He’s Number Two, so he tries harder. Haverford’s back-up choice after a small group of students and professors hounded out Robert Birgereau as commencement speaker was William Bowen, who has been president of Princeton and the Mellon Foundation. Ol’ Bill got up there at the event and let it rip.

He directly addressed the people who demanded that Birgereau apologize for calling out the police during an Occupy protest at Berkeley, and that he meet nine conditions that they set in order for him to be able to come to Haverford, including “publicly apologizing, supporting reparations for victims, and writing a letter to Haverford students explaining his position on the events and ‘what you learned from them.'” Quoth Bowen in his speech to Haverford graduates:

“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… In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a 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.”

Actually, the real story here is how Haverford blindsided the Nine Conditions people. Did they even have time to find out that Bowen is a “Trustee on the Board of the Trust Committee that oversees the Rockefeller family trusts”? Even if they had time to find this out, did they have time to set forth a series of conditions (‘Write a letter to Haverford students explaining your position on robber barons and what you have learned from consorting with them.’) Bowen needed to meet before he could appear at Haverford?

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2 Responses to “William Tells.”

  1. Mr Punch Says:

    Still … the idea that a commencement address is somehow a discussion or a debate is absurd on its face. The likelihood that it will offer any thoughts not previously put before the public by the speaker is minimal. The whole practice is looking more and more like football, actually – it has a certain publicity value, but doesn’t bear close examination (and some perfectly good universities dispense with it).

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Mr Punch: I agree. For some reason people are lately failing to respect the ritualized vacuousness of the event (you’d never run into this problem in, for instance, Japan), and that’s where the trouble has begun. Even recent notable commencement addresses… take Steve Jobs and David Foster Wallace … If you actually read them, you see that while Jobs and Wallace fulfilled their obligation to reiterate obvious truths, other people decided that they had spoken special words of wisdom.

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