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One Last, Leftist Lecture By: Center for the Study of Popular Culture
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 09, 2003

A Report of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture


Study of Bias in the Selection of Commencement Speakers

at 32 Elite Colleges and Universities


Executive Summary

(David Horowitz)


This study of the selection of commencement speakers [1] is intended to supplement the Study of Political Bias in the Administration and to provide an independent measure of its accuracy.  In this case we were able to assign an identity to all the subjects with a political profile. The results are, in fact, even more imbalanced than what we discovered in our more imperfect inquiry into the political views of faculty and administrators. The ratio of commencement speakers on the left and right was 226-15, a ratio of over 15-1.  Removing the three schools that featured multiple speakers every year, the count of 172-15 still almost perfectly mirrors the similar 10-1 ratio we observed with faculty political alignment.


Commencement speakers at different universities are selected through different procedures but in almost all cases through committees composed of administrative staff, faculty, and students. They may be said, therefore, to reflect the preferences of the respective campus communities.


The position of Commencement Speaker is a high honorific and the individuals chosen are generally regarded as role models for each graduating class, reflecting values that students are encouraged to emulate. The occasion – the passage of students into society as a new generation of potential leaders – makes the selection of these individuals an important statement by the selection committee as to what that leadership should entail. For these reasons, we believe that the selection of commencement speakers is a good index of the preferences of the institutions themselves.


The list of commencement speakers has the additional advantage of being transparent. The names of most speakers will be familiar to anyone examining these results. Therefore the judgments we have made in matching speakers with viewpoints is open to instant review.


For each of the thirty-two schools we acquired lists of the last ten commencement speakers and identified them using five categories: Liberal, Democrat, Conservative, Republican and No (Public) Political or Partisan Identification. The last category is important since some commencement speakers are leaders in scientific, charitable and civic fields that are not partisan in nature.


In conducting our study we felt it was the public identities of speakers that were important for our purposes and not the fact that they may have cast a secret ballot for one political party or another.  Molly Ivins and George Will – writers about political issues from opposite sides of the spectrum – are thus identified as “liberal” and “conservative” rather than “Democrat” and “Republican.” Actors like Alan Alda, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and Danny Glover who publicly associate themselves with liberal causes are identified as liberals.



                                                Summary of Results


o       Twenty-two of the thirty-two schools surveyed did not have a single Republican or conservative commencement speaker in the entire ten years surveyed. The same schools invited 173 liberals and Democrats to address their graduating classes in the same ten-year period.


o       Six of the remaining schools invited only one Republican or conservative each, as compared to 38 liberals or Democrats.


·        The three schools (Haverford, Swarthmore and UCLA) which host multiple speakers every year did not feature a single Republican or conservative speaker as balanced against 54 liberals and Democrats.


o       Overall, the ratio of commencement speakers on the left to commencement speakers on the right is 226 to 15, a little over 15-1.


o       141 commencement speakers were not associated with a partisan viewpoint.

[1] Researched by Andrew Jones.

Total schools surveyed: 32
Total speakers: 
Political Breakdown:  226 Left, 15 Right   (54 Democrats, 172 Liberals, 2 Conservatives, 13 Republicans 141 Nonpartisan)
Political Breakdown (without Haverford, Swarthmore and UCLA which have multiple commencement speakers): 172 Left, 15 Right   (48 Democrats, 124 Liberals, 2 Conservatives, 13 Republicans, 86 Nonpartisan)

1994 Molly Ivins   Journalist  L
1995 Paul J Adams III  School principal  N
1996 Doris Kearns Goodwin Historian  L
1997 Wynton Marsalis  Musician  N
1998 Joseph Hartzler   Prosecutor   N
1999 Jim Lehrer   PBS   L
2000 William J Amend   Cartoonist  N
2001 Tom Gerety   Amherst President N
2002 Peter Jennings  NBC   L
2003 Dr. Asma Jahangir  UN official  L
5L, 0R, 0C, 0R, 5N

1994 Henry Louis Gates Jr. Professor  L 
1995 Garry Wills   Author   L 
1996 Chinua Achebe  Novelist   L 
1997 Oscar Arias   Nobel Peace Prize N 
1998 Doris Kearns Goodwin Pulitzer Prize  L 
1999 Richard C Holbrooke American diplomat D 
2000 Desmond Tutu  Archbishop  L 
2001 Robert B. Reich  Secretary of Labor D 
2002 Stephen Weinberg  Physicist  N 
2003 Stephen L. Carter  Novelist   L 
2D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 2N

1994 Dr. Angelo J Eraklis   Hospital founder  N 
1995 Dr. Philip Sharp  Scientist   N 
1996 James Eells Jr   Professor   N 
1997 Paul R Brountas   Dukakis campaigner D 
1998 F Washington Jarvis  Prep school headmaster N 
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Peter Gomes  Reverend  L 
2001 Mamphela Ramphele World Bank  L 
2002 Dr Kenneth Paige  Scientist   N 
2003 Dr Margaret Hamburg Scientist   N 
1D, 2L, 0C, 0R, 8N

1994 Itamar Rabinovich  Israeli ambassador N 
1995 Daniel Schorr  NPR   L 
1996 Madeleine K Albright Clinton Cabinet  D 
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Helmut Kohl  Germany President N 
1999 John H Glenn  Senator   D 
2000 Desmond M Tutu  Archbishop  L 
2001 Peter S Lynch  Business   N 
2002 Ted Koppel   ABC   L 
2003 Aharon Barak  Liberal Israeli  N 
2D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 4N

1994 Michael Paley  Rabbi   L 
1995 James Forbes  Reverend  L 
1996 Aga Khan   Muslim leader  N 
1997 Bill Moyers   PBS   L 
1998 Margaret R Miles  Religious critic  L 
1999 John Hume   Ireland leader  N 
2000 Gustavo Gutierrez  Liberationist  L 
2001 Madeleine Albright  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court  L 
2003 Xu Wenli   Chinese dissident  N 
1D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 3N

Bryn Mawr 
1994 Ellen Goodman  Columnist  L 
1995 Ilana Diamon Rovner  Judge   N 
1996 Jill Ker Conway  Author   L 
1997 Ariana Holborn Gray Academic  N 
1998 Zeba M Rasmussen  Liberal Muslim  L 
1999 Lynne Meadow  Artistic Director  N 
2000 Marian Wright Edelman President CDF  L
2001 Drew Gilpin Faust  Dean    L 
2002 Linda Fairstein  Lawyer   N 
2003 David W. Oxtoby  Dean    N 
0D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 5N

Cal Tech 
1994 Jewel Plummer Cobb Trustee   L 
1995 Multiple Speakers   
1996 Bobby Ray Inman  CIA   R 
1997 David Ho   AIDS Researcher  N 
1998 Bill Nye   Scientist   N 
1999 Tom Brokaw  Journalist  L 
2000 Ray Bradbury  Writer   N 
2001 Gordon Moore  Intel co-founder   N 
2002 Alan Alda   Actor   L 
2003 Harold Varmus  Nobel Prize  N
0D, 3L, 0C, 1R, 7N

Carnegie Mellon 
1994 Lawrence Ellison  Oracle CEO  N 
1995 Jack Klugman   Actor   N 
1996 Steven Bochco   Producer   L 
1997 Raymond W Smith   Bell Atlantic CEO N 
1998 Jared L Cohon  CMU President  N 
1999 Iris Rainer Dart   Author    L 
2000 Blair Underwood   Actor   N 
2001 Rene Auberjonois   Actor   N 
2002 Tom Ridge   Bush Cabinet   R 
2003 Teresa Heinz  Philanthropist  L
0D, 3L, 0C, 1R, 6N 

University of Chicago  
1996 Bill Clinton   US President  D 
0D, 1L, 0C, 0R, 0N 

1994 Seamus Heaney               Poet              N
1995 Vernon E Jordan Jr         Clinton Cabinet     D
1996 Andrew Rooney              CBS              C
1997 Christine Todd Whitman  Bush Cabinet         R
1998 George E Pataki              Governor          R
1999 Bill Cosby                       Comedian          L
2000 John McCain                  US Senator          R
2001 Dan Rather                     CBS              L
2002 Charlie Rose                   PBS              L
2003 Anna Quindlen               Writer              L
1D, 4L, 1C, 3R, 1N

1994 Fritz Stern   Professor  N 
1995 Tom Brokaw  NBC   L 
1996 Robert Rubin  Clinton Cabinet  D 
1997 Jonathan Kozol  Writer   L 
1998 Joseph A Greenaway  Judge   L 
1999 Claire Shipman  ABC    L 
2000 Brian Dennehy  Actor   N 
2001 David Boies  Lawyer   L 
2002 David J Stern  NBA   N 
2003 George Stephanopolous Clinton Cabinet  D 
2D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 3N

1994 Dr. Mae Jemison  Astronaut  N 
1995 Morris Dees  Lawyer   L 
1996 Robert F Kennedy Jr  Lawyer   L 
1997 Dr. Bertice Berry  Talk show host  L 
1998 Keith Obermann   ESPN   L 
1999 Sandy Berger   Clinton Cabinet  D 
2000 Charles Schumer  Senator   D 
2001 Janet Reno    Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Danny Glover  Actor   L 
2003 James Carville  Clinton Cabinet  D 
4D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 1N

1994 Robert Reich   Clinton Cabinet  D 
1995 Bill Clinton   US President  D 
1996 David Halberstam  Author   L 
1997 Paavo Lipponen  Finland PM  N 
1998 Doris Kearns Goodwin Historian  L 
1999 George Mitchell  Senator   D 
2000 Shirley Ann Jackson  RPI President  L 
2001 Madeleine Albright  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Fred Rogers   Actor   N 
2003 David McCullough  Writer   N 
4D, 2L, 0C, 0R, 3N

1994 Judy Woodruff  Journalist  L 
1995 Dr. David Gergen  Professor  N 
1996 Jane Alexander   NEA Chair  L 
1997 Jimmy Carter  US President  D 
1998 George H W Bush  US President  R 
1999 Cokie Roberts  Journalist  L 
2000 Elizabeth Hanford Dole Red Cross  R 
2001 Charlayne Hunter-Gault Journalist  L 
2002 Thomas K Wolfe Jr  Author   C 
2003 Nannerl O Keohane  Duke President  L
1D, 5L, 1C, 2R, 1N

1994 Albert Gore Jr  Vice President  D 
1995 Vaclav Havel  Czech President  N 
1996 Harold Varmus  NIH   N
1997 Madeleine Albright   Clinton Cabinet  D 
1998 Mary Robinson  UN   N 
1999 Alan Greenspan  Federal Reserve  N 
2000 Amartya K Sen  Professor  L 
2001 Robert E Rubin  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Senator   D 
2003 Ernesto Zedillo  Mexico President  N
4D, 1L, 0C, 0R, 5N

1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Multiple speakers
2003 Multiple speakers
0D, 26L, 0C, 0R, 12N

1994 The Aga Khan               Muslim leader      N
1995 Hanna Gray                   U of Chicago President N
1996 Albert Gore                   Vice President         D
1997 Kofi Annan                    UN Secretary General     L
1998 Multiple Speakers  
1999 Tom and Ray Magliozzi  NPR              N
2000 Carly S Fiorina               HP CEO   N
2001 Daniel S Goldin              NASA   N
2002 James D Wolfensohn     World Bank  N
2003 George Mitchell             US Senator          D
3D, 1L, 0C, 0R 7N

1994 Arnold R Weber  Northwestern President N 
1995 Henry S Bienen  Northwestern President L 
1996 Robert Redford  Actor   L 
1997 Bill Cosby   Comedian  L 
1998 Ruther Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court  L 
1999 Walter E Massey  Morehouse President N 
2000 Robert Pinsky  Poet   N 
2001 Scott Turow  Lawyer   L 
2002 Kofi Annan   UN    L 
2003 Wendy Chamberlin  Ambassador  N 
0D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 4N

1994 Romulus Linney  Playwright  N
1995 Johnetta Betsch Cole Spelman President  L 
1996 Dr. Robert Coles  Professor   L 
1997 Allan Spear   Minnesota Senator D 
1998 Damon Keith  Judge    L 
1999 John J Sweeney  AFL-CIO President L 
2000 Oscar Arias Sanchez  Costa Rica President L 
2001 William Grat III  UNCF President  L 
2001 Dr. Judah Folkman  Medical Researcher N 
2002 Anthony Lewis  NY Times  L
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

1994 Henry G Cisneros  Clinton Cabinet  D
1995 Jane Alexander  NEA Chair  L 
1996 Tom Brokaw  NBC   L 
1997 Bill Cosby    Comedian  L 
1998 Jimmy Carter  US President  D 
1999 Robert E Rubin  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2000 Seamus Heaney  Poet   N 
2001 John McCain  US Senator   R 
2002 Jim Lehrer   PBS   L 
2003 Desmond Tutu  Archbishop  L
3D, 5L, 0C, 1R, 1N

1994 Wynton Marsalis  Musician  N 
1995 Jane Alexander  NEA Chair  L 
1996 Bill Bradley   US Senator  D 
1997 William Frist   US Senator  R 
1998 Ruth and Tom Harkin US Senator   D 
1999 Marian Wright Edelman CDF President  L 
2000 Queen Noor   Foreign leader  N 
2001 Garrison Keillor  NPR   L 
2002 Meg Whitman  eBay CEO  N 
2003 Fred Hargadon  Dean    N 
2D, 3L, 0C, 0R, 4N

1994 Jane L Harman  US Representative D 
1995 Gloria Steinem  Author   L 
1996 Anna Quindlen  Columnist  L 
1997 Marian Wright Edelman CDF President  L 
1998 Elizabeth Dole  Red Cross  R 
1999 Jane Alexander  NEA Chair  L 
2000 Judy Chicago  Artist   L 
2001 Toni Morrison  Author   L 
2002 Lani Guinier  Professor  L 
2003 Madeleine Albright  Clinton Cabinet  D
2D, 7L, 0C, 1R, 0N 

1994 Stephen Carter       Professor  L 
1995 William Perry   Bush Cabinet  R 
1996 Mae C Jemison   Astronaut  N 
1997 Stephen Breyer   Supreme Court  L 
1998 Ted Koppel   ABC   L 
1999 Robert Pinsky   Poet   N 
2000 Kofi Annan   UN   L 
2001 Carly S Fiorina   CEO Hewlett-Packard N 
2002 Condoleezza Rice  Bush Cabinet  R 
2003 Alejandro Toledo  Peru President  N
0D, 4L, 0C, 2R, 4N

1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Multiple speakers
2003 Multiple speakers
0D, 17L, 0C, 0R, 15N

1994 Ted Koppel   Media   L 
1995 Doris and Richard Goodwin  Authors   L 
1996 Bette Bao Lord  Author   N 
1997 William B Richardson  Clinton Cabinet  D 
1998 Gary Trudeau  Cartoonist  L 
1999 David Halberstam  Author   L 
2000 Bill Cosby   Comedian  L 
2001 Jim Lehrer   PBS   L 
2002 Pierre and Pamela Omidyar  eBay   N
2003 Margaret Marshall  Judge   L 
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

UC Berkeley 
1994 Oliver Stone  Director   L 
1995 Robert Reich  Clinton Cabinet  D 
1996 Pedro Noguerra  Professor  L 
1997 Bill Cosby   Comedian  L 
1998 Steve Wozniak  Apple Computers  L 
1999 Terry McMillan  Author   L 
2000 Madeleine Albright  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2001 Janet Reno   Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Jonny Moseley  Athlete   N 
2003 Leon Panetta  Clinton Cabinet  D 
4D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 1N

1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Dov Seidman  CEO   N
2003 Zev Yaroslavsky  LA County Supervisor D 
6D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 28N

1994 Cokie Roberts   ABC   L 
1995 Madeleine Albright  Clinton Cabinet  D 
1996 Nora Ephron   Writer   L 
1997 Oprah Winfrey  Talk show host  L 
1998 Pamela A Melroy   Astronaut  N 
1999 Lynn Sherr    ABC   L 
2000 Pamela Daniels   Dean   L 
2001 Jehan Sadat   Human rights  N 
2002 Whoopi Goldberg  Actress   L 
2003 Linda Wertheimer   NPR   L
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N 

1994 Lowel P Weicker  Governor  L 
1995 Charles S Stone  Journalist  L 
1996 A Leo Higginbotham Judge   L 
1997 Paul Simon   US Senator  D 
1998 Oprah Winfrey  Talk show host  L 
1999 Amartya Kumar Sen  Nobel Prize  L 
2000 Harold Varmus  Nobel Prize   N
2001 Evelyn Fox Keller  Professor  L 
2002 Martha Nussbaum  Professor  L 
2003 Jody Williams  Nobel Prize  N 
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

1994 Michael S Dukakis  Governor  L 
1995 Bernice Johnson Reagon Composer  L 
1996 George Bush  US President  R 
1997 Grace Paley   Author   L 
1998 Yo-Yo Ma   Musician  N 
1999 Christopher Reeve  Actor   L 
2000 George J Mitchell  US Senator  D 
2001 Robert E Rubin  Clinton Cabinet  D 
2002 Morris Dees  Lawyer   L 
2003 Eric Lander   Scientist   N
2D, 5L, 0C, 1R, 2N

1994 Sargent Shriver   Peace Corps  L
1995 Kurt Schmoke   Mayor   L 
1996 Henry Winkler   Actor   L 
1997 David McCullough   Historian  L 
1998 Tom Brokaw  Journalist  L 
1999 David Gergen   Journalist  N 
2000 Robert Woodward   Journalist  L 
2001 Hillary Clinton   US Senator  D 
2002 George E Pataki   Governor  R 
2003 Thomas L Friedman  NY Times  L 
1D, 7L, 0C, 1R, 1N

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