Civil Liberties

Brandeis Students: We Demand Diverse Commencement Speakers Who Won't Offend Us

They want a woman of color, but not the one they disinvited last year.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The editorial board of The Justice, Brandeis University's independent student newspaper, would like it to be known that the university's commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients have not been sufficiently diverse as of late. "Only five women and four people of color have been awarded honorary degrees in the last five years, out of 26 degrees handed out during the same time frame," the editors lamented in this article.

Ironically enough, Brandeis considered giving an honorary degree to a woman of color last year, but was met with furious opposition from students and professors… some of the editors of The Independent among them, reports The Daily Caller's Eric Owens:

A vocal contingent of students and professors on the fancypants, $60,300-per-year Brandeis campus balked at the idea of the university bestowing an honorary degree on such a notable critic of Islam. They feared Muslims' feelings might be hurt.

Editors at The Justice helped lead the charge to convince the administration to rescind Hirsi Ali's invitation to campus.

At least a few students have taken notice:

"The hypocrisy would be funny if it weren't so sad," senior Daniel Mael wrote on his Facebook page.

The "same paper that called for" Hirsi Ali "to be disinvited is now complaining that an insufficient number of women and people of color have received honorary degrees in the last five years."

The Justice's editors, to their slight credit, appear to realize how hypocritical they look, and hedged their editorial by calling for a "thorough" vetting process to find diverse speakers who will meet community standards of inoffensiveness:

We urge the Board to strive to include a diverse group for this year, while still maintaining the thorough research necessary considering last year's backlash.

With the scrutiny surrounding last year's commencement activities, it would be natural for the Board to take a potentially overly conservative approach when selecting this year's honorary degree recipients.

We urge the Board to remember the purpose of the day—the celebration of the graduating students. This year, when there will likely be a heightened focus on who is selected, we urge the Board to select a diverse group of recipients, reflective of the diverse campus on which we live.

I would point out that Brandeis—a private university that can be as anti-free-speech as it wants, even though it's named after a famed First Amendment defender—is going to have a difficult time picking people that meet these qualifications, since most speakers with something worth hearing will be objectionable to one member of the campus or another.

More from Reason on the Ayaan Hirsi Ali controversy here.