, the forces of intolerance objected to her role in the Iraq war. O.K. And by shutting her down, the point is … what? That extremism, whether in the climate-denial echo chamber of Republican Party elites or in the fragile zone of college faculty lounges, is the worst enemy of free speech.

[...]

The foreign policy that Rice guided for George W. Bush — two wars on the credit card, making torture a word associated with the United States — was clearly a debacle. Contemporary assessments were not kind, and history will be brutal.

So, Rice played a major role in a war fought on false pretenses that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and 2 trillion dept-financed dollars. Her administration also arbitrarily tortured people. No major figure involved with this has faced the slightest punishment. And not only am I supposed to be upset that she decided not to give a commencement address for a large pile of money after some protest, but I’m supposed to believe that people who protested are comparable to climate troofers? Are you shitting me?

His other two examples, Robert Birgeneau and Christine Lagarde, are better as applied to this narrow point. I don’t particularly care who gives commencement addresses and don’t think there’s any real free speech issue involved. But like Isaac Chotiner, I’m inclined to think that focusing on targets like Birgeneau and especially Lagarde does tend to dilute the impact of protests against, say, war criminals and their enablers.

But rather than making this point, Egan wanders back into non-sequitur land:

But if every speaker has to pass a test for benign mediocrity and politically correct sensitivity, commencement stages will be home to nothing but milquetoasts. You want torture? Try listening to the Stanford speech of 2009, when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy gave an interminable address on the intricacies of international law, under a broiling sun, with almost no mention of the graduates.

Give me a brisk, strong, witty defense of something I disagree with over a tired replay of platitudes. It matters little if the speaker is a convict or a seminarian, a statesman or a comedian.

Look, with very rare exceptions, if you want good speeches, avoid commencement addresses. Kennedy’s speech is very much the rule, not the exception. But more to the point, what possible basis could Egan have for thinking that the likes of Legarde or Birgeneau would deliver an interesting speech? The head of the I.M.F. is going to deliver a brisk, strong, witty speech on a controversial topic? Sure, and the Astros are going to win 120 games this year.

Neither of these points make any sense and the whole is even less than the sum of the weak parts. Protesting Condoleezza Rice being paid $35 grand plus an honorary degree isn’t “bigotry” and it’s not like climate denialism. And nor will it make commencement speeches worse (something that would be nearly impossible anyway.) One transparently silly contrarian provocation plus one non-sequitur does not equal a decent argument.

…phillsy in comments is excellent on this:

But the commencement speakers almost certainly aren’t going to get up there and do that, because, well, it’s a commencement speech. Choosing a commencemnt speaker isn’t about choosing someone with a controversial view so they can offer an intellectual defense of it, it’s about choosing someone to be honored for their accomplishments. The content of the speech isn’t the statement, the person giving it is, and it’s a statement being made by the university administration.

Making objections that the target chosen protest is fine–I don’t see what Legarde herself has done that would merit protesting her–but these purely process-based based objections are ridiculous. They’re another instance of the Charles G. Koch theory of free speech, which says that free speech is the rich and well-connected saying whatever they want, whenever they want, and the rest of us get to sit and listen respectfully.

Comments (398)

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  1. jim, some guy in iowa says:

    maybe the colleges should just set up ouija boards at the podium and see who/what pops up

  2. ns says:

    I think you pretty badly misinterpreted the column. Just a few points.

    I don’t think Egan is arguing that Christine Lagarde would deliver an interesting speech, per se, just that if the only candidates that gave such speeches were those who satisfied all the ideological rigors of the academic left, there would be no interesting commencement speeches, period. I could see many arguments for Job being an inappropriate candidate, certainly if Christine lagarde is.

    Second, I don’t think Egan is arguing for or against any candidate on the merits. What he does note as alarming is that a small, very ideologically rigid segment of the academic community has enjoyed increasing success in pushing out commencement speakers they disagree with. And he’s using his position at the times to disagree with that and publicly pressure college administrators to push back against that trend.

    This seems coherent enough to me.

    Maybe you disagree with both of those points. Maybe you don’t think there’s a coherent ideological left on campus that has pressured college administrators to rescind speaking invitations, or maybe you don’t think its a troubling trend. But to dismiss the column out of hand strikes me as a bit flip.

    • calling all toasters says:

      Here’s the funny part: both you and Egan regard being a captive audience as the height of intellectual openness. Even (or maybe especially) if the speaker has been a malignant presence in public life. You know, public life, where their points of view are already over-reported.

      But, hey, I’m sure plenty of board members want to curry favor with these shits, so the students can go fuck themselves. Again.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        Yeah, I’m reminded of the Sam Kinison bit about the English necrophiliacs getting caught at the funeral home.

        ‘I’m $125,000 in debt. I don’t have a whiff of a decent job. And I have to go sit in the hot sun for 2 hours to please my parents while getting bored stiff by some plutocratic connected grifter. Man this graduation just can’t get any worse compared to what I planned this day to be.

        What’s that? The stiff boring us is going to get an honorary degree at no cost? Holy shit! And she’s getting paid? With my money? And she’s a war criminal who helped ring up $2T in national debt while trashing the country’s reputation? When does this nightmare end?’

        • Guggenheim Swirly says:

          an honorary degree at no cost

          If I were a student, this fact – that the speaker would be receiving a worthless piece of symbolism but didn’t have to pay for it – would be the least of my issues.

          • Ruckus says:

            Worthless? It seems that a fair number of college degrees are worth a lot less than are paid for them both in cash and time. Wouldn’t a paid for honorary degree that takes an hour or two to get hit a little too close to home? It sure might for me.

    • Snarki, child of Loki says:

      Want an interesting speech by someone with “full approval of the lefty faculty lounge”? Invite Sen. Bernie Sanders.

      It’s not a binary choice between “boring lefty” and “war-criminal righty”.

      And if “interesting and entertaining” is the criterion, go ahead and invite Rice, but chain her to the podium and distribute eggs and rotten fruit to the students.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        I remember that my school invited Abbie Hoffman to be a commencement speaker and Mr. Hoffman turned down the offer because Grinnell did not offer him enough money. Shortly thereafter he died. So you can not get just any speaker you want. Often they turn down even the very high fees on offer as insufficient. But, sure schools can invite people with views left of the establishment and frequently do.

      • ns says:

        If the principle is, “don’t invite speakers that offend even a small number of the faculty and their students”, then its pretty clear that there would be no commencement speakers of any note at all, unless you consider students with more moderate and conservative views to be completely illegitimate for consideration. Then it’s fine to invite a speaker that will make those students uncomfortable, so long as its not us. But I’d like to think that the commencement ceremony should equally honor all students.

        At the end of the day, if the idea of bringing notable speakers to commencements is to continue, then there has to b e some tolerance that any given speaker might not have views that line up exactly with yours.

        To go beyond and that and speak for a moment about the academic left. Many commentators here have pointed out that there’s a difference between bringing a commencement speaker to campus, versus giving another talk that doesn’t so strongly imply the endorsement of the school and presumably has time for comment and discussion. But how often can we say that those on the academic left actually engage in a meaningful way with views contrary to their own? By meaningful I mean in way that isn’t wholly contemptuous, that respects the holder of that view as someone arguing in good faith. Apparently never, if they can’t handle Christine Legard or Birgenau. So these commencement controversies also speak to a larger issue on campus.

        • Tyro says:

          Not approving of assaulting students at a protest is a fairly mild bar to meet for a university president. It’s not like there aren’t scores of alternatives on that front.

        • DrDick says:

          “don’t invite speakers that offend even a small number of the faculty and their students are war criminals

          FTFY

        • Hogan says:

          You think commencement speeches are conversations? You think there’s time at the end for questions and feedback? Have you ever been within five miles of a commencement?

          Do you know what an honorary degree is?

          • ChrisTS says:

            I’m going with:

            Apparently.

            Apparently.

            No.

            No.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            You think commencement speeches are conversations? You think there’s time at the end for questions and feedback? Have you ever been within five miles of a commencement?

            Seriously, what people think, or pretend to think, commencement speeches bears no resemblance to reality whatsoever.

            • JL says:

              Yeah, I had a long argument with my sister about this the other day. It is especially puzzling because she, being also a PhD student, has experienced a commencement speech. I blame the amount of time she appears to spend reading alerts from FIRE.

        • Julie Bradley says:

          Students now get that neo-liberal policies are causing destruction to the public good across the world. Lagarde, as head of the IMF, promotes such policies unapologetically. The very same policies have led to the extreme tuition hikes at the U. of California, pushing students into crippling debt. Students who protested the tuition hikes were attacked by police under Birgeneau’s orders. So I say we should be applauding this new solidarity among students, who are tired of being the latest targets of “accumulation through dispossession.”

          • Ronan says:

            You’re going to have a very difficult time linking christine lagarde’s time at the head of the IMF to tuition hikes in California.
            This is the problem with having person X as stand in strawman to blame for phenomenon Y.
            Which is why(imo) rather than an ad hoc campaign against specific commencment speakers, it would make more sense to just opposed them all (or at least all high paid ones) on principle.

            • Aimai says:

              I don’t see why any campaign against any individual speaker has to satisfy some Ronan-standard for what makes sense. In reality the students at a given college are presented with a take it or leave it proposition–they have no control or input into who will be speaker and they have no choice but to oppose a specific speaker or sit silently through the speech. If some of them choose to oppose the speaker thats their business and its neither moral nor immoral, it just is. If colleges had a lottery or a vote on who should be asked to be commencement speaker they could avoid all of this humiliating post-announcment stupidity. The fact that they don’t–that they try for a big ‘catch’ and then a surprise ‘reveal’ very late in the game creates the necessity for politically active and aware students to protest at the last minute.

              I’d also like to point out that of course its not always the students who do the protesting–alumni and big donors are a huge and important and noisy bloc of votes and they generally get riled up on the conservative side of things. They don’t often attack the commencement speakers because those types of people are chosen specifically to flatter alumni and donor sentiment. But they will often attack the people getting honorary degrees, the people coming to speak on campus, etc..etc…etc.. for being insufficiently conservative, religious, or stuffy. And they are not at all shy about complaining or offering to remove donations or grants from the university that has the temerity to offer any kind of honor or honorarium to a non traditional, leftist, or problematic speaker.

              • Ronan says:

                “I don’t see why any campaign against any individual speaker has to satisfy some Ronan-standard for what makes sense. ”

                Its called having an opinion. Hence the preface IMO

                • Aimai says:

                  Ok, sure, but its not a very well informed opinion or at all responsive to the question at hand. Julie Bradley on a blog thinks that the issue was one of general solidarity between the 99 percent as against the 1 percent and their lackeys but you don’t know what the Smith protestors really thought or why they protested and so your opinion about “what makes sense” for them is, at best, ill informed and therefore not likely to influence such protestors.

                • Ronan says:

                  I was responding specifically to the idea of Lagarde as stand in for neo liberalism. I dont find that convincing, but yes I dont know the specifics of why Smith protesters opposed her.
                  It could be solidarity with the 99% against the 1%, but I dont really buy that as a meaningful political position (beyond rhetoric) so obviously it’s not going to get my blood rushing.
                  So my alternaive, as laid out, oppose all on principal, which on the plus sides gets you away from questions of partisanship, might bring to light the more general reality re com speeches, and will also (generally) be a campaign against rich elites. There are also negatives, the reverse of all my points and (obviously) that there is less opportunity to point out specific cases of wrongdoing (ie Rice)
                  So it’s a political perspective on my part, and one I havent really put a huge amount of thought into, but there it is. You might not find it convincing, then fine. Feel free to tell me why.
                  But in the context of reasons to oppose Lagarde specifically? I guess what Id(personally) find more convincing is something specific, something akin to Rice’s involvement in torture and Iraq. And I havent seen that (perhaps it’s there somewhere)
                  Again this is a personaly preference, one that the OP makes as well (that opposing Lagarde undermines objections such as that to Rice) Perhaps that wrong, perhaps it’s right,but Im not exactely staking an ultra radical position here

                • Ronan says:

                  Well here’s the statement

                  http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/reconsider-the-smith-college-2014-commencement

                  and the main point

                  “the IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide. ”

                  So Lagarde *is* being used as a stand in for ‘the system’ in general, or at least for the IMF institutionally (and for policy decisions made before her tenure)
                  Also, there’s nothing specific here, apart from .. “a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries” which I think is too general, although partly true; and “the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems” which doesnt really say anything meaningful.
                  So Lagarde is *not being oppossed* for anything she did specifically, she’s being held to account for the IMF as an institution(or neo liberalism as a soci economic system), on a set of vague objections that could apply to the leader of any major (or probably just *any*) country/NGO/corporaion etc

                • Ronan says:

                  also have to go so wont be able to respond more, fwiw

                • Hogan says:

                  So Lagarde is *not being oppossed* for anything she did specifically, she’s being held to account for the IMF as an institution(or neo liberalism as a soci economic system)

                  This makes sense if Lagarde had no choice about whether to accept the job of IMF managing director, or if her agreeing to take the job and continue the IMF’s ongoing and widely known policies can’t be taken as any kind of agreement with or endorsement of those policies. But that’s silly. Knowing what she knew about the IMF and taking on that job *is* something she did specifically

                • Ronan says:

                  Hogan- sure. And your objection only makes sense if u ignore everything I wrote in the conversation before and after that quoted bit

              • Ronan says:

                If some of them choose to oppose the speaker thats their business and its neither moral nor immoral, it just is.

                And I never said it was ‘immoral’. In fact, above, in a thread you were actually involved in I said it’s a students right to oppose whoever they like for reasons of their choosing. I then choose to find their arguments convincing or not. In this case not.

              • djw says:

                I don’t see why any campaign against any individual speaker has to satisfy some Ronan-standard for what makes sense.

                Indeed, such a norm would seem to be rather obviously contrary to anything we might want to call a “free speech culture,” should that concept retain a meaning close to its component concepts.

                • Ronan says:

                  Yeah, sure. Of course. Thank God no-ones actually arguing for me to have a veto over all campaigns.

        • Stag Party Palin says:

          But how often can we say that those on the academic left actually engage in a meaningful way with views contrary to their own? By meaningful I mean in way that isn’t wholly contemptuous, that respects the holder of that view as someone arguing in good faith. Apparently never, if they can’t handle Christine Legard or Birgenau.

          Smith College (Lagarde): protests by “hundreds” (petition) in a student body of 2,650. Not a small group, not the “academic left”, whatever that means. It was a feminist protest by females over a female speaker. The female speaker chose not to engage in any dialogue, same as Birgeneau. They just backed out.

          But, you have me on Rice. I do feel contempt for her and would not care to argue in good faith with her. She doesn’t have ‘views’ contrary to mine, she has morals contrary to mine.

        • ChrisTS says:

          Does it occur to you that a college/uni might ask the students whom they would like to speak? Or, perhaps, that there are possibly interesting speakers to whom no one would object?

          Personally, I don’t think anyone should get paid to do a graduation speech. Certainly, no one should get paid to get an honorary degree.

        • JL says:

          Apparently never, if they can’t handle…Birgenau.

          Apparently free speech and academic freedom require a captive audience of students to sit and listen, at their graduation, to someone who defends beating up student protesters, without protest.

          I would have a lot of trouble participating in my own commencement with such a person as a speaker. Someone who thinks that people like me deserve to be beaten with batons is not someone that I respect as arguing in good faith.

    • cpinva says:

      “I could see many arguments for Job being an inappropriate candidate, certainly if Christine lagarde is.”

      since he’s still dead, jobs might actually deliver an interesting speech, assuming he could stay together long enough to do it. oh, and the smell……………

      maybe a “steve jobs-Francisco franco” duet?

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I don’t think Egan is arguing that Christine Lagarde would deliver an interesting speech, per se, just that if the only candidates that gave such speeches were those who satisfied all the ideological rigors of the academic left, there would be no interesting commencement speeches, period.

      But the argument is a massive non-sequitur. All of these people were protested although as a first approximation there’s a 0% chance they’d give an interesting speech. The points have nothing to do with each other.

      Egan seems to have confused people coming for a ordinary campus talk and well-compensated commencement speeches that come with other honors. They’re fundamentally different issues.

      • Dana Houle says:

        Part of the problem is mixing together, on the one hand, people like Rice (and in a way, even though it was a high school, Michelle Obama) who are being protested because of their specific actions and politics (even though the Topeka shit was stupid), and on the other, the caricature of PC-ness, Lagarde being protested for helping to perpetuate patriarchy.

        I mentioned that to a Seven Sisters grad who said “Smith” and rolled her eyes.

    • Lost Left Coaster says:

      Poor Christine Lagarde. So little access to the mainstream. If only her voice could ever be heard!

      And yeah, if students didn’t want someone like the dearly departed Jobs, who presided over a global sweatshop empire and who had contract employees throwing themselves off the roof of a factory because they were so miserable working there making iPhones, then yeah, I think it would be reasonable to protest. People like Jobs, Rice, Lagarde, etc., already have (had) plenty of ways to make the world listen to them. Universities are going so corporate and are under the influence of people like this so much already — students should push back wherever they can.

      • jack says:

        I’m sure the mustache of knowledge has given a few commencement speeches and he’s a huge fan of those sweatshops.

        Here’s Tom Friedman’s vision of our future.

        ““Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly-line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the [Chinese] plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. ‘The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,’ the executive said. ‘There’s no American plant that can match that.’ ”

        Jobs may be gone but the mustache of knowledge will do all he can to bring about the glorious revised feudalism for our corporate overlords.

    • sharculese says:

      What he does note as alarming is that a small, very ideologically rigid segment of the academic community has enjoyed increasing success in pushing out commencement speakers they disagree with.

      No, this is completely made up and shouldn’t be taken seriously for a second. Every couple years this same set of facile and handwrings about the left shutting down ‘debate’ in commencement addresses (seriously, this is just too dumb) pops up, and every time it is horseshit.

    • Avedon says:

      The internet is actually full of really interesting commencement speeches that were given by lefties. I seem to remember Kurt Vonnegut’s going viral a time or two.

      Some were even funny.

      Unless Condi Rice was going to own up to the fact that she deserved to be incarcertated and permanently shunned for her part in the Bush administration’s betrayal of the American people, I can’t see what she’d be serving up to make her worth the money – or the time graduates had to spend listening to her.

  3. ThrottleJockey says:

    I don’t have a problem with these protests–students have a 1st Amendment right to associate with whom they want–but I think most speakers should be considered in bounds most of the time. A Sec’y of State should be broadly acceptable unless and until they’re *actually* found guilty of war crimes. Its a commencement speech for crying out loud not a political rally.

    • calling all toasters says:

      Its a commencement speech for crying out loud not a political rally.

      And what is a commencement speech, other than a chance for rich board members to slip some money and a degree to another member of the club? Besides the opportunity to buff their image in front of a captive audience, of course. The students should think of it as an opportunity to again have their noses rubbed in the fact that everything in this country, even universities, are of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

      • Ronan says:

        so what ? the commencement speech circuit exists. are they protesting the concept ? are they working to end the idea of commencement speeches ? no, theyre protesting the individual, so this comment is a little irrelevant.
        im all for people protesting specific commencement speakers, i just wish the administrators had more backbone in these cases.

        • Aimai says:

          Yes. They are protesting the psyment of ladge sums of money to celebrity pitchmen .

          • Ronan says:

            theyre objecting to a specific speaker though, rather than the general phenomenon ? if its the second then id say thats great, if the first then fair enough thats their right.

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              It is almost always the first case. I don’t think most students care about most commencement speakers. A vocal segment care about a minority of controversial commencement speakers, a category that would include Dr. Rice. Certainly, they have the right to protest any speakers they want. I am not sure what the big deal is here.

              • I am not sure what the big deal is here.

                That pretty much encapsulates 95% of your comments here, J. Otto. I would suggest keeping as a template for use n the future.

              • cpinva says:

                gee, since when is abetting officially sanctioned torture considered merely “controversial”? a sheriff was tried, found guilty and imprisoned, for the exact same acts that rice condoned. so, nothing “controversial” about it, simply criminal.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  The vast majority of states condone torture including your beloved Israel. It is not really out of the ordinary.

                • Ronan says:

                  Most states do in fact torture at some stage, including the US pre Bush. I guess the difference is how it was legitimised and institutionalised during the Bush admin so the culpability is much clearer, but if we’re turning this into a morality play ..

                  Rice was national security adviser to a democratically elected President (yes I know about Florida) who helped sell and wage a war that had relatively srong bipartisan and majority public support. I dont agree with the war or the torture, but lets not pretend there isnt precedent for either and democratic legitimacy for the first.

                • Aimai says:

                  One of the chief charges against Rice and Bush is that they “sold” war on false pretenses, which they knew were false at the time, in order to create “bipartisan” and popular support for policies which they knew, or ought to have known, would result in mass deaths of a civilian population that had no hand in harming us. So the idea that somehow this was settled because of the prior election of Bush and therefore no big deal is just bizarre. They both committed crimes in office. And they made us all complicit in them. The reelection of Bush doesn’t even make this problem go away since a lot of even his own supporters are on record as saying that they felt “Bush should clean up his own mistakes” not that “no mistakes were made.”

                • Ronan says:

                  I didnt say this was ‘settled’ by his election, I was complicating cpinva’s rhetoric.
                  There was also widespread belief in the FP establishment (both Rep and Dem) that Saddam did have WMDs

                  http://www.snopes.com/politics/war/wmdquotes.asp

                  (although obviously this doesnt lead one to neccesarily take the course of action that was taken)

                  The public supported war with Iraq as early as 2001 and before the marketing campaign went into effect

                  http://www.gallup.com/poll/8074/iraq-war-triggers-major-rally-effect.aspx

                  so there are obviously many many problems with the Bush admin (how they sold the war, how they fought the war, the very concept of the war) but the debate isnt simply one of good and evil

                • Aimai says:

                  Yes. It really was one of good and evil.

                • SFAW says:

                  Rice was national security adviser to a democratically elected President (yes I know about Florida) whose helped sell and wage a war incompetence helped information about the 9/11 hijackers not get shared between security-related agencies

                  But at least her “husband’s” minions got to blame Jamie Gorelick for Condi’s asleep-at-the-wheel job performance. Because she’s an expert on RUSSIA!!!1!2! And because Katie Couric (I think) thought Condi was “scary smart.”

                  If I were Alex Jones, I’d try to connect the dots. But since I’m not: she was a fuck-up as National Security Adviser, and a borderline war criminal.

                  Although, I might have paid good money to hear her give a speech lamenting the lack of cooperation between agencies. As long as I could bring my “Bull-SHIT!” sign.

                • calling all toasters says:

                  It really was one of good and evil.

                  But surely that pales in comparison to the essential traditions of our society, like commencement speeches.

                • SFAW says:

                  But surely that pales in comparison

                  So “pale” is somehow better? Racist. Just like a Lie-beral.

      • MAJeff says:

        And what is a commencement speech, other than a chance for rich board members to slip some money and a degree to another member of the club? Besides the opportunity to buff their image in front of a captive audience, of course.

        I was struck by that at our CC commencement the other day. The stage, filled with administrators and trustees, and the faculty–the folks who are actually responsible for all the graduates sitting in front of the stage–are pushed off to the sides. Apparently, though, this was the first time in quite some time that the faculty weren’t shunted off into the background.

        It’s kind of funny when Trustees and administrators call themselves educators and take credit for the actual work of teaching.

        And the County Exec gave an address that was little more than “Yay, me! Look how awesome I am for the County and y’all here!”

        • jeer9 says:

          It’s kind of funny when Trustees and administrators call themselves educators and take credit for the actual work of teaching.

          Educator is code for administrator. Teachers are teachers, though in my wife’s school district there was a move to change teacher into learning facilitator – with no doubt a pay decrease hidden in there somewhere.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          I would like to see the basic structure of schools changed, with the top authority being the Principal Teacher, who teaches at least five classes a week, and the administrative work being done by a staff that answers to her. On the district level, the Superintendent should be in the classroom for five courses a week, too.

          Yes, you need dedicated administration staff. They should answer to the teachers.

      • Eli Rabett says:

        Some commencement speeches are great opportunities for University Presidents to slip their fingers into the wallet of the speaker which is why the really rich get invited.

        Sometimes the speech is also interesting in spite of the previous grousing. The useful ones, of course.

    • Warren Terra says:

      A Sec’y of State should be broadly acceptable unless and until they’re *actually* found guilty of war crimes.

      Yeah, it’s a terrible shame how that poor Henry Kissinger has been disrespected and hounded to a miserable existence the last four decades. Who cares about the swathe of bodies he left across South and Southeast Asia, the enabling and emotional support he offered for Nixon’s worst pathologies, for his backing of death squads across Central and South America in office and as an unofficial advisor for decades, etcetera, etcetera. He was never convicted of anything, so we’d better laud him to the heavens.

    • Lost Left Coaster says:

      “actually found guilty of war crimes.” But of course! And Rice came so close to being put in front of an international tribunal at The Hague, along with Bush, Cheney, etc.

      Seriously, we don’t punish our powerful bad people in the United States. Honestly, after everything Rice was a part of, being pressured out of a commencement speaking spot is about the worst punishment she has received. Pretty pathetic, but I’m not sure that I would ask the students who managed to accomplish this to shut up and join the rest of the country in pretending that all these Bush Administration people are a-okay.

    • MH says:

      You mean, ‘found guilty’ as opposed to ‘openly admitting to committing war crimes but successfully avoiding prosecution”? I’m not sure that there’s an important moral distinction to be made there.

  4. Sly says:

    This year, there’s the remarkable life story of the African-American scholar who grew up in the segregated South and rose to become secretary of state.

    Is it as remarkable a life story as the one about the poor Russian boy who survived smallpox and an abusive father and rose to become the longest serving leader of his country?

    • Warren Terra says:

      Yeah, I had a similar idea but to avoid going Godwin (Stalin counts as Godwin, right?) I was thinking of that Texas boy who worked the oilfields of Alaska as a youth and collapsed into an alcoholic stupor and seemed likely to destroy his life and all he loved before with the help of his family’s love, the help of a community of religious believers, and of his belief in America as the land of opportunity and of seconds chances he managed to become a great President, to shield the country from domestic terrorism (with certain notable exceptions), and to bring freedom to not one but two predominantly Muslim countries! What an inspiring life story! Also, he paints!

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        No I am quite sure Godwin’s law specifically only applies to Nazis and not to Stalin or any other non-member of the NSDAP. Perhaps, you can formulate a new law and name it after yourself or somebody else that would cover this contingency? 8-)

    • Matthew Heath says:

      Georgian.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Some people say he was actually Ossetian.

        • Do they have any documentation to back up that claim?

          • Lee Rudolph says:

            Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography, goes into “[T]he story of Ossetian descent”.

          • J. Otto Pohl says:

            The claim was most famously made in this poem by Mandelstam.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin_Epigram

            According to the wiki around it Stalin’s grandfather on his father’s side was Ossetian.

            • Aside from the Mandelstam poem, all Service does is cite unamed other sources, and closes with this:

              Like so much else in Stalin’s early life Stalin’s true ancestry is riddled by unsubstantiated rumor and conjecture.

              Man, J. Otto, with that kind of scholarship, I’m surprised you weren’t offered a job with one of the Ivies or someplace like Stanford University or Fox News(the originator of the phrase, “Some people say.”.

              Some people say I’m really a descendant of the Ming Dynasty emperors.

              • J. Otto Pohl says:

                I said, “some people say he was Ossetian.” I did not say that he was in fact Ossetian. Mainly the comment was a reference to Mandelstam’s poem. There was nothing inaccurate in my noting that “some people” do indeed claim he was Ossetian. Whether he actually was is completely immaterial. I would note that such claims, however, are common. I have seen claims that Karimov is actually Tajik and that Bakiev was actually Uzbek, both on their fathers’ side. What these claims do show is that blood (ie race) was considered to be extremely important in the USSR despite claims of people like Hirsch.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Some people say that in the 1950′s Walt Whitman went to supermarkets in California to squeeze artichokes. It’s in a Ginsburg poem.

                • Rhino says:

                  Thank you, Otto, and please don’t mind the Bosons. They appear to have forgotten their N today.

                • Mainly the comment was a reference to Mandelstam’s poem.

                  Golf Clap.

                  Then why not just leave it at “Mandelstam makes a reference to it in his poem”? instead of using the infamous Fox News formulation? (“Some people say………..” is an infamous trope they used to use to insinuate all sorts of things).

                  All you did was link to a page where Service repeats the claim and refers to no other authority, document, or another person making that claim.

                  I’m sorry if this obvious truth offends you or any of your sycophants here.

                  Some people say that

                  so much depends
                  upon

                  a red wheel
                  barrow

                  glazed with rain
                  water

                  beside the white
                  chickens.

                • Hogan says:

                  Some people say Obama is Kenyan.

                • There was nothing inaccurate in my noting that “some people” do indeed claim he was Ossetian.

                  As Hogan pointed out, it is correct to note that “some people” do indeed claim that Obama was born in Kenya.

                  I’ve heard schoolchildrens gossip that was better sourced than this, J. Otto.

                • Ronan says:

                  This is iditotic levels of pedantry and wilful misreading.You might not agree with all of J Otto’s positions and rhetoric, but he certainly knows Soviet history better than anyone here, so i would say is entitled to a minimum level of generosity

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Jotto has sycophants?

                • sharculese says:

                  Someone has to get a benefit out of all this reflexive contrarianism.

                • Barry Freed says:

                  What these claims do show is that blood (ie race) was considered to be extremely important in the USSR despite claims of people like Hirsch.

                  See, this, this is good and adds value.

                  I’m afraid that your trolling (e.g. accusing many of us of being Stalinists, etc.) has eroded much of the good-will many might have once had toward you.

                  That being said, I’m decidedly uncomfortable with level of J.Otto bashing that goes on around here. I’m all for push-back with regard to the bullshit accusations of Stalinism and the like including a good deal of ribbing. But Otto’s no Jenny.

                • DrDick says:

                  What these claims do show is that blood (ie race) was considered to be extremely important in the USSR despite claims of people like Hirsch.

                  What you have presented here in no way “shows” this. You one example, where somebody thought his identity claims mattered. It is not at all clear that this was based on “blood” or that it was particularly widespread.

              • Stag Party Palin says:

                or someplace like Stanford University or Fox News

                Corporate and elitist though its administration and donors may be, don’t go confusing Stanford and its faculty and students with the Hoover Institute.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  The Hoover Institute has a lot of valuable archives that are used by a wide variety of scholars, particularly those dealing with the USSR and Eastern Europe.

                • They’d be too Troskyite for J. Otto, and they want scholars who can, when they lie, do so in a believable way.

                • Stag Party Palin says:

                  Yes, the Hoover has valuable archives, open to study by leftists, conservatives, anarchists, musicologists (I know one) – whoever can get a pass. But they also appoint evil people to their ‘staff’. It is a puzzlement.

            • Then it’s disgrace to Soviet scholarship that, on the issue of Stalins’ possible ethnic ancestry, all he can do is refer to a poem and repeat the line, “Some people say.”

              • Lee Rudolph says:

                Well, he could also refer to Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.

                This view has had its adherents, among them Trotsky himself, who thought of Stalin as a “limited, wily boor” and whose own biography of Stalin stressed his Georgian, even Ossetian, qualities, despite the author’s fear of “venturing too far into the unprofitable region of national metaphysics.” [Anthony D'Agostino, Review of the movie Stalin (Mark Carliner and Ivan Passer), The American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Oct., 1993); via JSTOR]

                I’m not going to ask the Family (Ex-)Sovietologist (whose major expertise is Lenin, anyway) to check out Trotsky’s biography, and I don’t read Russian. But I think J. Otto was perfectly justified in his original statement, and that you’re being the ass in this particular exchange. Maybe you should go back to badmouthing Bijan Parsia for a bit of variety.

                • If you’re able to dig out something that J. Otto doesn’t, relating to Stalin and any ties to Ossetian ancestry he may have had that, that kinda blows the “Expert on Soviet History” argument into nanofragments, doesn’t it?

                  Oh, hai:

                  Stalin’s father Vissarion Ivanovich Djugashvili came from the land of the Khevsureti, descended from the fierce warriors of the Great Caucasus Mountains, Georgia. Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina Georgievna Geladze, came from the village of Gambareuil. She bore Ossetian blood, her people coming from South Ossetia, the Ossetes being primarily Indo-European and speaking an Indo-European language, from eastern Iran, and ultimately Scytho-Sarmatian origins.[19] “One branch of the Alans took refuge in the Caucasus Mountains where they became known as the Ossetes. Joseph (Stalin) Djugashvili’s mother was Osset, so Stalin was half Sarmatian,” states a website dedicated to Ossetian identity.[20]

                  Stalin maintained a Georgian accent all his life.[21] His revolutionary pseudonym prior to Stalin was “Koba,” “after the famous Georgian outlaw and the name of a character in the romance Nunu, by the Georgian author Kazbek.”[22]

                  Hey, doing some research on the Internet, I could find more details to cite than our “Soviet Scholar” did.

                  I can haz job teaching in Ghana as well?

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  Does he hold himself out as an expert on Soviet history in general? My impression (which I have not sought to verify, being not entirely obsessed with him) is that he holds himself out chiefly as an expert on ethnic affairs, specifically (but not only) Soviet policy towards ethnic Germans.

                  Even my Family (Ex-)Sovietologist, though he is extremely well-read and has very broad interests, has areas of extreme expertise and other areas where I don’t think he claims expertise.

                • This is from his page from the U of G website:

                  I have a solid back ground in the history of the Russian Empire, the USSR, and Central Asia.

                  It’s so solid, he can report on some issues regarding the USSR that “Some people say.”

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  My dissertation was on the deportation of ethnic Germans, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. Most of my publications have dealt specifically with the national deportations of the 1940s and the special settlement regime. In particular ethnic Germans. Here is a sample of some of them.

                  https://universityofghana.academia.edu/OttoPohl

                  But, no I am not expert on all aspects of Soviet history. I am certainly not an expert on the genealogy of the Dzhugashvili family. In fact I think the whole idea of claimed expertise is rather problematic.

                  http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2013/04/expertise-is-part-of-problem-of.html

                • Which explains how someone with a biology degree could find information that someone with a ‘solid background’ in USSR history couldn’t seem to cite.

                  . I am certainly not an expert on the genealogy of the Dzhugashvili family.

                  Some people say that you are.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Maybe you should go back to badmouthing Bijan Parsia for a bit of variety.

                  Now I’m trying to recall if I’ve offended Lee in some way recently…

                • Warren Terra says:

                  My dissertation was on the deportation of ethnic Germans, Crimean Tatars, and Meskhetian Turks to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia. Most of my publications have dealt specifically with the national deportations of the 1940s and the special settlement regime.

                  OK. So: your principal area of study is the disparate mistreatment of various ethnic groups, mostly in the Caucusus and the neighboring Crimea. I can understand why the ethnic identity of the all-powerful dictator in charge of it all, who happened to hail from the region, would be of minimal interest to you, just important enough to pedantically correct someone’s statement about the fellow (a statement that was certainly not wrong, but possibly incomplete) but not so closely related to your field of study to merit knowing as much as non-historian Mary, who doesn’t work on this topic, could whip up in a minute or two via Google.

                  It’s all perfectly clear now.

                • Pseudonym says:

                  Attacking someone’s scholarly expertise based on the amount of effort they spend looking up citations for a throwaway blog comment does not strike me as fair or productive.

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  Now I’m trying to recall if I’ve offended Lee in some way recently…

                  You haven’t. My (fallible) memory was that, sometime fairly recently, someone with a handle very like “Mary and Carol Higgs Boson” was calling you “Prof” in an apparently hostile way, and that you in fact replied to one such post asking what was going on.

                  It’s probably time to convene an LGM Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

                • Face it, I was able to dig out more substantial data about the possibility of Stalin being of Ossetian ancestry(through his mothers side, not Stalins paternal grandfather as J. Otto stated) than he was able to present here.

                • Ronan says:

                  It truly was a masterclass in rigorous intellectual engagement with an off hand blog comment

                • Sure, minimize the fact that J. Otto used as references what a Russian poet stated in a poem and used that old Fox News standby phrase, “Some people say.”

                  Nothing to see here folks, just forget it ever happened or Ronan is gonna haz a really bad sadz.

                • Ronan says:

                  I’m not having a ‘sadz’, i was engaging in good natured tomfoolery

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Warren:

                  The question of whether Stalin had Ossetian parentage (racial not ethnic) does not in fact address his ethnic heritage. Nobody has disputed that whatever his blood lines that his native language and culture, ie his ethnicity was in fact Georgian, and that politically he acted as a Great Russian Chauvinist. The question of whether he had Ossetian blood is of no relevance to his treatment of Chechens or Crimean Tatars. He did not consider himself Ossetian or have any connections other than some possible DNA to the group. But, thanks for demonstrating your complete lack of understanding that these categories are constructed and not primordial.

                • Attacking someone’s scholarly expertise based on the amount of effort they spend looking up citations for a throwaway blog comment does not strike me as fair or productive.

                  So, in the future, I can treat anything you say here as a throwaway blog comment?

                  J. Otto, you’re the one who started this with ‘some people say’, then you say that his possible Ossetian ancestry doesn’t matter in the least.

                  Thanks for heightening the contradictions, tovarich.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You haven’t. My (fallible) memory was that, sometime fairly recently, someone with a handle very like “Mary and Carol Higgs Boson” was calling you “Prof” in an apparently hostile way, and that you in fact replied to one such post asking what was going on.

                  Oh, yes, Mary (aka DA) definitely has a lot of hate for me. (Though they did correct the “Prof” which isn’t applicable to me in the UK context and replaced it with “Doc” which is much better.) I was just wondering why you thought I merited it over Otto :)

                  It’s probably time to convene an LGM Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

                  It’s *always* time! Or at least a blogger’s ethics panel.

              • Ronan says:

                I think the peace is to fragile at the minute for that. Instead, perhaps, we should all just continue bottling up our frustrations and bring our grievances to the grave with us

        • cpinva says:

          all the biographies/stories I’ve seen, say he was Georgian.

          what about chairman mao? he was responsible for the death of millions of Chinese.

        • AcademicLurker says:

          Since I’m too lazy to look it up, are the claims that Stalin was Ossetian intended by his enemies as a slur, or are the Ossetians trying to claim him as one of their own?

    • UserGoogol says:

      I think Stalin would be a genuinely interesting commencement speaker. I mean, how often do you get to hear from a dictator of a major world power? I’d rather hear what Stalin has to say than sit through another boring speech about doing what you love.

      • Hogan says:

        Stalin’s reputation as a speaker was . . . helped mainly by the fact that he could have his listeners killed.

        • Aimai says:

          Isn’t it time to tell the famous Stalin joke?

          Stalin was giving a speech. Someone sneezed and he looks up and demands “who sneezed?” No one answers, everyone is too terrified. He orders the guards to take out every tenth person and shoot them until someone admits to having sneezed. The guards take out a tenth of the audience and shoots them. Stalin demands again “who sneezed?” A man gets up and, tremblingly, admits it was he who sneezed. “Gesundheit” Stalin says, and goes on with his speech.

          • Rhino says:

            I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Stalin was a weird combination of empathic, caring guy and utter monster. Often simultaneously. Honestly I know very little about him, and that little came from remarks made by an old Ukrainian man who was pretty pissed off about some ‘voluntary’ grain contributions to mother Russia.

            • He seems to have hardened after the death of his first wife, and such mixtures of characteristics isn’t uncommon among alcoholics, recall his initial response to Operation Barbarossa was to go on a drinking binge before getting down to business.

              And he definitely suffered from what we would call child abuse today:

              “Why did you beat me so hard?”

              to his mother in her later years.
              her response was “That’s why you turned out so well”. source: Edvard Radzinsky, p. 32

              His motivational approach was like that of the Raul Julia character in Moon Over Parador.

              You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture IL-2s until now. Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one IL-2 a day and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army. I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more ILs. This is my final warning.

              Telegram to government aviation production plant superintendents by Stalin in the autumn of 1941, warning them to produce more Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft for national defen

        • N__B says:

          The ears of every lecturer here just perked up.

      • Hogan says:

        “I will give you some free advice.”

        “Will it cost me anything?”

        “You could say it’s priceless. Are you listening?”

        “Yes.”

        “Good. Now … if you trust in yourself…”

        “Yes?”

        “ … and believe in your dreams … ”

        “Yes?”

        “ … and follow your star … ”

        “Yes?”

        “ … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

      • jim, some guy in iowa says:

        zombie Uncle Joe (aka Dick Cheney) probably would get up and snarl for a while if you waved enough greenbacks at him

  5. EH says:

    Egan himself says that history will be brutal to Rice, et al. Well, it just so happens that sometimes that history starts before the person is dead.

    Welcome to the future, Ms. Rice (and Mr. Egan).

    • Linnaeus says:

      That really stood out to me. I had a hard time reconciling Egan’s suggestion that somehow Rice’s freedom of speech had been repressed because students were protesting her selection as a speaker on the grounds that, among other things, she was complicit in sanctioning torture and his observation that such a charge has, to put it mildly, considerable merit. It’s as if he’s arguing that torture is simply a matter of difference of opinion.

    • Joseph Nobles says:

      Speak no ill of those to whom history will be brutal.

      • Brad Nailer says:

        Certainly Bush’s fervent hope is that “we’ll all be dead” before history catches up to him. Nice country you got here, Mr. Ex-pres. Too bad you can’t leave it.

      • cpinva says:

        why? that takes half the fun out of it.

        “Speak no ill of those to whom history will be brutal.”

        ok, how’s this?:

        history will recognize the criminality of the whole bush administration. good.

    • Chris says:

      This.

      I am really OK with the way Rice has been treated here, for the simple reason that this is the closest thing to justice she and her kind are likely to ever face.

      This is America. There aren’t going to be any truth and reconciliation committees, the UN won’t have the opportunity to drag our war criminals to the relevant international courts they should be facing, nobody’s going to set up Nazi-hunter offices to spend the next half-century tracking them down and bringing them to justice. And certainly the American government isn’t going to take the responsibility onto itself to deal with them. As Warren Terra pointed out WRT Kissinger, we simply don’t do that.

      The students who protested seem to realize all of this: they simply don’t see why, in addition to being given a free pass on all of her crimes, she should get to be invited to their graduation. And I say good on them.

      (Especially when, even if that wasn’t her department, she was still part of the administration that destroyed the economy they’re about to be turned loose into).

      • Anonymous says:

        Nope…Dr. Rice is black and so these protests by mostly all white students must be considered as blatant, raw racism.

      • UserGoogol says:

        The point of punishment should never be retribution. It should be to discourage future crimes from happening. I can’t imagine anyone is going to be deterred from engaging in war crimes because they might not be able to do commencement speeches afterwards. So I don’t really see the “justice” in it.

        That doesn’t mean she deserves to give the speech since there’s lots of people equally qualified to do it, but calling it “justice” is the same exact logic which itself leads to many cruelties.

        • Aimai says:

          Its not a punishment, but if it were so what? Lets call it a “natural consequence” that although people may make a nice living off of their infamy, by giving speeches or demonstrations (for example) of a talent for biting the heads off live chickens or miming torture or farting on stage, a commencement adress ought not to be one of those occasions in which respectable people pay for the privilige of watching the notorious go through their paces. Such people may have agencies to drum up business for them, and may give speeches for money, but why should respectable people purchase their services? This goes double for former public servants. If they must keep silent about their real activities for fear of being called to account or even accidentally confessing to crimes surely this is something that we are not obliged to financially support?

          • Origami Isopod says:

            A modern-day circus geek or Le Pétomane would be a brilliant choice of commencement speaker. First of all, neither would have wrought anywhere near as much destruction as Rice or Lagarde et al. Second, the students would actually pay attention.

        • dimmsdale says:

          OK, so let’s not call it “justice,” let’s call it something else: entirely appropriate and richly deserved shaming and shunning behavior,” and let’s call it “about all we have left to indicate our contempt for this person’s fecklessness, incompetence and criminality, since true justice for this person has been foreclosed on.”

          I’m also not sure I agree with “the point of punishment should never be retribution.” I’m not sure the Iraqi dead she’s responsible for would agree with that either, were they able to speak.

          There may be a college, somewhere, where Condi would be welcome. Let her go there.

        • Having Mrs. Manson imprisoned for life in a place convenient for the citizens who survived, oh, I don’t know, a wedding bombing, to visit, along with her ‘husband’ and Unca Dick and a well bribed guard staff, seems to me to be a discouragement to a potential candidate, f’rinstance a hypothetical ‘Beb Jush’, against being a bloodthirsty monster. If that seems like retribution, oh well, I’ll still sleep fine.

          • sharculese says:

            along with her ‘husband’

            Oh come on. See-through dishwashers turned out to not actually be a very good idea, but that doesn’t mean Jack Donaghy is war criminal.

        • Chris says:

          I’m not calling it “justice.” I explicitly said “the closest thing to justice” she’ll ever face. Rice is a made man (are there made women in the Mafia?) As I said, she will never face justice of any kind. The closest thing to it, the only thing available to most regular citizens, is public disapproval.

          If some people choose to exercise that option, I say good on them.

  6. mch says:

    I read Egan’s column this morning and was appalled. (Will he be given more hard-copy space now that Abramson is gone?)

    A commencement speaker is not just another person with something potentially thought-provoking or important to say on this or that topic, who has been invited by faculty and/or students to give a talk to an audience that comes just to hear the presentation, with time for questions from the audience. Some difficult “free inquiry” (rather than “free speech”) issues can arise around such speakers at academic institutions, but commencement speakers are a different kettle of fish altogether.

    A commencement speaker is presented with an honorary degree by the institution as a whole (not to mention, in recent years, often with an “honorarium” so hefty that scare-quotes are appropriate). The institution is saying, “We endorse what you’ve done and what you stand for, as a model for today’s graduates and all our students and alums.” Usually a number of people receive honorary degrees at a commencement, but the one who gives the commencement address is being honored above the others. Whether the person actually gives a good address — well, sometimes someone actually does. But the point is: honor to you, model; graduating students (especially, but also faculty, current and future students, alums), take this person as a model!

    Nobody’s perfect, and in delivering the citation accompanying the award of the honorary degree, the president (or whoever is doing this work — the president, chancellor, whoever) will enunciate precisely why the institution is honoring the degree recipient. That citation matters. I am sure that Smith’s president would have cited LeGarde for specific achievements, and articulated how Smith was holding her up as a model, in terms that would have been true to Smith College. That one stumps me, though in the end I figure it’s Smith’s business.

    But Rice? Give me a break. The citation would have had to omit the main “achievements” of her career, which is well documented and widely known, after all.

    Widely known. That’s the point, isn’t it? Commencement speaker as celebrity, that’s what Rutgers and nearly everyone has come to. An interesting dynamic. It’s not just that your graduates and their families and alums will be able to say, “Famous person X spoke at graduation!” (And who cares what he or she actually said?) More insidious power games are at work. Commencement speakers are chosen in a variety of ways, but they are ultimately decided upon by the trustees. It’s not just that many of these captains of industry and the like don’t “get” the current interests and concerns of the faculty and students. Trustees have their own agendas. They want to curry favor with the right people for the sake of their law firms or businesses — name your enterprise.

    The bleak picture of trustees I am painting is unfair to many of them, but fair enough to those who usually have the most power on any board, so I don’t hesitate to identify trustees as the source of the Rice problem. Does anyone need reminding that Rutgers is the state university of NJ, whose governor is Chris Christie? But if only NJ were unusual.

    Sorry for the rant. I’m not attending this year’s graduation at my college. I simply cannot, in good conscience.

    • Aimai says:

      Agreed. I find that a lot of the anti-student rhetoric is really just another form of the accusation of Lese Majeste (read the damned accent in please). One minute the speaker is supposed to be chosen to honor the school and the students, the next its all “who the fuck do you students think you are, anyway, having preferences about who speaks at your gradution?”

      • DrS says:

        Not sure what majestic lesbians have to do with it, but might have read that accent incorrectly.

        • Aimai says:

          My daughter is going to Smith in the fall. I’m already biting my tongue on a number of impolitic lesbian jokes.

          • DrS says:

            Amusingly, my first thought of Smith isn’t lesbians, but White Christmas

            Phil Davis: I want you to get married. I want you to have nine children. And if you only spend five minutes a day with each kid, that’s forty-five minutes, and I’d at least have time to go out and get a massage or something.
            Bob Wallace: You don’t expect me to get serious with the kind of characters you and Rita have been throwing at me, do you?
            Phil Davis: Well, there’ve been some nice girls, too, you know.
            Bob Wallace: Oh yeah, yeah. Like that nuclear scientist we just met out in the hall.
            Phil Davis: All right, they didn’t go to college. They didn’t go to Smith.
            Bob Wallace: Go to Smith? She couldn’t even spell it.
            Phil Davis: Oh, that’s very funny. Ho, ho, ho. The crooner is now becoming the comic.

            I may have seen this movie too many times.

            • DrS says:

              Isn’t the stereotype of lesbians, is really what I mean.

              Also, as a sidebar, the culture around these little colleges is fascinating to me. As a Californian, it’s something that is completely foreign, at least in the social economic milieu I’ve been in. I’m sure that if you’ve got enough money here, then you’re tapped into that knowledge of what all those little schools “mean”.

              • Dana Houle says:

                I think they mean very different things than they did traditionally. Some are now co-ed, others have gone from mostly finishing schools to improve upper class women’s marriageability to elite academic schools, and at least a few make a big effort to provide opportunities to women from modest means. Some of them also make a concerted effort to attract American women of color and large percentages of foreign students. Several also have partnerships with co-ed colleges so that if you’re a student at the woman’s college you’re still probably taking a lot of classes with students at the partner colleges.

          • chrisj says:

            My daughter graduated Smith in 2006. Best experience of her life, both in her and my estimation.

            • Aimai says:

              Good to know. My mother is a Smith woman, but thats about 60 plus years ago now. They gave my daughter a fantastic fellowship and a ton of money and the other women who also got the fellowship look incredible. I think it will be a good choice for her but I certainly experience a slight pang over the schools she turned down. On the other hand, what is best in life is to make your own choice and choose a school that really wants you. If its too constraining or parochial she can always go somewhere else.

              • Chris J says:

                Actually the coolest part, or creepiest depending upon your perspective, is that my daughter lived in Sylvia Plath’s room in Haven House for most of her time at Smith. It was widely known Plath had lived in the room and my daughter had the occasional pilgrim show up at her door. Plus one time a PBS camera crew.

                But Smith itself was wonderful for her. She blossomed in self-confidence, maturity, self-awareness, and learning (she did Latin and Greek) — all those things a liberal arts education is supposed to do. I am conflicted — staggered, really — about the immense cost, though. Something’s wrong there.

                • Aimai says:

                  My mother was a contemporary of Plath’s at Smith, and also a poet. Luckily for me although she is quite a good poet, she was a better and happier mother than Plath.

                • DrS says:

                  I love the amount of clear understatement in this comment, Aimai

  7. The prophet Nostradumbass says:

    The commencement speaker at my college graduation was so memorable, I can’t remember who it was, at all.

    • Johnny Pez says:

      Our speaker was Alex Haley. It was obvious why he chose to be a writer.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Although I remembered one (of a small number greater than one) of the honorary doctorates awarded at my college graduation (it was to Bob Dylan…), I just couldn’t remember the commencement speaker. But now, thanks to the wonders of Google (and the labors of the university’s archivists), I can confirm that until 3 years after I graduated, the commencement speech was always given by the university president.

    • STH says:

      Mine was Ted Turner. Goofy, rambling speech, as you would expect from him. The only part I remember was him telling us we should get therapy if we needed it.

    • Hann1bal says:

      Mine was the First Lady of the Great State of Georgia. I was so fucking glad that I had hidden my Nook under my robe.

  8. Another Holocene Human says:

    You could call Clarence Thomas’ story as “inspiring” but give me a break. Asshole is as asshole does. Character matters.

    Now, I could go for a speech by John Lewis, but if universities were inviting him to speak we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    Of course, the kind of people who run university administration would never invite somebody who led a real-life revolution to give a commencement speech.

    • djw says:

      Now, I could go for a speech by John Lewis, but if universities were inviting him to speak we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      For the record, he is regularly invited to do so; I seem to recall a video of his speech at the Jewish Theological Seminary a few years ago being passed around the internet a bit (I never watched it so I’m not sure why, exactly). Google suggests he gave commencement addresses at UM-Eastern Shores and Emory this year.

      • J R in WV says:

        One of my professors had been at Emory in his professional past. They fired him for his opposition to segregation!

        He was a leftist organizer, a union organizer in Bloody Harlan county Kentucky many years ago. He was beaten and left for dead in a ditch, he lived but was maimed by the attack by the company thugs.

        Don West was his name, and an amazing person he was.

  9. LeeEsq says:

    I’m with ns on this. Timothy Egan also called out certain right-leaning students at conservative schools for acting out in a similar manner. i think that Egan’s point was that its a good idea for everybody to get out of their ideological comfort zone at times regardless of what that comfort zone is and listen to a defense of something they really disagree with.

    The Huffington Post had the best take on the recent rash of commencement cancellations. In most cases, the number of students protesting and demanding cancellation has been really small. Most Rutgers students probably don’t care that Rice was given their commencement speech. These speeches were cancelled by college administrators so they can look like they are listening to students when they ignore protests in regards to things like tuition hikes or sexual assault on campus, etc.

    • pillsy says:

      i think that Egan’s point was that its a good idea for everybody to get out of their ideological comfort zone at times regardless of what that comfort zone is and listen to a defense of something they really disagree with.

      But the commencement speakers almost certainly aren’t going to get up there and do that, because, well, it’s a commencement speech. Choosing a commencemnt speaker isn’t about choosing someone with a controversial view so they can offer an intellectual defense of it, it’s about choosing someone to be honored for their accomplishments. The content of the speech isn’t the statement, the person giving it is, and it’s a statement being made by the university administration.

      Making objections that the target chosen protest is fine–I don’t see what Legarde herself has done that would merit protesting her–but these purely process-based based objections are ridiculous. They’re another instance of the Charles G. Koch theory of free speech, which says that free speech is the rich and well-connected saying whatever they want, whenever they want, and the rest of us get to sit and listen respectfully.

      • Barry Freed says:

        the Charles G. Koch theory of free speech, which says that free speech is the rich and well-connected saying whatever they want, whenever they want, and the rest of us get to sit and listen respectfully.

        Oh, I like that.

    • Deggjr says:

      Do you realize that Rutgers President Barchi confirmed the speaking invitation and that Rice voluntarily withdrew?

      As the article said, the group of protesters was small (but big enough to make Rice cut and run).

      Steve Harvey had a great line about OJ Simpson at his trial: if you’re not guilty, act like you’re not guilty.

    • junker says:

      Some people say that torture and the Iraq war were wrong. Some people say that they were excellent decisions. Opinions differ.

      As said above, your get out of one’s comfort zone framing implies that reasonable people can disagree on matters like this.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I’m with ns on this. Timothy Egan also called out certain right-leaning students at conservative schools for acting out in a similar manner. i think that Egan’s point was that its a good idea for everybody to get out of their ideological comfort zone at times regardless of what that comfort zone is and listen to a defense of something they really disagree with.

      What does this have to do with paying people five figures to deliver speeches with no content?

    • brad says:

      And fuck the students and their day, right?
      I was in grad school at the New School when John McCain infamously was forced upon the school as commencement speaker by his old Senate pal, and at the time New School president, Bob Kerrey. There was a lot of protest by students and faculty both, but Kerrey couldn’t even pretend to care. And what happened was precisely what no one but McCain and Kerrey wanted’ McCain got to play the victim of librul bullies on Fox News for a couple cycles, Kerrey got an attaboy, and a graduating class had their day of celebration turned into a political stunt for the benefit of someone whose basic existence was loathsome to them.

      Commencement ceremonies are after a school has done the ejumacating. They’re celebrations, boring, formal ones, sure, but celebrations for the students. Teach controversy elsewhen, give them someone pleasant and interesting on their day.

      • Ronan says:

        “And fuck the students and their day, right?”

        It really isnt a right of students to never have their opinions challenged, special days disrupted. In fact Id say it’s the point of university to do so.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          at that point I think there’s very little listening done

        • Hogan says:

          Toughens them up. Builds character.

          You’re right–university education should be much more like Marine Corps basic training. Now hit the deck and give me fifty, soph.

        • brad says:

          It’s the point of the university to privilege elites over considering the wishes of the students how to celebrate THEIR achievements?

          Commencement speech, Ronan. Not invited speaker, commencement speech.

        • ChrisTS says:

          Of course not. But as others have said this is graduation – not a public lecture with a discussion period, not a class. She was going to be honored.

        • Aimai says:

          Is this some kind of a joke, Ronan? Of course its the right of the students not to be used as a backdrop for some asshole politicians benefit. The students are the actual customers of the school-they’ve paid a fucking fortune for that diploma (many of them in debt for it for the rest of their lives). The least the school can do is give them a formal send off that doesn’t include throwing up their rubber chicken sandwich lunches in disgust at having to serve as props for John McCain and Bob Kerrey. Frankly they are well within their rights to demand that Kerrey, or any other President, walk naked down the high street for their amusement given the cost of a current college education.

          • brad says:

            FWIW, later in the saga of Kerrey’s utter mismanagement there actually was a scene which featured him running up Fifth Ave being chased by students.
            Rather than go to a meeting he’d scheduled to face a public forum for his decisions and the responses by the students and faculty.

        • Ronan says:

          Not a joke, though a stupid point when rushing (although I would dispute brads ‘what about the children framing’..there are generally going to be amixed bag at these things; some in favour, some against, most indifferent. But that’s a trivial point. As I said i dont mind people organising against speakers)

          • brad says:

            Graduates are hardly children, and it’s hardly clutching at pearls to recognize graduation to be a ceremony meant to celebrate their achievements as students rather than serve pedagogical ends.
            Invite her as a speaker with a means for dissenting views to challenge her in some respect, having her speak at commencement means students being expected to be falsely civil to her intruding on their day or face being used to make her seem persecuted in any case.

      • NewishLawyer says:

        I largely agree but there is never going to be a commencement speaker that reaches universal approval. I thought it was petty nifty that Tony Kushner was my commencement speaker because my senior project in Drama involved working on a production of Angels in America. He was probably meaningless to the pre-meds even though he did give a really good speech.

        How would we react if it was a large university with Sonia Sotomayor as the commencement speaker and conservatives students protested? What if John Kerry needed to withdraw as the commencement speaker because of protests over is remarks on Israel slipping to apartheid?

        • Ask, and ye shall receive:

          Barnard College’s decision to select Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards as its graduation speaker has triggered a backlash from conservative students.

          Katie Christensen, a senior at the New York City school who is president of the Columbia University College Republicans, wrote a March 10 op-ed in the student newspaper calling the choice of speaker “deeply divisive.”

          “While I do not question the efforts and intentions of the administration in choosing the commencement speaker, it is truly devastating that Barnard chose a speaker who bears the banner of abortion — one of the most polarizing, impassioned subjects of morality in the history of modern civilization,” said Miss Christensen in the Columbia Spectator.

          Planned Parenthood provides gynecological and other health-care services to millions of women, but it may be best known as the nation’s largest provider of abortion services. An estimated one-third of all U.S. abortions are performed by doctors at Planned Parenthood clini

          They failed, BTW, as would the first hypothetical case you mentioned.

          Oh, and this is for you, Ronan:

          Lukianoff, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, credits the uptick in protests to a sense of empowerment by students and a relational sense on the part of administrators. Universities, he suggested, have adopted an attitude that “the customer is always right. If you’re paying $60,000 dollars a year, there’s a sense that ‘we have to cater to you.’”

  10. pillsy says:

    In that sense, the lefty thought police at Smith, Haverford and Rutgers share one thing with the knuckle-dragging hard right in Oklahoma: They’re afraid of hearing something that might spoil a view of the world they’ve already figured out.

    At a commencement speech? Motherfucker, have you ever heard a commencement speech?

    • junker says:

      I used to be a liberal, but then I heard Condoleeza Rice give a commencement speech and now I want to water board baptize evildoers.

    • Lost Left Coaster says:

      When I was in college, I didn’t think that working hard and following my dreams was important. But then at my graduation, our commencement speaker set me straight on this point. I’m so glad I got out of my comfort zone.

  11. Linda says:

    It occurs to me that the protesting students weren’t trying to tune out ideas that they didn’t want to listen to, but to people with a bad performance track record. Egan (who is for the most part a good writer), seemed to think that speakers were being vetted by the protesting students for their ideas.

    It seems that these students don’t care what ideological tribe you belong to (hence protesting the guy from OMG left-wing Berkeley!), but what you DID in your job (condoning the mistreatment of peaceful protesters). They didn’t give LaGarde points for being a female, but subtracted points for being in charge of an institution that has reduced the economic power of females in economically developing countries. It seems the young’uns are so used to greenwashing and various forms of spreading whipped cream on crap that they now vet potential heroes and villians by what they do, not what they symbolize. This is not a bad thing.

    • Bruce Baugh says:

      Yes, this is the point I was going to make. This is very much about dealing with individual people’s actual accomplishments and their actions in the wake of them.

      • pillsy says:

        This is very much about dealing with individual people’s actual accomplishments and their actions in the wake of them.

        Of course, and that’s why so many people are gnashing their teeth about it. People like Rice are, they believe, part of a rarefied world where they deserve respect simply for being a part of it. It’s not the place of mere Rutgers students and faculty to say Rice is unworthy of an honory degree given in their name: she was Secretary of State fer Chrissakes! What have a bunch of hippies done with their lives that gives them the right to judge her?

    • Ronan says:

      “They didn’t give LaGarde points for being a female, but subtracted points for being in charge of an institution that has reduced the economic power of females in economically developing countries”

      ?? but not really under her management. Id say they were protesting her as a generality (for being he head of the IMF) or perhaps on account to the IMF’s response to the euro debt crisis (in which case hey would have been wrong)

  12. Manta says:

    “it’s enormously unlikely that any public figure like Rice would give a speech of the slightest interest, there’s a rather obvious problem here.”

    From what I’ve read on some blog, Scalia’s commencement speech was quite interesting.

    • Nobdy says:

      Scalia has a lifetime appointment and is known for being both clever and a provocateur.

      Have you ever heard Condi speak? Melba toast is less dry. There are parts of Mars that haven’t seen water for millions of years that aren’t as dry.

      • Snarki, child of Loki says:

        Hey Rice *could* give an interesting speech; it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. And it wouldn’t even be very difficult.

        All she would have to do is give the “national security” speech that she INTENDED and was SCHEDULED to give on 9/11/2001, before other stuff happened.

      • SFAW says:

        There are parts of Mars

        Interesting choice, since it has been speculated that Condi and Marvin the Martian were twins, separated at birth.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        I am, frankly, amazed at his ignorance of the existence of significant differences between the various versions of the Ten Commandments (I am also scandalized, but not at all amazed, at his casual indifference to the existence of Jews).

        • Aimai says:

          I can see how an average person, a cradle catholic, could be ignorant of 1) the nature of protestantism and 2) the specific real world history of the Jews and Catholicism. But I can’t see how a prominent lawyer and jurist can be. Unless college and law school for Scalia were a kind of dental school in which you learn only about one thing and never any history or literature at all. I mean, I get why people like me are supposed to neglect the Western Canon but for fuck’s sake the entire of the western canon is concerned with things like the split between protestantism and catholicism, and the suppression and supercessession of the Jews.

  13. Matt T. in New Orleans says:

    I don’t see why “free speech” has to be shoehorned into this discussion at all. From what I gather, the students aren’t saying “We don’t want to hear this point of view” so much as they’re saying “We think this person is an asshole and, thus, don’t want our time & money going there”. Did anyone ever ask the students who they wanted?

    • Aimai says:

      This. Also was anyone expecting condi to give a fullthroated speech rehashing the war? Because if not what is the lively exchange of ideas that egan is anticipating? If she is defending the war thats inecusable and if she is ignoring it that is vapid and deceptive. Perhaps the lesson here is that secretaries of state should strive to be on the right side of history while they are in office.

    • Ronan says:

      Egan doesnt make a ‘free speech’ argument, afaict.

      • Aimai says:

        Egans argument is that our society requires the free and lively excange of ideas at commencement speeches or something is lost–the students lose because they are somehow never exposed to secretaries of state and their self serving excuses or even their terms of office and obvious records. Not hearing condi speak prevents her from being known about.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Egan doesnt make a ‘free speech’ argument, afaict.

        Well, I happen to have Egan right here, and:

        And by shutting her down, the point is … what? That extremism, whether in the climate-denial echo chamber of Republican Party elites or in the fragile zone of college faculty lounges, is the worst enemy of free speech

        .

  14. Major Kong says:

    In a just world Condi Rice would be spending the rest of her life changing bedpans in a VA hospital.

  15. Nobdy says:

    A commencement speaker is meant to represent the values of the school and its student body. Of course they’re not going to line up perfectly, and most people in public life have made enormous compromises that students don’t believe they will make, but to invite someone who willfully led the country into a disastrous war that many people knew was going to be disastrous in just the way it was and who has never apologized…

    I would be out there protesting too.

    It’s not a matter of saying that Condi doesn’t have the right to speak it’s a matter of saying “You don’t represent me or my values.” It’s a matter of not taking life advice from a woman who has lead a historically atrocious life. It’s a matter of rejecting willful evil.

    Politeness and comity are great tools for the powerful. If everyone stays polite nothing changes.

  16. MAJeff says:

    Several years ago, a bunch of us were also involved in protesting a Condi Rice commencement address (at Boston College). She didn’t cancel, but she also didn’t get the warmest reception. A significant part of it at that time was that her warmongering role didn’t fit with the Catholic values of a just war and a Jesuit university should therefore not be honoring her. (I’m not Catholic, but I’ll go with that particular framing in those circumstances.)

    The moneyed interests won, and she stayed on the podium. I got Ken Burns for my commencement the next year.

  17. Terrence of Arkansas says:

    Civil rights leader Daisy Bates got the honorary degree at my graduation in AR many years ago. I think my little school was pretty cool.

  18. Happy Jack says:

    I should read the New Republic more often. I’m happy to learn that the IMF is now a force for good in the world. Sure, they implemented the same old policies in Greece, but these days they pursue them with a heavy heart. I wonder how bad they’ll stick it to the bankers in the Ukraine.

  19. cleter says:

    Condi Rice can go to Hobby Lobby and get some posterboard and Sharpies and make a sign that says ‘IRAQ HAS NUKES,” and then go stand on a street corner and shriek at passersby all she wants. Her free speech is not impinged. The First Amendment doesn’t mean we have to pay her 35 grand to do it.

    • Johnny says:

      Why do you hate black people so much?

    • Chris says:

      The First Amendment doesn’t mean we have to pay her 35 grand to do it.

      Exactly.

      She’s already escaped every possible form of justice for her crimes.

      She is not entitled, on top of that, to a $35,000 check and to be held up as a model for students whose job opportunities were destroyed by her boss.

  20. Aaron Baker says:

    Christ, these people are getting tiresome. You don’t want your commencement associated with an unindicted war criminal? Oh, the bigotry!

  21. Steve M. says:

    Egan starts out by citing a couple of unrepresentative examples of commencement speeches, by David Foster Wallace and Steve Jobs. Now, admittedly, if either of these gentlemen were to deliver a commencement address this year it would be compelling indeed, but otherwise I’m not sure how it’s relevant.

    Yeah, but that was the easy part, because he could crib it from Vox:

    http://www.vox.com/a/greatest-graduation-speeches

  22. RSMorgan says:

    Unless Ms Rice was to be awarded an advanced degree, in Rank Hypocrisy, followed by a trial, there was no reason to expose idealists, or manipulators to one so gifted.

    By turning down the opportunity Ms Rice validated her ability to side step her own do-do. Too bad Hillary has not learned this lesson.

  23. Bloix says:

    Birgeneau instructed campus police to eject the Occupy Cal protesters with force. After they beat the demonstrators with batons, he justified the beatings on the grounds that protesters who linked arms were engaged in violent acts. He said that they provoked the police into beating them up. “Obviously this group wanted exactly such a confrontation.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/new-emails-reveal-uc-berkeley-knew-of-baton-use_n_1291468.html

    Haverford is a school with a strong Quaker tradition and a commitment to non-violence, The administration made a mistake in inviting a speaker who was identified with the use of violent police power against non-violent protesters engaged in civil disobedience.

    http://haverfordclerk.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Letter-to-Dr-Robert-Birgeneau.pdf

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      I know someone graduating from Haverford this year. The other thing that struck me is that they had selected *four* speakers (now down to three).

      Whatever they were thinking, it’s not a thing that I think at any level.

      • N__B says:

        Four speakers enter the podium cage, one speaker leaves.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        I’m so glad I didn’t go so my blood pressure wasn’t subjected to this:

        William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton and a nationally respected higher education leader, called the student protestors’ approach both “immature” and “arrogant” and the subsequent withdrawal of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley, a “defeat” for the Quaker college and its ideals.

        The sad thing is that the people who did go drank the kool aid. You know, it’s really easy to make your crap sound reasonable if you are up on a stage with no rebuttal, context, etc. and people aren’t there in push back mode.

  24. Linnaeus says:

    I really have to differ with the claim that Egan, Chotiner, and Michelle Goldberg (to whom Chotiner links in his TNR piece) are making that there is a growing trend of liberal intolerance (or as Goldberg puts it, an “anti-liberal left). Setting aside the question of whether it’s really intolerance, it seems to me they’re working from a pretty small sample size. In the end, they’re recycling the (exaggerated) 1990s “political correctness” brouhaha.

  25. Aimai says:

    Good Lord! Isn’t Google wonderful? I just looked it up. Our Commencement Speaker was

    1982 John Huston Finley Professor of Greek Literature Emeritus, Harvard University

    How very nice. Totally unmemorable, of course, but quite respectable.

    • Stag Party Palin says:

      Criminy! Mine was John Fischer, Editor in chief of Harpers. But what I remember is taking my parents to the frat house.

      • Aaron Baker says:

        I graduated from the University of Chicago in the summer of 1981. The commencement speaker was a professor who had just retired and used our graduation as a platform to spew out 30-odd years of bile and hatred for undergrads. No one has a worse commencement speaker than we did, no one.

        • Aaron Baker says:

          “has had” i should’ve said.

        • Manta says:

          And that is the reason why they don’t let professors give commencement speeches.

          Do you have a transcript (or a recording) of the speech?

        • sharculese says:

          I can’t come close to that, but my law school commencement speaker, who was absolutely ancient, devoted the majority of his speech to an extended quote from Justice Jacskon. We kept waiting for him to get back to his own remarks but it just kind of never happened.

        • commie atheist says:

          I am reminded of the sage words of Principal Poop:

          Heckler: Eat it Raw!

          Principal Poop: Rah, rah rah! That’s the spirits we have here – ok? – So come
          on kids…

          Heckler: Fuck you!

          Principal Poop: Line up. Sign up. And re-enlist today. Because we need more
          schooling, for more students, for Morse Science High.

          Heckler: Boo!

          Principal Poop: Thank you.

          Heckler: Boo!

          Principal Poop: Fuck you, too!

    • mch says:

      Yes, quite respectable. John Finley was a towering figure in ancient history and for decades a devoted, beloved teacher at Harvard. (His father had been president of CCNY, btw.) Not to be confused with Moses Finley (forced out in the McCarthy years — from Rutgers, as I recall! — for his communist sympathies — ended up at Cambridge as Sir Moses, so there). Like Moses (though to a lesser extent), John brought to the study of ancient history approaches influenced by, among other things, Marxism. On the other hand, J Finley opposed admitting women to Harvard. Anyway, an interesting man, even if his commencement address in 1982 wasn’t memorable!

      http://www.nytimes.com/1995/06/14/obituaries/john-h-finley-jr-91-classicist-at-harvard-for-43-years-is-dead.html

      • mch says:

        That comment was meant as a response to aimee on John Finley. Don’t know how it ended up where it did.

      • Aimai says:

        Well, Kermit the Frog spoke the day before at the Class day exercises so Finley was easily forgotten. But I appreciated at the time that he was speaking because I appreciated his work as a classicist and of course we’d read tons of him even in other courses. If the school doesn’t have enough great professors to speak at its own commencments they should probably plow the money they are spending on bringing in outside people on getting better professors. A great school should easily go in house for its own commencements and given that its been a buyer’s market for great scholars for years every school should be able to do so.

        • mch says:

          Class Day Exercises, Baccalaureate, whatever name it goes by…. At many schools, the students choose a speaker for this event. Here, it’s open only to the graduating seniors (though a few others may make it in — I did once, when I was official host to the speaker). And that event, and that speaker, mean most to the students. Their addresses are published in-house here, and they are almost always far and away better than the commencement speeches, though they get virtually no publicity in the larger world.

          There’s so much to campus culture — and of course each school has its own — that an Egan has no idea about. Which would be fine if he weren’t supposed to be a journalist. He could try doing a little real research.

          Smith is a wonderful college. Your daughter is very fortunate. And you’ll enjoy visiting. The campus is beautiful, and Northampton really is the wonderful funky place it’s celebrated for being. Be sure to visit the Berkshires, while you’re at it! A little corner of heaven.

  26. Dave in NYC says:

    What I don’t really understand is that people protest the Commencement speaker and the speaker just decides not to show up? If these people don’t have the conviction to give a speech in front of an audience in which a small minority might make a scene, then the expectation that they would give an even remotely controversial or interesting speech is probably misplaced to begin with.

    I remember when Robert Rubin spoke at my commencement back in 2001. A group of Native American students protested his speech for reasons you can read here (and contrary to the article, I don’t remember it being merely a silent protest). Rubin took it in stride and went on to give a perfectly soporific speech about risk and decision making (at least I remember the topic).

    • sharculese says:

      Honestly, I’m inclined to be charitable about commencement speakers who bow out over protests and assume that they’re sincere in their proclamations of ‘oh, you don’t want me involved in your big day? That’s fine, it’s your day.’

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        Naah. I think it puts them in the running for the NoBalls Peace Prize.

      • Aimai says:

        Yes, I think that bowing out is a good idea. Rather courteous, in fact.

      • Dave in NYC says:

        Yes, I was probably too harsh in my judgment. But I do think someone who bows out of a speech like that is less likely to have given a particularly controversial speech in the first place. Perhaps I’m wrong.

        • sharculese says:

          I would agree with that, but I would suggest that the reason is just that the basic norm is our general sense of propriety errs on the side of keeping commencement speeches bland and uncontroversial, so people who are unlikely to violate that in one way are unlikely to violate it in other, related ways.

  27. DrS says:

    None of this is really helping me answer the real question I’ve got.

    How much money would it cost to get Condi to let me tell her, in person, what I think of her war mongering?

    I’ll wear my best suit.

  28. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoenhenheim den Sidste says:

    I like the conceit that a small knot of protesters pressured the university into anything.

    Yeah, those administrators are overly sensitive to the opinions of the faculty and the student body. The spineless wimps need to stiffen up.

  29. bob says:

    Interesting how Condi famously claimed “who could have predicted planes would be used” after 9/11. Then the commission revealed intel had done just that. Condi was rewarded with a huge promotion for that lie.Susan Rice is going to be hung.

    • Chocolate Covered Cotton says:

      A nut job tried to hijack a jet in order to crash it into the White House and kill Nixon in 1974. Another nut job really did crash a small plane into the White House in 1994. Yeah, who could ever have imagined such a thing. War crimes aside, Rice was utterly incompetent as National Security Advisor so naturally she was promoted to Secretary of State.

  30. brad says:

    phillsy really nailed it.
    Commencement is supposed to be a celebration of achievement and a boring yet joyful day. It’s supposed to be a big party for the students, not a class, not a moment to have loathsome, murderous, morally repugnant worldviews forced upon them and pretend the speaker isn’t a bad human.
    Condi Rice is not lacking for free speech, and ain’t poor. Being honored is a privilege, not a right, and finding her unworthy of that proves the students are better educated than their administrators.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Presumably Egan would be OK with throwing her in prison? But a student protest would be too much.

  32. DAS says:

    I love commencement: the pomp, the circumstance, the hopeful and eager and excited graduates, the singing of anthems and alma maters, the chance to wear my academic regalia. Whenever commencement doesn’t fall on Shavuos (which frequent coincidence somehow makes sense, but traveling to NJ on a holiday is something I am wont to avoid), I am at my university’s commencement, nowadays as our department marshal.

    My least favorite part of commencement is the speech: it is almost invariably some white d00d or d00dette telling his/her life story about how s/he was able to overcome some or other obstacle and become the person s/he is today. And d00d or d00dette is almost always 100% blind to his/her own privilege.

    By comparison a talk with actual content by Anthony Kennedy would perhaps be slightly interesting … even more interesting if Sotomayor or Breyer or heck, even Nino gave it. Heck, a talk from Rice trying to justify her support for war and torture would be more interesting than hearing her “life story”.

    And no doubt Condoleezza Rice’s speech would have been more of the same: she would talk about how she overcame segregation to be … well, whatever she accomplished: being a Sovietologist who was even less prescient than Team B in anticipating the Soviet Union’s collapse, facilitating the war in Iraq, etc. Not to discount the struggles she faced overcoming segregation, but she will no doubt be 100% blind to the privileges afforded to her by her middle class upbringing. I am guessing, at the very least, she didn’t have to work 2+ jobs to put herself through school and she wasn’t expected to take care of ailing grandparents, both of which many of my students are expected to do.

    For $35K, I’ll give a speech about how I was born to the Moyenne Bourgeoisie and yet I still had to work my ass off and, for what, so I could finally afford to move into a 2-3 bedroom (depending on who’s counting which rooms as bedrooms) co-op apartment once my father-in-law’s estate was distributed giving us enough money for a downpayment? At least my speech will be honest and not blind to my own privileged upbringing …

    Also, what is with giving a Ph.D. an honorary degree? What has she done that she deserves another doctorate? I can understand giving an honorary degree to someone who has not necessarily done the academic work to justify an actual doctoral degree but who nonetheless deserves doctoral level degree from their successful graduation from the “University of Real Life”. For example, my Rabbi is not a theologian or academic scholar, but he is a prominent Rabbi and adjunct faculty member with a lot of real world pastoral experience — he has an honorary doctorate and that makes sense. But what did Prof. Dr. Rice do to deserve an honorary doctorate in addition to already having the real thing? Call me a Marxist for wanting to distribute the wealth, but give an honorary doctorate to someone who deserves to be Dr. So-and-So even in the absence of ever writing a dissertation rather than to someone who already is Dr. So-and-So.

    • Aimai says:

      The honorary doctorate is an honor for the university, not for the honoree. Its a kind of scalp hunting where the University gets to pretend that it is responsible, somehow, for the success of one of these people. In one of my favorite novels of all time, Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger, the hero, who is a jumped up peasant masquerading as a nobleman, is gifted by a friend with a title of nobility for one of the Italian city states. His friend does it because, now that our hero is so notable and so famous, its to the advantage of the city to “inscribe him on the rolls” as a citizen. Its basically the same theory behind the honorary degree.

  33. Lee Rudolph says:

    I love commencement: the pomp, the circumstance, the hopeful and eager and excited graduates, the singing of anthems and alma maters, the chance to wear my academic regalia.

    You have listed most of the reasons why I loathe “commencement”. Others include the name itself, and the general exaltation of assholishness above even its usual level that exudes from the administrators present.

    I suspect that you are altogether a nicer person than I can manage to be at my best, let alone in the midst of an excited crowd with whom I feel no commonality.

    • Aimai says:

      I actually found my own commencement kind of exciting–wearing those robes and tromping through the streets of our little university town was all very hogwartsy devant la lettre and I wished I’d realized the previous four years what a special time it was, cut off from later anxieties and duties. My father and grandparents walked, or tottered, in the alumni parade and that was truly special. And you got to meet the parents of your friends, sometimes for the first time. I can’t imagine going over and over again and I experienced my graduate school graduation as pure torture. But undergrad for the undergrads? That’s pretty cool. Or should be.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        And you got to meet the parents of your friends, sometimes for the first time.

        On the other hand, your friends get to meet your parents. Which was probably distinctly cool in your case (depending entirely on your friends), but far from inevitable generally. (What’s that you say? 21-year-olds ought to have outgrown embarrassment/shame/rage at their parents? And, even if not, they may not have parents—much less grandparents!— who qualify to march in theany alumni parade; and that in itself might be an issue, eh?)

        • DAS says:

          In re meeting your friends’ parents: I went to a school that was very heavily populated by the children of the petite bourgeoisie (e.g. much of our student body were kids of local, immigrant shopkeepers), with a few more upper-middle class kids (such as myself) thrown in for good measure. One of my dorm-mates, however, had a father who was an honest to goodness factory worker who even looked the part of a grizzled, blue-collar laborer. He was clearly embarrassed by his parents, but the rest of us found his parents to be among the most fascinating people we had ever met … which I think embarrassed him even more!

          • Aimai says:

            Yeah. I thought everyones parents were pretty happy to be there and happy to meet their kids friends. It just seemed like a happy day for everyone. Lots of misery suppressed ir forgotten in the excitement of showing off.

    • DAS says:

      It could be the other way around: I might be less nice than you but rather I exude the same exaltation of assholishness as your typical administrator (and the only thing keeping me from a cushy administrative job is that I am so incompetent at management that even a board of trustees is smart enough not to give me an administrative position) and hence feel right at home in the commencement environment.

  34. […] never paid me $150K to deliver a bunch of instantly forgotten platitudes, which I if I understand the new definitions of free speech America’s pundits are using these days means that my free speech rights have been egregiously violated and the university is irrevocably […]

  35. […] least in my window of social media, there remain a lot of people who seem to be very confused about the protests of commencement speeches. In the pundit class, Matt Bai is the latest to fail to understand the basic […]

  36. […] speakers are often paid (Condoleezza Rice would have made $35,000), which is in effect paid for by the […]

  37. […] set of values is mandated by “liberalism;” oddly, no liberal thinkers are cited.) To state these arguments is to refute them, so I won’t dwell more on the […]

  38. tas says:

    what an obscene display of intellectual grasping……get over yourselves people

    back at ya!

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