It’s commencement season and there is no shortage of big name political leaders, celebrities, and business people making the circuit. And each year, students and faculty scheme to shame administrations into uninviting unpopular speakers (i.e., conservatives).
One of the controversies this season though is at Scripps College, an all-women’s college, which has invited the first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to deliver remarks at tomorrow's commencement. Scripps is a liberal arts college in California with about 1,000 female students. As my colleague Charlotte Hays first reported, students are irate over Albright because she’s –in their words- a “white feminist” and “war criminal.”
The LA Times editorial board is now weighing in on why these students are wrong:
It's true that bad things happened during the Clinton administration, as they do during most U.S. presidencies. But is Albright really a “war criminal,” as some students have charged? Does she belong in a category with Bashar Assad and Pol Pot? That strikes us as excessive.
Especially distressing is the response by some members of the Scripps faculty. In an open letter, 28 faculty members said they will boycott the official Saturday procession ceremony because “we should promote the advancement of women and transgender peoples broadly and not simply emulate and celebrate those individuals who participate in U.S. state power and wield its violence.”
In our opinion, they should be there for their students, and if they don't like what they hear, they don't have to clap.
As for Albright, we're glad she will be there to broaden the minds of students, who should be exposed to a wide range of opinions and ideas, even those they disagree with.
A fine point to highlight though is that students have every right to voice their opinions –as long as they are not disruptive or violent. That is the blessing of being in a democracy, a right guaranteed by the Constitution. They err, however, in not being open to allowing others to voice opposing views. College administrators play a pivotal role here; they need to hold the line and not kowtow to demands that speakers be uninvited. Administrators are the ones who create the marketplace for ideas to be exchanged, when they close the entrance to some and only permit a few with the same ideas that disrupts the equal exchange of thoughts and nothing changes nor is anything new born.
President Obama gave students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a tongue-lashing, saying he disagrees with disinviting speakers that one doesn’t agree with or shouting down opposite views. It’s not too often that I agree with President Obama, but I believe that in this he is right on the money:
So don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There's been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them. Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position. There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. And you might as well start practicing now, because one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks…
I deplore the president's view of a world that seems to be filled with hatred, racism, and foolishness but am interested in listening nevertheless.
If after four years of readings, lectures, addresses, conferences, and late-night philosophy discussions these students can’t listen to and disagree civilly with a different view than their own, then all they got was an expensive lesson in intolerance.