A Graduation Message to Students: Don't Use Free Speech to Suppress Free Speech

I suspect that it is difficult to find a commencement speaker who has failed to express an opinion on any major issue. And who would want such a person to speak at commencement? But that appears to be the only criterion sweeping our colleges and universities. Invitations to speak or receive honorary degrees are withdrawn because students protest. Christine Lagarde, Condoleezza Rice, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Robert Zoellick, Dr. Ben Carson and John Corvino have all been disinvited due to student pressure. The objections are largely based on what the designated speaker or honoree has said in the past. It is their beliefs that have rendered them unfit for the ears of graduates.

Why do our institutions of learning cave to such pressure? I do not believe that they necessarily agree with the objections and find them justified, but rather fear the repercussions of (you will pardon the expression) standing their ground. The students will not only protest, they will disrupt, and the hosts would prefer not having their solemn ceremony turned into a circus for YouTube watching. The bottom line is that someone is being stopped from speaking because a group opposes what they stand for or what they have done.

Where can that lead? Will students who are Democrats block a Republican from speaking? Will Catholics bar a Muslim? Will abortion rights speakers be quelled by anti-abortion advocates? Will poor students oppose wealthy 1 percent speakers? Ridiculous? Nope. The opposition to the speakers listed above is merely that the protestors have a different view than the speaker. These rejected speakers or honorees aren't Al Capone or Jack the Ripper. I expect that some thought goes into the selection of a commencement speaker. Should the university or college take a poll to make certain that everybody on the campus agrees with the speaker's views?

Protests are healthy. Some opposition to the views of the commencement speaker is part of the tradition. Hold a separate rally. Invite your own speaker. But don't intimidate your future alma mater into denying the expression of a view with which you do not agree. If that's what you learned in college, you should get your money back. Keeping a speaker from talking either by forcing the rescission of their invitation or shouting them down during the speech is tantamount to using your free speech rights to destroy that of others.