What a bargain: At a cost of a mere $100,000 or so, a Northeastern college can take your child and transform him into a delicate flower incapable of handling opinions at odds with his own. It can close his mind and vacuum-seal it against opposing views. And it can, as a bonus, perhaps make him rude and incorrigible.
These have been the benefits of liberal education on display this commencement season, as graduating students have risen up against the affront of having to listen to the U.S. secretary of state or a distinguished war hero for a half-hour or so. Students complain that Condoleezza Rice and Sen. John McCain don’t represent them. But since when has it been a requirement that speakers on campus be representative of – in the sense of totally agreeing with – student views? If there were such a requirement, few commencement addresses would ever be given by anyone to the right of filmmaker Michael Moore.
Students at the liberal New School in New York City circulated a petition to have McCain disinvited as the commencement speaker. “McCain does not speak for me,” they declared. Well, of course not. No one would ever mistake the (mostly) conservative senator from Arizona as a mouthpiece for the flagrantly tattooed and pierced left-wingers who attend the Greenwich Village college. But why would they only want to hear someone saying things that they already thought and believed?
The slogan was similar at Boston College, where students objecting to Condi Rice getting an honorary degree and delivering the commencement address said, “Not in my name.” That phrase makes it sound as though some atrocity were being committed. The anti-Rice students maintain that her support of the Iraq War violates the Catholic teachings to which the Jesuit college is devoted. But the Vatican has never formally condemned the Iraq War. Protesters would be on firmer ground objecting to Rice’s pro-choice position on abortion, but respecting unborn life is a fundamental Catholic teaching that no one bothered to mention.
All the rhetoric about “not speaking for me” and “not in my name” indicates a certain self-obsession. At the New School it was in full flower. As McCain spoke about the lessons of his life, students yelled, “It’s not about you!” and “It’s about my life, not yours!” Apparently what they wanted to hear was: “I’m here to tell you that every unexamined prejudice you hold is absolutely correct. You represent the summit of human wisdom, and in all the years you have left on this Earth, you will never learn anything important that you don’t already know as a snotty 21-year-old. And don’t let anyone ever dare to tell you otherwise.”
McCain’s speech was largely a self-effacing account of his own folly as an arrogant, know-it-all youth. Students who heckled and turned their backs on the senator as he delivered this message must recognize irony only when it appears on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” The point of turning your back on someone is to demonstrate a fundamental disrespect. Students at BC were far and away better behaved than the New School mob, but some of them did the same to Rice. It is a gesture appropriate in response to a member of the Klan, but when applied to McCain or Rice, it says more about the protester than the speaker.
It’s not surprising that students are sophomoric, even if, as graduates, they are supposed to be beyond that. But faculty at both schools joined in the agitation. The opposition to Rice at BC was jump-started by a faculty letter, and some New School faculty turned their backs on McCain. It is these sort of professors who set the tone at top colleges. They act like a medieval guild protecting a monopoly on thought. Dissenting points of view send them into an angry, defensive crouch.
And just think: For a substantial fee, they will mold the mind of your child.
Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at: [email protected] nationalreview.com.