An upscale Quaker college on the outskirts of Philadelphia became the scene of a mini-brouhaha on Sunday, when a commencement speaker admonished campus radicals for their intolerance and arrogance.
Former president of Princeton University, William G. Bowen, told a Haverford College commencement audience that the letter 40 plus radical students and three professors sent to another invited speaker, former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, was “immature” and “arrogant,” the Phildelphia Inquirer reported.
The left-wing students and three Berkeley alumni professors had castigated Birgeneau for his use of force in putting down campus protests in 2011 and demanded – demanded – that he publicly apologize, offer reparations to the victims, write a letter of explanation to Haverford and include “what he learned from” the protesters, and six other requirements.
Bowen came to his colleague’s defense.
“I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of demands,” he told the 2,800 guests and 300 students assembled. “In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter arguments.”
His remarks drew a standing ovation but were not without their critics.
One of the offended teachers, Associate Professor of English Maud McInerney, complained, “It was an ambush. It is really unfair to shame students at their graduation. It’s a captive audience. That’s an abuse of power,” reported the Inquirer.
More commonly heard were responses such as that of Bo Abrams, a graduating political science major. “His remarks were appropriate and justified,” he said. “He said all the right things in response…to a blown out of proportion situation.”
Birgeneau had refused to travel to the ceremony, replying to the radicals’ letter with a curt email. Bowen upbraided this behavior also, saying, he should have made “proper allowance for the immature, and yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”
While Christine LeGarde, Condoleeza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and other commencement invitees have withdrawn recently due to leftist protestors, the veteran ex-Princeton president told his listeners better outcomes were possible.
Then-Secretary of State George Shultz had been spurned at his campus during the Vietnam War, he related, by students standing and turning their backs during his speech, but that Princeton “emerged from this mini-controversy more committed than ever to honoring both the right to protest in proper ways, and the accomplishments of someone with those views on some issues many disagreed.”
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