Free speech on campuses is dead! Didn’t you hear? Leftist fascists are forcing universities to cancel commencement speakers that they find objectionable. Others are getting protested. It’s awful! Where is the freedom? Actually, the freedom is in the protesting.
According to multiple conservative outlets and their liberaltarian friends, this is the month in which academic freedom coughed its final dry death rattle at the hands of the left. The cause of death was the rescinding of invitations to the following commencement speakers:
Oh, the horror! Or, as critics put it, the “bald hypocrisy on free speech and academic freedom,” the “modish commitment to so-called diversity” in which “muggers prevail” and commencement speakers are “excommunicated, ignored, or banished from public life.”
As Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi put it in her trollish complaint about students complaining, “God forbid these delicate students should be exposed to an idea or an organization with which they disagreeat college.” (Pro tip: If you’re positioning yourself as a defender of speech freedoms and the headline of your post tells “Fragile” people to “STFU and Listen,” you’re doing it wrong.)
Here’s the thing: Condoleezza Rice, just to take one example, is not banished from public life. And these “delicate students” have already been exposed to her ideas. We all have. Those ideas sucked. So the upshot is that Condoleezza Rice doesn’t get a paid trip to New Jersey. She still gets to write books and be on Fox News anytime she wants, whenever she can take more time off from her six-figure position as a tenured professor at Stanford.
Whose free speech do these concern-trolling, hand-wringing conservatives purport to be protecting? Soon-to-be job-seeking ex-students with high debt loads, and low marks for political participation, and little to their names but degrees with the names of their parent institutions? Or powerful captains of industry, politics and media who are paid for the chance to add to their home office’s “walls of me” and blow hot platitudes over the mortar boarded heads of their young charges?
And blow they do. Let’s face it, commencement addresses suck, and they suck in direct proportion to the cultural standing of the speaker. The more famous your commencement addressor is, the likelier their address is to be a warmed-over serving of wilted TED Talks punch lines. Tom Friedmanesque yarns. If you’re really lucky, maybe your school will actually get Tom Friedman, instead of a starchy simulacrum of Tom Friedman.
But let’s not even bother with that tack, because being denied a chance to speak at a graduation ceremony is not an infringement on your free speech. Free speech might entail an invitation to speak to a voluntary audience and then have alternative viewpoints offered by other speakers, and then perhaps engage in a dialogue over those ideas. This is not how commencement speeches work. If a commencement address is free speech, then so is a seven-hour harangue by Fidel Castro to Cuban citizens who are too scared to get up and leave the auditorium to pee.
A commencement address is the opposite of free. It is paid speech. Paid speech that, just like the honorary degree that accompanies it, associates the recipient with the granting institution as if by royal decree. It’s entirely legitimate for faculty and students, who are already associated with the institution by their works and their merits, to dispute whether an honoree is also worthy of that association.
Here is the original post:
In Defense of Protesting Commencement Speakers