May 30, 2014
Mayor Bloomberg wrote an op-ed titled “Don’t Major in Intolerance” denouncing the latest protests of students against commencement speakers that led to colleges rescinding the invitations or the speakers withdrawing themselves.
I too believe that the freedom of speech is inviolable and a pillar of democracy. But when students protest against a speaker like Condoleezza Rice that is not an act against liberty and constitutional rights.
Secretary Rice, one should note, does not lack outlets for expressing her ideas or views. Quite the contrary, like most high profile commencement speakers, she has more exposure than most. So what about students protesting? Well, in a normal conference, one could just not clap, boo her, or simply leave. However, in this case it’s a commencement ceremony. It’s their own party, to celebrate their achievements and mark the start of their new lives. Why would they choose to boo someone at their own event, or even consider not attending?
Furthermore, a commencement speech aims to inspire and lead through example, emphasizing moral and ethical values. I do think Secretary Rice has many merits as a person and a scholar. But why would I want a member of an administration that admitted to lying to the world and the UN with the purpose of starting a war, to pontificate to me on moral and ethical values, at my own commencement ceremony? And don’t make this a right-versus-left issue. I would expect the same reaction by the same students to Tony Blair.
Mayor Bloomberg remarks, “I believe that a university’s obligation is not to teach students what to think, but to teach students how to think.” In my view that’s exactly what the students did here. At the end of this educational step – a significant one – they chose to act against ideas they don’t agree with, that were about to be forced to them at their own celebration. If these acts represented the opinion of the majority of the graduating class, then my salute to them.