By The Editorial Board at The Arizona Republic
Has the academy ever been this weak?
We ask because we don’t know what to make of all the shrinking violets at U.S. colleges and universities who fear the freely expressed views of commencement speakers they can’t tolerate.
This year, students and professors at Brandeis, Rutgers and Smith College have rebuffed such luminaries as human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.
Hirsi Ali was unfit for a Brandeis honorary degree because she bluntly critiques the faith of her fathers. A fearless opponent of radical Islam, she bears real scars from the pervasive misogyny in that culture.
At age 5 she was genitally mutilated in the name of religion. As screenwriter of a film that challenged Islam’s treatment of women, she was threatened in the most extraordinary way: Her death note came affixed to a knife protruding from the mutilated corpse of her producer.
She rose from her native East Africa to become an important leader in Dutch politics and a world leader on human rights. She is poised and eloquent but sometimes drifts into hyperbole, no doubt the expression of righteous and deeply felt anger. That was too much for the cowards at Brandeis who worked to marginalize and silence her in the same way radical imams do.
Rutgers students and professors rejected Condi Rice for her role in the Iraq war and her 2009 approval in real time of such interrogation tactics as waterboarding. Never mind that such tactics in the face of existential threats were widely debated in this country with serious legal and philosophical arguments on both sides.
As for Christine Lagarde, the campus community at Smith College in Massachusetts used an online petition to reject her, arguing she leads a “corrupt system” that oppresses and abuses women worldwide, a highly debatable proposition.
Lagarde, a labor lawyer and former French finance minister, became in 2011 the first woman to direct the powerful IMF. Apparently she lacks one thing — the moral polish befitting Smith graduates.
College students and faculty have been playing “Get the Guest” for decades, but never this fervently. The practice has trended upward since 2009, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the free-speech group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“I call it disinvitation season,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Not everyone gets disinvited, but there is such consistent effort to get rid of people.”
Since 2009, 95 protests have led to 39 commencement cancellations, he said.
Perhaps one day we’ll look back at 2009 as the year when a new cohort of young people, post-Generation X and post-Generation Y, began to reveal themselves.
Their calling card is cowardice in the face of contrary ideas. They never learned that the contest of ideas, not smothering group-think, nourishes democracy and free peoples.
They can rally strength in numbers to reject intellectual contamination, but they can’t see their own weakness and insecurity that motivates them.
As these emerging young Americans define themselves, they will need a name.
We propose Generation W.
As in “Wimp.”