Commencement Speakers Nixed Because of Protests

Several universities have changed plans for commencement speakers, succumbing to student and faculty protests. In some cases, the speaker withdrew. Here are the latest and relevant communications:

  • Former Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, Robert J. Birgeneau, has withdrawn as this year's speaker for Haverford College. A letter from students and a few faculty speaks of Haverford's "Quaker Values," including pacifism. It compliments Birgeneau's work on LGBT issues but criticizes his involvement in an event at Berkeley: "You supported UC Berkeley police in the use of extreme force against non-violent protestors..." Birgeneau did not appreciate the letter and the group's demands and responded with a missive of his own.


  • Rutgers found a similar fate after announcing that Condoleeza Rice would speak at its commencement. Rice resigned, announcing the decision on her Facebook page.

Rice 2

  • Christine Lagarde, president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), withdrew her plans to speak at Smith College. Kathleen McCartney, president of the college, wrote a sharply worded letter about the protests, including these excerpts:

"Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College? This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead."

 . . . .

"I want to underscore this fact: An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads. Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion. I remain committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect."

Discussion Starters:

  • Read all of the communications associated with these decisions. What themes emerge in tone, organization, word choice, and so on?
  • Which of these communications is the best example, and what makes it the best?
  • Condeelza Rice's Facebook page has a serious punctuation error. Did you notice it?