There has been a lot of metaphorical ink spilled, much of it negative, about student protests of commencement addresses. POLITICO has an interesting piece up about students with views antagonistic to the invited speaker’s are increasingly voicing themselves and their opposition, sometimes fervent.
“Students across the country are protesting commencement speakers of all political varieties. Rutgers students balked at Condoleezza Rice and her ties to the Iraq War. Smith College kids and professors threatened to jeer IMF director Christine Lagarde’s monetary policies. And Robert Birgeneau faced protests at Haverford College over an incident involving campus police and batons. All the high-profile speakers are taking a pass.”
While some commentators believe that this is a symbol of growing intolerance on America’s campuses (a very real concern given the rise of tiny “free speech zones” and bureaucratic retaliation against faculty and staff who don’t tow the line on certain political/economic issues), I do not share this concern when it comes to commencement speakers.
After all, no speaker has the “right” to speak and receive an honorary degree free from criticism. And students, who have a range of views, do have the right to voice opposition to certain divisive figures who will monopolize the symbolism of four years of hard work, making it prohibitively harder and more expensive for family and friends to attend the event.
Fortunately, rapidly innovating technology platforms like Twitter and YouTube are able to provide student protesters new sources of voice via sites like Change.org and Kickstarter.
This is all for the good. The solution to bad speech is more speech. With any hope, technology + decentralization will help to make university campuses a bastion of free thought and free speech once again.