Campus Free Speech

The Skewed Line-Up of Commencement Speakers

A parade of celebrities, business owners, and politicians and activists from one side of the political aisle

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

In a previous post, I noted that the selection of commencement speakers has become a notorious minefield for universities in recent years. Although they have not entirely escaped threatened protests, walk-outs, and disinvitations (as evident this year by Concordia dumping Harvey Mansfield and Southern California dumping Jeh Johnson), universities have managed to turn down the heat somewhat on commencement exercises. Maybe that is because universities have become more firm in standing up to student activists, and that student activists have become more reluctant to denounce speakers. Unfortunately, the quieting of "disinvitation season" might simply be the result of college leaders becoming more adept in anticipating the demands of the protesters and in avoiding any speaker who might be "problematic." Of course, in a campus context "controversial" speakers are not randomly distributed across the ideological spectrum.

IF we want to know about the campus intellectual climate, we should not only track speaker disinvitations. We should track speaker invitations. This is more easily said than done, however. Speaker disinvitations might come to public attention (though they surely do not always), but speaker invitations are the routine background noise of life on college campus and less likely to attract notice. Speaker invitations on college campuses are often decentralized, and speakers on campus are not always widely publicized.

Commencement speakers are at least centrally chosen and well-publicized. They have become the object of recurrent controversy, and so have become relevant to debates about campus culture and campus free speech. Whether they are a particularly good metric for thinking about campus free speech issues is another question, and I'll return to that question in a separate post.

For now, I want to summarize the results of a survey of commencement speakers. I have a chapter on commencement speakers, as well as common summer readings, at colleges in a recently published edited volume, The Value and Limits of Academic Speech, as well as a post here. I gathered information about the publicly announced commencement speaker for nearly 500 colleges and universities in the spring of 2017. This is only a sample of all the commencement speakers who visited a campus and only for a single year, but it is a sizeable sample that includes higher education institutions from across the country, red states and blue states, public and private institutions, large and small, research-oriented and teaching-oriented. It can give us a sense of who the run-of-the-mill commencement speakers are beyond the headlines of particular commencement speaker controversies. (Jeffrey Sachs has collected data for a longer time period at a set of selective institutions, which shows Michael Bloomberg accounting for a surprisingly large percentage of the total number of Republican commencement speakers in the twenty-first century.)

The headline of a recent legal news summary of 2019 law school commencement speaker selections tells the story: "Athletes, Musicians and Politicians Headline the 2019 Law School Commencement Circuit." It is no accident that athletes and musicians lead the pack. Celebrity, not intellectual distinction, is a key selling point for a commencement speaker. J.J. Watt, the star linebacker of the Houston Texans, planned to wing it as the 2019 commencement speaker for the University of Wisconsin. His plan was foiled when the school asked for a text of his speech so they could put in on the teleprompter, leading to a conversation about whether it would be appropriate for him to "go up there and talk" "for about five minutes" before everyone could just "go drink beer." J.J. understands the modern college experience, at least as captured by one notorious "social media influencer" who did not "know how much of school I'm gonna attend" but definitely "want[ed] the experience of like game days, partying." The 2019 law school commencement speakers reported on in the article above included such notable legal minds as Paul McCartney and former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, but also plenty of "lawmakers and judges" such as Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Obama administration attorney general Loretta Lynch, and New York attorney general Barbara Underwood (famed for closing the Trump charitable foundation). One notices a pattern.

The pattern plays itself out in my larger sample from the spring of 2017 as well. In the wake of the 2016 elections and Republican dominance of the political landscape, one might expect a few Republicans to deliver commencement addresses. And a few did. President Donald Trump went to Liberty University. Notre Dame broke its tradition by not inviting the newly inaugurated president but instead went with his home-state running mate (despite a threatened student walk-out). Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was booed at historically black Bethune-Cookman University. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker spoke at Hamilton College, and Sen. Susan Collins spoke at St. Lawrence College (which assured its graduates that Collins was "the most bipartisan member" of the Senate). A couple of Republican state legislators spoke at the local college in their district. And that was about it.

By contrast, Democratic politicians and activists crisscrossed the country delivering commencement addresses. Obama White House staffers and cabinet members graced many a stage. Joe Biden, Jill Biden, and Hillary Clinton had multiple engagements (Bill Clinton had to make do with one). Democratic presidential aspirants old and new, from Howard Dean, Bill Bradley and Bill Richardson to Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker, were in great demand. Democratic congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Tim Ryan, and Tim Kaine spoke to graduates, as did activists and media figures such as Van Jones and Gloria Steinem.

On the whole, explicitly political commencement speakers made up only a fifth of the sample, but they were drawn overwhelmingly from the political left. Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders were nowhere to be found. Graduates could hardly throw a mortarboard without hitting a Democratic politician. Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were undoubtedly "too controversial" to speak to college graduates and their families. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden were obviously "safe" speaker selections.

This does not include the parade of media figures who served as commencement speakers. Notably colleges seemed to lean toward relatively centrist figures for commencements speakers. CNN anchors predominated over MSNBC or Fox News anchors. But when colleges were willing to venture toward opinion leaders, they universally veered left.

But far more common than politicians, activists or thought leaders were celebrities, business leaders, and aspirational figures. Prominent schools could land Oprah Winfrey, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, Billie Jean King, and Julius Erving. Less prominent schools were left with lesser known musicians, actors, comedians, and athletes. Harvard could attract Mark Zuckerberg, and MIT could offer their graduates Tim Cook. State and regional schools relied on their own wealthy alumni and donors and local business owners to deliver the commencement address.

Most commencement speakers were better known for their inspiring life stories or luxurious lifestyles than for their contributions to the world of ideas or their political accomplishments. Picking an astronaut or a coffee company president to deliver the commencement address is no guarantee that students will not find a reason to protest and issue demands for a disinvitation, but it certainly reduces the odds. Few college leaders had any interest in picking a commencement speaker who might challenge the orthodoxies of the dominant campus culture.

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79 responses to “The Skewed Line-Up of Commencement Speakers

  1. Matt Birk is a Harvard graduate who is currently the NFL Director of Football Operations. He’s also far from liberal. He’s spoken about his opposition to same-sex marriage. And today, he announced that he’s starting a Catholic high school (like the one he attended growing up) in Burnsville, MN.

    (Incidentally, us indignant Minnesotans like to point out that he’s a local kid who played for the Vikings for eleven years before his four-year stint in Baltimore.)

  2. Politicizing the choice of commencement speakers seems silly to me. These speakers do not exactly have an inner road to a student’s political psyche.

    I still don’t see the utility in examining this. It’s at best an indirect measure of something that’s pretty low student impact. Bias without impact isn’t really proof of much.

    1. I still don’t see the utility in examining this. It’s at best an indirect measure of something that’s pretty low student impact. Bias without impact isn’t really proof of much.

      Careful, you’re just supposed to avoid mentioning the elephant in the room, not to shut your eyes tight and risk actually bumping into its rear end.

      Student listeners are most unlikely to remember even a single phrase from the commencent speech. In any event why would anyone bother to try indoctrinating students in a commencement speech, when there’s three or four years of classes you can use to accomplish that ?

      No, the point of the survey has nothing to do with bias warping young minds. It’s that university administrations either will not, or dare not, invite righties . It’s a demonstration of corruption, or cowardice, or both, within university administrations. Virtually across the board.

      We can’t say for sure that it’s the triumph of the heckler’s veto, because we don’t know how many adminstrations would dream of inviting anyone to the right of Bill Clinton anyway.

      1. One research angle that might be pursued to try to sort the sheep (university administrations too timid to risk a protest) from the jackals (university administrations for whom la lutta is always continua-ing) might be to check their book assignments.

        If a college routinely requires students to buy, for “study”, political bios and other fictional works authored by, or ghosted for, Dem politicos, then it’s probably a jackal-run college. If it doesn’t supplement its political allies’ coffers in this way, it’s probably a sheep-run college.

        1. Sheep and jackals? More drama.
          You’ve created this story wherein every school is either evil or a collaborator. You do see how crazy that is, right? You are deeply into an unsupported narrative.

          Saying there’s a problem is one thing; saying it’s everyone is quite another. How many campuses do you think total are covered from these free speech anecdotes?

          1. Sheep and jackals?

            Thud ! I told you to watch out for that elephant too !

            Saying there’s a problem is one thing; saying it’s everyone is quite another. How many campuses do you think total are covered from these free speech anecdotes?

            You are familiar with the concept of samples right ?

            Whittington : This is only a sample of all the commencement speakers who visited a campus and only for a single year, but it is a sizeable sample that includes higher education institutions from across the country, red states and blue states, public and private institutions, large and small, research-oriented and teaching-oriented.

            It is of course quite possible that some of the colleges in the sample invited Dem politicos, just because they wanted to invite Dem politicos this year. And next year they’ll be happy to invite GOP politicos. But we can review that for likelihood. If there’s one such college in the sample, the odds that they invited a Dem this year are 50%. Fine. If there are ten such colleges in the sample, the odds they all invited Dems this year are….0.1%. If there are fifty, well you get the drift. Consequently the odds that there are more than a trivial number of “let’s spin a coin” colleges in the sample are very low. Hence we’re left with almost all of them being “we’ll never invite a rightie” colleges.

            Which leaves us with sheep and jackals. Though there is a third category – which might be called the jackass category – who might think “we’d like to invite a rightie but they’re all too dumb.”

            1. You’re using commencement speaker choices as proof colleges are manned by jackals and sheep. Did you think that the set of schools inviting politicians could be biased? Because it pretty clearly is. Did you think maybe inviting a liberal politician might be proof school administrators lean towards approval of liberal policies, but maybe not proof of sinister indoctrination?

              That’s not even confirmation bias, that’s just narrativistically cleaving to anything that looks like it might be in a shape supporting your story.

              1. Did you think that the set of schools inviting politicians could be biased? Because it pretty clearly is.

                Not quite sure whether you’re saying that Whittington’s sample is biased, or that within his sample the set of schools inviting politicians could be biased. Not sure why you would claim either.

                Whittington himself says that only a fifth of invitations in his sample were for explicitly political speakers, but there’s nothing to suggest that that set is unrepresentative of the national population of schools that invited politicos; nor that the schools in his sample that invited poliicos invite politicos year in, year out, rather than sometimes. ie there’s nothing to suggest that one fifth of the sample is always political (and always lefty) and the other four fifths are always apolitical. Hence in the absence of more detailed data there’s no grounds for concluding that Whittington’s sample, or the subsample of schools inviting politicos, is not representative of the nation. He does, after all, go out of his way to describe how diverse a bunch of schools he is sampling.

                But since you have identified something that is “clearly” biased about his data, you’re obviously in possession of extra data. So reveal it.

                Did you think maybe inviting a liberal politician might be proof school administrators lean towards approval of liberal policies, but maybe not proof of sinister indoctrination?

                1. If you’re relying on sampling, looking only at the schools that choose a political speaker is not going to be a random subsample.

                  1. If you test 500 bolts and find that 400 of them fit your standard sized nut, 100 of them are too small, and 0 are too big, I don’t think you can conclude that you’re dealing with two separate populations – the OK bolts and the too small bolts. If you did conclude that, you’d basically be deciding that each group of test items that landed on a particular value (or within a particular range) derived from a different population merely because of that.

                    Hence you’d be deciding if you had a thousand coins to toss, and 506 came down heads and 494 came down tails, you must be dealing with two separate coin populations. Which would be an erroneous conclusion. Unless you tossed each coin again and found that the heads always came down heads and the tails tails.

                    No, the way to do it is to check over several years. If the schools that invite lefties do so year in year out, and the schools that invite speakers with no political “value” do so year in year out, then you may conclude that you’ve got two different sub-populations.

                    Which is what I said in my previous comment and you walked straight by it.

                    Note though that a school with a record over the years of :

                    R,N,L,L,N,N,R,N,L,N,N,N,N,N,N,N,N

                    looks like a regular non-political school these days (in re commencement speakers), but is also showing a record consistent with sheepdom – ie having been intimidated from inviting political speakers.

                    1. No, the onus is on you to prove that the subset you picked is still random. It’s not on me to do a years-long study to prove you wrong.

                      Your assumption that there is no material difference between schools that pick political speakers and those that do not is unsupported. Until you support it, your science isn’t scientific.

                    2. Au contraire, I have merely claimed that we have no evidence to suggest that the sub-sample is biased.

                      The claim that the sub sample is “clearly biased” came from a fellow called Sarcastro.

                      So all I have to do is defend my assertion that there’s – as yet – no evidence of bias. Hence all I need to do is sit on the sofa. The guy who claims the sub sample is “clearly biased’ is the guy who needs to do the work. Get to it.

                    3. It’s on the person making the claim to do their due diligence. The default assumption is not that any given sub-sample remains unbiased.

                      But even beyond that the idea that schools randomly decide whether to invite a political speaker or not is intuitively pretty questionable.

                    4. “Note though that a school with a record over the years of :
                      R,N,L,L,N,N,R,N,L,N,N,N,N,N,N,N,N
                      looks like a regular non-political school these days (in re commencement speakers), but is also showing a record consistent with sheepdom – ie having been intimidated from inviting political speakers.”

                      Also consistent with having been told that political speakers are always offensive to some subset of the student body. Also consistent with determining that today’s political “leaders” are less leader-y than those of years past. Also consistent with… well, any number of other things, for people who aren’t looking for reasons to feel oppressed.

              2. Did you think maybe inviting a liberal politician might be proof school administrators lean towards approval of liberal policies, but maybe not proof of sinister indoctrination?

                Well, as I say, I doubt that even the most enthusiastic indoctrinator hopes to get much done at a commencement speech.

                But yes, funnily enough, it did cross my mind that inviting a liberal politician might be proof school administrators lean towards approval of liberal policies. It also crossed my mind that such administrators might naturally lean towards hiring liberal faculty, expanding social science and humanities departments beloved by liberals, setting codes of conduct that are unsympathetic to those who are not big buyers of liberalism, und so weiter.

                So Whittington is not telling us much beyond what we already knew – that most schools are run by liberals…and that their idea of running a school does not extend to encouraging intellectual diversity and the opening of the young mind to unfamiliar thoughts.

                In short that the modern liberal campus (ie virtually all of them) is very</i< conservative.

                1. There is a LOT of middle ground between ‘lean towards approval of liberal policies’ and ‘a demonstration of corruption, or cowardice, or both, within university administrations. Virtually across the board.’

                  As for the rest of the things you’re discussing, this doesn’t prove any of that chain of assumptions. That needs to be either addressed directly, or by dealing with each anecdote on it’s own as it comes.

                  I’m all for affirmative action for conservative academics, btw. But regardless of the OP’s insinuations and your chain of speculations, commencement speaker choices have zero relationship that issue.

                  1. When you favor affirmative action for conservatives, Sarcastr0, do you have in mind anything to suggest what that even means? I ask because I can recall a few decades ago, when there were several general buckets into which someone called a conservative might fall, and folks who paid attention could recognize not only the characteristics of each, but also some characteristics they shared in common.

                    Not anymore. I suggest a label purported to encompass the likes of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Alex Jones, Rand Paul, and everyone in the anti-choice movement has become pretty empty—and useless as a standard for measuring whether the right people in the right mix get invited to speak at commencements.

                    1. I don’t have any particular metric in mind, and that’s by design. But I do think that avoiding an ideological echo chamber should be something hiring faculty take into account. And based on some of the studies shared previously, I’m satisfied that’s not happening enough these days.

                      As one factor among many, I’m satisfied colleges won’t be hiring the next Donald Trump, or even Ben Shapiro, anytime soon.

                      Heh. Shots fired.

              3. Sarcastr0: “Did you think maybe inviting a liberal politician might be proof school administrators lean towards approval of liberal policies, but maybe not proof of sinister indoctrination?”

                The word “jackal” would be /much/ too strong here. “Partisan” would seem to be indicated.

                1. Even that implies an agenda that I’ve never seen proven.

                  What you have is partisans assuming anyone with a political valence must be as zealous as they are.

                  1. What you have is partisans assuming anyone with a political valence must be as zealous as they are.

                    Give us some examples of right wing zealotry in university administration. I’m willing to grant you a bit of religious zealotry in the 19th century. But go for something a bit less cobwebby.

                    1. That has nothing to do with the statement you replied to.

      2. t’s that university administrations either will not, or dare not, invite righties. It’s a demonstration of corruption, or cowardice, or both…

        Corruption? That’s some melodrama. It’s a commencement speaker, dude. You’re reading a lot into what’s largely a PR exercise or at best something for faculty consumption. It does have the benefit of being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        Lets check for campus bias by looking at their no doubt Marxist cafeteria menus next.

        1. Dude, it’s just one measure of the leftward tilt of the universities. Whittington isn’t saying it’s the ONLY measure, nor the best one, but please tell me you’ve heard of the concept of triangulation.

          Moreover, Whittington is a lefty himself, but one of the old school dinosaurs who still believe in free speech. The post was saying the commencement speaker metric is a measure of the problem of lack of diversity of ideas and lack of free speech (because he says he can’t really measure adequately dis-invitations) more than the lefty tilt of the indoctrination *ahem* university system.

          1. It’s a dumb collateral attack via a tendentious correlation.

            I don’t much care about the politics of the author; his content is dumb.

            1. It’s just one measure of a lack of free speech, and Whittington in no way in the post says it’s anything but. It’s a section of a mosaic in the consilience that has converged about the lack of free speech at colleges, and how lefty they are in general. It telling that you are so ready to downplay it; you’re really, really stretching to discount *actual data* being brought to bear on an argument. No one on the other side of this debate is saying that this is a nail in the coffin, case closed, smoking gun proof either.

              And as for Whittington’s politics, he wears his leftism on his sleeve whenever he writes about Trump (after he gets up from his fainting couch), but the minute he writes about free speech, suddenly you don’t like his politics?

              I will agree, though, that most of his contributions have been lame.

              1. This is actual data…on a completely separate issue. Free speech in commencement addresses? Get off it.

                If this is as legit a problem as you think it is, you can find some direct data and not a blizzard of anecdotes and jumped-up studies on collateral issues.

                It’s a section of a mosaic in the consilience that has converged
                You do realize that the whole point of a mosaic is the illusion of being more than the sum of it’s parts, yes?
                And your passive voice is also telling.

                Not quite as telling as your doubling down on reverse ad-hominem, as though I’m going to need to credit a post by a liberal just on accounta being on the same team. Maybe that’s how it works for you; I’m partisan, but not that biased.

                1. The aggregation of commencement speaker invites, that shows a clear pattern that schools don’t normally invite conservatives or Republicans, and have a preference for non-political celebrity or leftists is exactly what, then?

                  You once again demonstrate that you don’t know how social science works by attacking the metaphor of how I tried to explain it to you. Nice. Oftentimes in science small pieces of data add up to a bigger picture when aggregated. Are you ready to throw out evolution as well?

                  And yea, you’re being Janus faced…Whittington is okay until he posts something I disagree with, then he’s dopey. I was excited when I read he was coming to the VC, I even commented that I am a fan of his political science works and urged others to read them. That I admit that he’s been disappointing (at best) is evidence of a modicum of objectivity on this topic, whereas your partisan motivations in discounting this admittedly small piece of evidence because it conflicts with your priors, well, take it as a personal attack if you want, but the rest of us here can see your partisanship is showing.

                  1. First, it shows no such clear pattern, because if you look only at the subset of political invitees you’ve skewed your sample.

                    Second, the connection between who you like in your commencement and your biases elsewhere is not well established. As others have pointed out, the incentive set is quite different.

                    What a lame appeal to your own authority on social science. Oh, I know quite a bit of how social science works. Do you?

                    Oftentimes in science small pieces of data add up to a bigger picture when aggregated
                    For instance, this here? Very bad science. Willy-nilly aggregation allows all sorts of investigator biases in. As you are doing.

                    It matters not, this isn’t good science of any sort; this kind of speculative causality is not how it works at all.

                    Janus faced because I take posts as the come, not based on who posts them? Ad hominem isn’t a virtue, chief.

              2. Great use of Consilience!!

              3. “he [Whittington] wears his leftism on his sleeve whenever he writes about Trump”

                What does he wear on his sleeve when conducting Federalist Society-funded presentations?

      3. Student listeners are most unlikely to remember even a single phrase from the commencent speech.

        Remember? Based on my graduation at U-Mich, nobody even heard a single word from a commencement speaker due to the constant yakking of fellow students.

    2. Not only that, if most students want liberals, they should get liberals.

      I am very much in favor of telling liberal students that they don’t get to run things when we are talking about conservative professors, or dorm advisors who represent accused rapists, or any number of other things. But a graduation is purely for the students, so they should get the sort of speaker they want.

  3. On one level I have sympathy for your complaint, but at the same time this sounds suspiciously like a libertarian (?) complaining about supply & demand. You haven’t told me anything to suggest that the students don’t end up hearing from the kinds of people that, on average, they want to hear from.

    (Given that the whole audience is supposed to listen to the same speaker, presumably the theoretical optimum is the preference of the median student.)

    1. The issue I have is that no one listens to the commencement speaker, except maybe the faculty.

      1. I’m faculty and I can assure you we don’t listen.

        The place I teach at stopped having speakers 5 years ago. Everyone’s happier and the partying can start 20 minutes earlier.

      2. Sarcastr0: “no one listens to the commencement speaker,”

        The school I taught at decided, some years ago, to simply ax the commencement speaker. It saved money and let us get through the thing more quickly, so the true festivities could begin.

        And no — most profs don’t listen either. I used to sneak a paperback in via the floppy sleeves of my regalia. I wasn’t alone in that.

        1. It’s good branding for potential applicants, methinks.

          Gets your name out there.

        2. The faculty who can get away with it don’t even go to commencement. The ones who who do show are about 99% ordered to, 1% who enjoy the pomp and grandeur.

          The school I taught at held two graduations per year, full-time faculty attendance mandatory. I can remember the identity of exactly one commencement speaker from my ten years as a faculty member.

  4. I’ve done my own research in a related area of speechifying.

    So far as I can tell, in Urbi et Orbi addresses in Rome, there’s an overwhelming disproportion of Catholic speakers.

  5. “Few college leaders had any interest in picking a commencement speaker who might challenge the orthodoxies of the dominant campus culture.”

    Let’s see…

    School leaders (staff, faculty, student groups, alumni, donors, etc.), spending considerable time and energy building “the orthodox[y] of the dominant campus culture” and yet, for some reason, Prof. Whittington feels that should be challenged during a commencement program.

    WTF?

  6. I won’t say that this is social science at its best, but it’s the kind of fact based analysis that Whittington does his best at. More please.

  7. My two experiences with commencement speakers:
    1. My undergrad ignored every single suggestion from the students and ended up with some random person none of us had heard of us whose entire speech was how much she admired Hillary Clinton.

    2. I don’t recall the student body having any input in the commencement speaker for law school. My school was in Chicago, and we were all a little irritated to have some random state senator no one had heard of as our speaker. My guests and I all remembered afterwards that he’d been a good speaker, but no one could remember what he talked about. Some years later, I looked at my law school scrapbook and saw the commencement program. The speaker? State Sen. Barack Obama.

    1. Obama has a wooden tongue. His soaring oratory (with a teleprompter at least) was moving, but when you stopped and thought about it, the substance was ephemeral.

      1. Yeah. Obama was the only President, or even politician, ever to use a teleprompter. Give me a break.

        Come on, m_k, that criticism is a sure sign of ODS.

        1. Any Trump fan who questions anyone else’s handling of our language lacks self-awareness and sense.

          Carry on, illiterate clingers.

      2. “when you stopped and thought about it, the substance was ephemeral.”

        Unlike, say, St. Ronnie.

        Being critical of people who speak well usually just reveals someone who doesn’t speak well.

  8. Republicans (“the Party of Stupid”) and conservatives have been anti-intellectual and opposed to knowledge for years, so it’s no surprise that they aren’t welcome in the academy. Students are not well served by a speaker ranting about global warming hoaxes and Mexican rapists swarming over the border.

    1. That was my initial thought. Plenty of my fellow Republican friends are brilliant (far smarter than I am, alas). But the national brand lately has been for conservatives to publicly rail against higher education, science that yields results conservatives don’t like, etc.. Schools are designed around, well, education. No wonder they are disinclined to invite people who attach themselves to an anti-education movement. I’ve seen shockingly-few far-left people invited to speak at NRA conventions, no atheists invited to speak at CPAC conventions, racists invited to speak at ACLU conventions, etc..

      Dog Bites Man story, methinks.

      1. “Schools are designed around, well, education.”

        That is a bit of a stretch, putting it nicely. Universities are designed around a extracting resources from students for a credential. That education happens, if at all, is incidental at best because there are some people who work at colleges who think that college’s primary purpose is education. They are not the majority, I assure you.

        Anyway, so you’re admitting then, that colleges have a lefty bias by saying this is a dog bites man story?

        1. I’m as cynical as the next guy as a consumer of education, but ere are some people who work at colleges who think that college’s primary purpose is education. They are not the majority, I assure you strikes me as just BS.

          If you want fat sacks of cash money, you do not become a professor.

          Profs being more liberal than not is established data. Just as police being more conservative than not. Going from there to bias and thence to indoctrination is where the crazy comes in.

          1. I said nothing about indoctrination…that’s you putting words in my mouth. I said colleges are a business model which extracts resources from students for a credential. Perhaps you read to much into the line that most people who work at colleges are not thinking they are actually educating. In fact, most aren’t, there are far more non-teaching staff at any university than teaching staff, so as a practical matter, they are not, and they just want a paycheck. And as for the actual instructors, most have no illusions that they are going to be Socrates to young minds, they just want a paycheck too.

            As for indoctrination…for all the crazy leftists at universities, they don’t actually do a very good job at being the Parasitoid Wasps that they are; most people escape unscathed because they just wanted the credential and don’t give a shit about anything other than what’s on the test (which is promptly forgotten).

            Lastly, you gotta be kidding me if you think people who are ideologically committed don’t have those leanings expressed in their teaching.

            As for professors, don’t float some bs about the purity of the profession. You’re better than that. They are as self interested as everyone else.

            1. Maybe don’t assume it’s you I’m calling crazy, rather than say I’m putting words in your mouth.

              You stated that the majority of people working at a school don’t think the school’s primary purpose is education.
              That’s quite a statement. And unless you’re going to support that, I’m going to assume you made it up.

              Your story of indoctrination but they’re bad at it is deliciously unfalsifiable.

              You’ve never had a prof whose politics you didn’t figure out? I’ve had lots. The vast majority in fact, even in my very liberal law school.

              1. I had one professor in law school where it was clear that she was a liberal…she talked about her politics pretty openly. And I had one professor–the one I got to know really well socially–who opened up to me when we were playing tennis, eating dinner with his family at his home, etc. Other than these 2; I have zero idea of the political leanings of my 20-30 other professors. And that was at UCLAW–a programme that is famous (infamous?) for having a liberal faculty.

              2. “You’ve never had a prof whose politics you didn’t figure out? I’ve had lots. The vast majority in fact, even in my very liberal law school.”

                If that’s the case, how do you know that you went to a “very liberal law school?” Your first two sentences are in direct conflict with the third.

                1. Collective reputation != individualized evidence.

              3. “You stated that the majority of people working at a school don’t think the school’s primary purpose is education”

                What kind of school? K-12, that’s all they do (however well they do it.) But a research university, as the word “research” in the name indicates, is about research first, and educating people is a side business.

        2. “Anyway, so you’re admitting then, that colleges have a lefty bias by saying this is a dog bites man story?”

          Smart people tend to be liberal. This is not a recent development.

    2. As opposed to the party of free handouts who don’t know how to pay for anything they’re selling? Kamala buying votes with teacher pay raises not in her jurisdiction? Or the party of “settled science” when it meets their goals?
      They’re all trash, we’d do better with bringing in doctors and engineers and that guy who invented the plastic bit that holds up the middle of the pizza box.

      1. I don’t see Republicans in any big hurry to pay for things either, except for their magical revenue-increasing tax cuts.

        Talk about stupid.

        1. except for their magical revenue-increasing tax cuts

          Ah, data. Poison to a ringing polemic.

          https://issuesinsights.com/2019/05/16/revenues-are-up-6-after-trump-tax-cuts-so-why-is-the-deficit-surging/

          1. They didn’t use constant year dollars, nor correct for population. It’s a BS article.

      2. “…and that guy who invented the plastic bit that holds up the middle of the pizza box.”

        That guy had a much greater influence on the lives of college students than the vast majority of actual commencement speakers.

  9. My fantasy is that if I were ever invited to be a commencement speaker, I’d say: “You don’t want to hear from me. When all this is over, you’re going to celebrate. Since it’s summer, many of you will be drinking beer and eating hamburgers right off the grill. For many of you, the hamburgers won’t be very good. So I want to leave you with something useful…” Then I’d have someone wheel out a grill, I’d slip on an apron, and, doing my best Bobby Flay impression, show how to make a good hamburger.

    1. The BEST burgers are when you grind the meat yourself.

      You can use chuck but throw in some sirloin too.

      If you don’t have a grinder, cut the pieces in 2″ cubes, freeze them for about 30 minutes, then pulse the cubes (in batches) through a food processor.

      You WILL thank me.

      1. Maybe we can team up for a commencement demonstration/address. We probably ought to include a veggie option like corn on the cob.

        1. “We probably ought to include a veggie option like corn on the cob.”

          Commie!

  10. OK, lets make this about good and bad commencement speakers we’ve had.

    I didn’t go to any of my grad school commencements, but hadn’t yet savvy’d up to how dumb they were in undergrad. I recall in no particular order (don’t even remember which one was mine):

    -Alumnus astronaut [Boring old guy]
    Bill Nye [Boring; only thing I recall is advice to not tuck your shirt in if you’re getting slime poured over your head]
    Orson Scott Card [Boring]
    Venture capitalist Alumnus standin for Douglas Adams when he unexpectedly passed away. [Amazing. Introduced me to the concept of negative target fixation; did a thing where whenever he swore the graduates could take off their caps and he’d donate like 10K to the school.]

    My sister went to a decidedly more crunchy undergrad. She had some Latin American poet discussing some inchoate republic of poetry thing? I ended up wandering away; it was atrocious.

    1. I don’t remember who mine was.

      Obviously made an impression.

  11. This series began with concerns universities are pandering to unreflective mob opinion, and that disinviting speakers sends a distinctive kind of message, and was inherently unfair.

    But this latest post seems to be mostly a concern that most of the people invited as speakers are on the left side of the political spectrum. It’a certainly understandable why this would be against Professor Whittington’s political interests and goals. But it’s much less clear why this would be unfair.

    Why shouldn’t universities invite people who align with the in inviters’ viewpoints? Freedom of speech includes the right not to have others disrupt your speech. But it doesn’t include the right to demand that others listen to what one has to say if they don’t want to.

    Disinviting speakers is arguably more like the first issue. But this seems more like the second.

  12. “Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker spoke at Hamilton College,”

    Republican In Name Only.

    1. To be fair, could any Republican but a RINO get elected in MA?

  13. “Few college leaders had any interest in picking a commencement speaker who might challenge the orthodoxies of the dominant campus culture.”

    The whole purpose of a commencement speaker is to utter a few bland generalities that will make people feel good about themselves. “Conservatism” today is largely defined by 1) tax cuts for the donor class; 2) “pro-life” and “pro-faith” legislation for evangelicals; and 3) a chauvinistic and interventionist foreign policy centered around the Middle East. People who get pumped over these issues are a minority at most colleges. At most colleges, most students would rather hear about cancellation of student loans.

  14. So… the complaint is that more people from one side of the political aisle are invited to speak at commencement events. To which the only proper response is “so what?”

    Unless one is a would-be commencement speaker with an… unfortunate… record of public opinions unpopular amongst recent attendees of colleges, what difference does this make to anyone not so situated?

    1. Lots of things, when you analyze them deeply enough, are meaningless.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKDZSZTWPzk

      1. “Lots of things, when you analyze them deeply enough, are meaningless. ”

        Pretty much everything you say, as pertinent examples.

  15. There are enough conservative-controlled schools in America to indicate that plenty of commencement speakers are Republicans or conservatives.

    These right-wing campuses do not get much mainstream attention because they strongly tend toward fourth-tier rankings (or are unranked) and their graduates generally are not distinguished, but they exist. Hundreds of them . . .

    from Grove City (Sen. Sasse) to Oral Roberts (Sen. Lankford),

    Wheaton (married missionaries) to Franciscan (professional evangelist),

    Hillsdale (Marine Commandant whose son attended Hillsdale) to Biola (right-wing burger heiress),

    Dallas (Trump mouthpiece Emmet Flood) to Liberty (Vice Pres. Pence), and

    Patrick Henry (Prof. Robert George) to Regent (Chauncey Crandall, self-described “Doctor of Faith).

    It should not be surprising that the strongest American schools, operated in the liberal-libertarian mainstream, do not choose evangelists, Republican elected officials, gay-bashers, Trump administration officials, or Professors of Creationism for commencement speeches.

  16. […] This year, as every year, checking the line-up of commencement speakers provides a handy way to size up the Forces of Unanimity on the American campus [Keith Whittington] […]

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