Hello my name is Troy Hall and i’m a senior political science/law & society major here at UCR and would like to respond to Colin Markovich’s article “Stop protesting commencement speakers”.
Mr. Markovich made a respectful denouncement of students protesting speakers at university commencements. Although I find that quite ironic because university campuses have long been the haven for organized rebellion of various forms. He makes that assertion on the argument that “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither” with “liberty” being the right to the free speech of those protested speakers and “security” being our deeply embedded personal beliefs. This is a noble point-of-view, but misguided. You see, liberty is sacrificed for security all the time and we see it in our everyday lives, for example: traffic laws. We agree to sacrifice our liberty by agreeing not to speed or drive whichever way we want for more secure roadways for women and children. We take menial, lower paying jobs to provide ourselves with security in the form of shelter, food, clothes, and support for our families. And we give up many liberties in exchange for convenience and security whenever we agree to Terms of Conditions or sign contracts. So Benjamin Franklin, although a learned man, may have been off the mark with that quote. Or maybe we are misinterpreting it because it clearly does not apply here.
The students of the university have a 1st Amendment right to protest any speaker they deem unfit. I think the disconnect here is that Mr. Markovich seems to assume that the speakers are denounced over ideology (hence his reference to the recent disproportionality in partisanship of commencement speakers) rather than actions.
Mr. Markovich, I am inclined to agree with you that protesting commencement speeches simply over political alignment would be a regrettable misuse and abuse of our 1st Amendment rights, but that is not the case here. Each rejected speaker that you named in your article – Christine Lagarde, Condoleeza Rice, and yes, even Robert Birgeneau were rejected for reasons – those of which you also stated. And it is not our place to judge what those communities deem as “crossing the line” for them, especially without proper context and backstory. Furthermore, when students protest a speaker, it is quite silly to think of that protesting as “lumping them” in the same category as others who were protested for different reasons, the severity of each being various and relative. By doing that, you undermine why each individual was protested in the first place, and again, who are we to determine the severity of those protested actions/comments for that community. Commencement ceremonies are not places for debate, but rather places for celebration of achievement – so we should treat it that way. If a graduating class of students decide that they do not want a speaker at their ceremony for apt reasons, that should be respected. I doubt the graduating students at UCI who do not favor President Barack Obama still attended that commencement ceremony not because it is a chance to open dialogue about policy issues (because that is not what a commencement is for) not strictly to listen to what he had to say and evaluate their own beliefs accordingly (because they evidently already have done that based on their position to dislike Obama). They came because the commencement is about them, not the speaker and the sooner we understand this, the sooner we can appreciate their right to protest.
Lastly, I’d like to briefly challenge a few of Mr. Markovich’s other statements.
That the graduation commencement is “the moment of our lives have been leading up to”. I think that this is a generalization because for many of us, college is just a segway – or obstacle – to reach our grander dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, community activists, engineers, and business owners and to be able to buy our parents a house and take care of our family. For us, college, like high school, is just a stepping stone. Albeit an important one, but let us not overstate and overgeneralize.
And finally, Mr. Markovich’s assertion that graduating from college is “proof of our skills and ability to succeed in life, proof of our in-depth knowledge of the world, open-mindedness, and ability to think critically. Mr. Markovich, a bachelor’s degree simply does not hold the weight you give it. Many graduates, although proficient at their major, have little street skills or can comprehend the actuality of the present world around them largely because of those “ivory towers” that you mentioned which provide the security of the university/college-town that is not representative of the larger society.
I think UCR is a fabulous community and I feel that way about the University of California as a whole but it is important, as the carefully handpicked students of the UC, that WE define the school and not let the school define us and that we not let the institution of school, or any other institution, overrule our power as individuals. That is why I support the student protest of commencement speakers.