University commencement is meant to be a time of celebration for families to pay tribute to their sons’ and daughters’ academic achievements. But graduation ceremonies at two prominent universities on Sunday were marred by the partisan rhetoric of commencement speakers who used the lectern provided by the university as a soapbox to air their views on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.
At Hofstra University in New York, graduation ceremonies featuring acclaimed author E.L. Doctorow were interrupted and nearly halted by booing and jeers after the author dedicated most of his 20-minute address to lambasting President Bush.
Noting that Bush, like himself, is “a storyteller,” Doctorow went on to describe the many lies he attributes to the President. “One story he told was that the country of Iraq had nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction and was intending shortly to use them on us,” he said. “That was an exciting story all right, it was designed to send shivers up our spines. But it was not true.”
Meanwhile, at Yale University where the President’s daughter Barbara was among the graduating class, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a commencement address criticizing the war in Iraq.
“Somehow recently, though, we have replaced our usual and healthy doubt with an arrogance and belligerence that resembles more the ancient and now fallen empires of our history books than a modern and compassionate democracy,” he stated. In contrast to the scene at Hofstra, the audience of Yale parents and students greeted his remarks with applause.
It is stunning that university administrators find such partisan remarks at graduation ceremonies acceptable, much less welcome such divisive and inflammatory rhetoric with open arms. Even worse, as a 2003 study by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture demonstrated, the speakers chosen by our nation’s elite universities to address their graduating classes are monolithically one-sided, with left-wingers outnumbering conservatives by a ratio of 15-to-1. On this annual occasion dedicated to consecrating the highest ideals of a liberal education, universities undermine the very premise of scholarship by subjecting their newest alumni to an ideological tongue-lashing that permits no opportunity for reasoned debate.
“I thought this was a totally appropriate place to talk about politics because that’s the world our students are entering,” Hofstra sociology professor Cynthia Bogard told Newsweek, taking a stance typical of many in academia. In an astonishing display of arrogance she added, “I only wish their parents had provided them a better role model.”