Commencement Wars: The Speaker Strike Back

Students protesting controversial commencement speakers have made for a regrettable trend of late. Usually, these incidents are sparked by a small, but vocal minority taking advantage of social media and link-baiting media to induce invitees to beg off. Now, it seems that the backlash has taken hold.

Sometimes, it is best to get those you disagree with to go on record with their remarks. You need to have an argument to win one.

In a surprising move, a commencement speaker at Haverford College on Sunday used the celebratory occasion to deliver a sharp rebuke to students who had mounted a campaign against another speaker who had been scheduled to appear but withdrew amid the controversy.William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton and a nationally respected higher education leader, called the student protestors’ approach both "immature" and "arrogant" and the subsequent withdrawal of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley, a "defeat" for the Quaker college and its ideals.Bowen’s remarks to an audience of about 2,800 that gave him a standing ovation added a new twist to commencement speaker controversies playing out increasingly on college campuses across the nation. Bowen faced no opposition, but chose to defend a fellow speaker who was targeted, calling the situation "sad" and "troubling."

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