Haverford Commencement Speaker Calls Grads 'Immature, Arrogant'

Monday, 19 May 2014 03:38 PM

By John A. Oswald

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It was one last lesson for students at Haverford College, one of the nation's most expensive schools, when the speaker tapped to replace the one driven away by student protesters called them "immature" and "arrogant."

Call it Free Speech 101.

William Bowen, a respected education leader and former Princeton University president, said the treatment of Robert Birgeneau, the ex-chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, was a stain on the Quaker-founded schools ideals, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Story continues below video.



Protesters were angry with Birgeneau's handling of Occupy Cal student protests, a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In November 2011, police officers moved in and swung batons when an on-campus tent city was set up at Cops at Berkeley.

Internal emails revealed Birgeneau said, when informed of the incident in which some students were injured: "This is really unfortunate. However, our policies are absolutely clear. Obviously, this group wanted exactly such a confrontation."

The Haverford students opposed to Birgeneau posted a list of demands earlier this year after he was picked to speak at Sunday's graduation – including one that he issue a public apology, according to The Inquirer.

Birgeneau decided to stay home in California.

Don’t call that a victory, Bowen said.

"It represents nothing of the kind," he lectured the graduates, whose final year of tuition at the school ranked ninth by U.S. News was $45,426.

"In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford – no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.

"I'm disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley, as they had every right to do, chose to send him such an intemperate list of demands," said Bowen. "In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a serious discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments.

"I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protesters," he continued. "Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today."

There have been a number of high-profile speaker withdrawals from college commencements around the nation in recent weeks.

The list includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who withdrew from Rutgers, where students criticized her role in the Iraq War, as a commencement speaker.

Other withdrawals: Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund who was to speak at Smith College; and Democratic Colorado state Sen. Michael Johnston, an education reformer, who was to speak at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Johnston's sin: FoxNews.com says he was accused of embracing "a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers."

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