‘Disinvitation Season’ on Campus

May 16, 2014

At Lancaster Online

Last year, in a commencement address at Millersville University, Gov. Tom Corbett challenged 2013 graduates to “reach for the stars.”

“Today, you are enrolling in the university of life,” he told them. “It is the best, sometimes most demanding, teacher.”

Corbett’s remarks were meant to both inspire and challenge the 1,109 graduates.

But they likely would be left unsaid if today’s crop of left-leaning students and liberal faculty members had gotten their way.

At colleges around the country, a number of commencement speakers have either withdrawn or were disinvited recently, following student and faculty protests. Those who complained the loudest are found among the left.

At Rutgers, Condoleezza Rice’s planned speech was opposed over her role in the Iraq war while she served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was disinvited by Brandeis University. The Somali-born Hirsi Ali is a staunch critic of Islam’s treatment of women. But she is seen as sympathetic to the right because she challenges radical Islam.

Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, bowed out of a speech as Smith College. Apparently, the left was unhappy with IMF policies regarding poor countries.

Haverford College disinvited Robert J. Birgeneau, former University of California, Berkeley chancellor, after students and professors complained about his handling of an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in 2011.

Meanwhile, first lady Michelle Obama canceled a speech at a high school graduation in Topeka, Kansas, after protests — not of her political views, but because of concern that there would not be enough seats for family.

“We refer to it as disinvitation season,” says Robert Shibley, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that focuses on civil liberties on college campuses.

Fortunately, Gov. Corbett’s address to MU students last year went off without a hitch, although there was some grumbling from a handful of students and faculty unhappy with the governor’s education policies.

The best colleges and universities encourage the expression of different voices, perspectives and ideas. Take any of that away and the college experience is less satisfying for students.

Protesting students and faculty who get their way may think they “win.” But they don’t. They lose.

Cases: Nationwide: Colleges Across the Country Disinvite Commencement Speakers