I have to completely agree with Adam Weinstein’s defense of protesting commencement speakers. There is altogether too much apathy on campus, and when students stir themselves to complain about what rat-buggering overpaid scumbag is getting a big pot of money to lecture them before they’re allowed to leave the university, I’m happy for them. It’s about time. And that’s true even if the speaker is someone I agree with. It would be true even if it were me — I’m always overjoyed to see protesters at my talks.
…being denied a chance to speak at a graduation ceremony is not an infringement on your free speech. Free speech might entail an invitation to speak to a voluntary audience and then have alternative viewpoints offered by other speakers, and then perhaps engage in a dialogue over those ideas. This is not how commencement speeches work. If a commencement address is free speech, then so is a seven-hour harangue by Fidel Castro to Cuban citizens who are too scared to get up and leave the auditorium to pee.
A commencement address is the opposite of free. It is paid speech. Paid speech that, just like the honorary degree that accompanies it, associates the recipient with the granting institution as if by royal decree. It’s entirely legitimate for faculty and students, who are already associated with the institution by their works and their merits, to dispute whether an honoree is also worthy of that association.
Lest you doubt that all of the power is in the hands of the speakers and not the listeners, consider how much they make to deliver a shitty speech:
Commencement fees range from a couple of thousand dollars to over $100,000. Katie Couric received an astonishing $110,000 to deliver the commencement address at the University of Oklahoma in 2006. Rudy Giuliani, a year earlier, charged $75,000 to speak at High Point University. Giuliani reputedly now gets about $100,000 plus a private jet for a speech. In 2007 Senator John Edwards received $55,000 for a speech at the University of California at Davis. The rates have probably increased significantly with inflation in recent years.
Really, is bringing in Katie Couric to cheerfully chirp a bunch of happy platitudes really worth 5 figures? The article talks quite a bit about Condoleezza Rice who backed down from an opportunity to speak at Rutgers after the students spoke out in horror. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. Instead of being honored, the gang of malicious liars from the Bush years ought to be in jail.