Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maybe We're Wrong...

In the last few weeks we've watched protests at a couple of universities that cause commencement speakers to either withdraw or be cancelled. Specifically, complaints by some students and faculty at Rutgers University about her role as Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration led to Condoleezza Rice withdrawing as commencement speaker for that school of higher learning, where she was supposed to be given another honorary degree.

One of the most accomplished African-American women in our nation's history, a Ph.D from the University of Denver, 7 honorary doctorates, the second female Secretary of State, the only black female Secretary of State, the first female National Security Adviser in history, and a concert pianist who has played for Queen Elizabeth, Rice was vilified by a small group of students and a couple of professors citing “efforts to mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Despite their objections, the elected student assembly voted 25-17 to welcome Rice to the campus and to his credit - university president Robert Barchi agreed.

“Free speech and academic freedom cannot be determined by any group,” Mr. Barchi wrote. “They cannot insist on consensus or popularity.”
Protests continued. Anti-war student activists complained that Rice also approved of waterboarding.

“Rice probably has a lot of advice on perseverance, dedication and hard work that she can offer to this year’s graduating class, but what she chose to do with those qualities is certainly questionable to us,” the school newspaper said. 

The majority of students wanted Rice come. The school paper (The Daily Targum) paraphrased one student as saying “If Rutgers were to rescind Rice’s invitation, the University would be remembered as the school that chose to invite [reality TV star] Snooki to speak at an event, but revoke Rice’s.” How sad is that?

Eventually, Secretary Rice took the high road and graciously bowed out.

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families,” Ms. Rice wrote in a Facebook post. “Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.”

Fast forward to Brandeis University. That school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary doctorate and speak at the university’s commencement exercises. Ms. Ali, a Somali-born woman raised in Islam, now speaks out against the evils of Islam, such as genital mutilation of young girls - something that she herself experienced, and honor killings of women. She honestly tells people about the mistreatment and oppression of women under Islamic law. And the Muslims don't like it.

A petition was circulated, eventually collecting 6,000 signatures, that excoriated the university for inviting a woman who "engages in hate speech" because she says "Islam is not a religion of peace." How anyone can claim it is, given the facts about how Islamic women are treated.

Brandeis caved in to the protesters and withdrew their invitation to Ms. Ali saying Ali is a “compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights” but that some of her statements “are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

So even if you have freedom of speech that is protected by law, and you're telling the truth, you can't speak at a university commencement if your thoughts and views are deemed controversial by certain groups of people? 

I always thought universities were places not only of higher education but of greater learning through open discussion and shared ideas. Maybe I was wrong. This morning I decided to look up the definition of "university." Merriam-Webster defines it as:

"an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees."

It seems I was wrong. According to that definition, universities are free to teach what they want how they want and open discussion and exchange of ideas are things that I only imagined taking place. 

Liberals scream for tolerance all the time yet they are the worst at extending it toward those who's political and social views do not match their own. It would be great if universities were politically and socially neutral, welcoming all points of view equally. 

But we all know that's never going to be the case. 

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