Pomp and circumstance. Black-robed students receiving diplomas as proud parents look on. Distinguished members of society receiving honorary degrees and offering sage advice to ''America's future.''
It is commencement time again at the nation's universities.
This year I nominated Rush Limbaugh for an honorary doctorate at the University of Southern California, where I am a professor. Why Limbaugh, a man with whom I disagree at least as much as I agree? Here are some of the reasons I gave in my letter of nomination:
''Rush Limbaugh has engendered epochal changes in politics and the media. He has accomplished this in the noblest of ways, through speech and the power of his ideas. Mr. Limbaugh began his career as a radio talk-show host in Sacramento in 1984. He espoused ideas that were conservative and in clear opposition to the dominant ideas of the time. Perhaps because of the persuasiveness of Mr. Limbaugh's ideas or because they resonated with the unspoken beliefs of a number of Americans, his audience grew. Today, he has the largest audience of any talk show host (said to be in excess of 20 million people per week) and his ideas reverberate throughout our society.
''Mr. Limbaugh is a three-time recipient of the National Association of Broadcasters' Marconi Radio Award for Syndicated Radio Personality of the Year. In 1993, he was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters' Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
''In 1994, an American electorate, transformed by ideas that Mr. Limbaugh championed, gave control of Congress to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years. That year, Republican congressmen held a ceremony for Mr. Limbaugh and declared him an 'honorary member of Congress.' The recent re-election of President Bush suggests that this transformation continues. One of Mr. Limbaugh's major themes through the years has been liberal bias in the 'mainstream' media. His focus on this theme has made him the target of incessant condemnation. Nonetheless, he has persevered and it now appears that his view is prevailing. As the recent debacle at CBS shows, the media is in the process of major change. Ideally, the American people will profit from a reconstituted media that will act more perfectly as a marketplace for ideas.''
But there is a bigger reason why I support giving him an honorary degree: Because I value intellectual diversity. Regrettably, the university declined to offer Limbaugh a degree. As best I can determine, no university has honored him in this way. On the other hand, such presumably liberal media luminaries as Dan Rather, Chris Matthews, Judy Woodruff, Bill Moyers, Terry Gross, Paul Krugman and Peter Arnett have received many honorary degrees from the nation's universities.
Now before you label me as a right-wing ideologue, let me present my credentials as a centrist. Limbaugh has well-known positions on the following issues: abortion, capital punishment, affirmative action, prayer in school, gun control, the Iraq war. I disagree with him on half of these.
But intellectual diversity has all but vanished from America's campuses. We are failing in our duty to provide our students with a broad spectrum of ideas from which to choose. Honoring Limbaugh, or someone like him, would help to make the academy more intellectually diverse.
The great liberal ideas that swept through our universities when I was a student at Berkeley in the 1960s have long ago been digested and largely embraced in academia. Liberalism has triumphed. But a troubling legacy of that triumph is a nation whose professorate is almost entirely liberal.
In the 29 years I have been a professor, I do not recall encountering a single colleague who expressed conservative ideas. The left-wing accusations of Ward Churchill (Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Alfred University, 1992) are not the problem _ the problem is the scarcity of professors who are inclined to rebut them. It is time for the nation's universities to address this disturbing situation.
So I hereby extend my nomination of Limbaugh to all universities. It would be a refreshing demonstration of renewed commitment to intellectual diversity if next spring we hear Dr. Limbaugh's words as our graduates ''go forth.''
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