Recent developments at a number of schools across the country are indicative of what has become a troubling trend. At Rutgers University in New Jersey, former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been invited to deliver the commencement address at graduation. At Smith College in Massachusetts, International Monetary Fund (IMF) manager Christine Lagarde had been invited to speak.
Both of these accomplished women chose to withdraw due to protests because, as Rice said in a statement, the growing controversy would only serve as a distraction at what is supposed to be a joyous time for the graduates and their families.
Let us be clear. If people are truly divisive or have troubling associations, we see no reason to object to protests and demands that they not be afforded the opportunity to express these views in a public forum. But in the case of Rutgers and Smith, it is nothing more than an outspoken minority foisting their views on a silent majority to stifle people with whom they have political disagreements. A quick look at the stated reasons they want these speeches canceled should put to rest any question as to what their motivation really is.
Condoleezza Rice is an accomplished public figure with an amazing and compelling life story. Christine Lagarde’s stewardship at IMF has helped steer the European Union through the Eurozone crisis. They are not, as the fringe protesters insist, “war criminals” or people who have “led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”
Compounding this is the fact that at Rutgers, the faculty was involved in the protests as well. The Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council even led the effort, approving a resolution in February calling for the cancellation of the invitation.
The amazing thing is that, despite being an extreme minority, they were able to force these withdrawals. Only 50 students protested at Rutgers — out of a student body of almost 60,000. And the faculty group, which has 60 members, comprises only about 2 percent of the academic staff. But they were able to generate enough noise that their opinions are perceived as representative of all.
It is a shame that the students and faculty members choose to deal with people who have different views than they do by smearing them and trying to deny them the opportunity to speak to their school. Instead of welcoming more voices to debate, these so called “progressives” prefer to live within the echo chamber of their own ideas. And in the end, the real losers here are the students, who will no longer be able to glean from the wisdom these people had hoped to share.