An opinion column published by USA Today makes the case that universities specifically avoided controversial speakers this commencement season.
Writing for USA Today, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) investigative journalist Alex Morey argued that universities did their best to avoid protests at graduation and commencement events.
According to FIRE statistics, there were five commencement-related disinvitations in the year 2000. In 2013, that number peaked at 19. This spring, there was only one commencement disinvitation across the entire United States.
Are universities once again embracing the marketplace of ideas? Or are universities avoiding controversial guest speakers all together? FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff posed this exact question.
“The first would be if students were to be better educated in how to engage in constructive protest and disagreement,” Lukianoff wrote. The second “would be that universities might grow increasingly leery of inviting speakers who might offend the most vocal part of their student body or their faculty.”
Morey is convinced that universities are simply avoiding speakers that are more likely to ignite controversies on campus. According to data from FiveThirtyEight, between 2012 and 2014, not a single “Republican political figure” spoke at any of the top 60 universities and liberal arts schools across the country. In 2014, for example, Brandeis University canceled a commencement address invitation to Aayan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist.
One institution, the University of South Carolina, took the most extreme precautions against possible protests. The university announced in 2016 that they would implement a new policy in which only university officials would be permitted to speak at commencement. University President Harris Pastides is automatically slated to offer the school’s commencement address each year.
Potentially as a result of increased political polarization, politicians are being pushed off campus altogether. Statistics suggest that it is not only conservatives that are being pushed out of commencement address opportunities. 15 left-wing politicians gave commencement addresses in 2014. This year, only five liberal politicians were afforded the same opportunity.