Commencement speakers and free speech

There seems to be some confusion about free speech. A commencement address. for example, has little to do with free speech and yet somehow it is:

Smith thought it had scored a coup when Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund, agreed to be the 2014 commencement speaker. But some Smith students and faculty were fervently opposed.

A petition demanding that the invitation to Lagarde be rescinded called the IMF the “primary culprit” of developmental policies that have “led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.” Some students wrote to Lagarde, asking her not to come.

Lagarde withdrew, and McCartney worried that Smith would now be identified with a disturbing trend in which “subsets of students and faculty, typically on the political left, [object] to commencement speakers whose words, views, actions or organizations they opposed.”

Here’s a few reasons a commencement address is not about free speech:

  • the speakers are often paid (Condoleezza Rice would have made $35,000), which is in effect paid for by the students
  • the speaker usually gets an honorary degree
  • there is no debate or discussion, no opposing views will be heard
  • this is a graduation not a classroom

This comment is also interesting:

It’s far better for students to counter speech with more speech. Instead, on the very day students are launched into the “real world,” a vocal minority would prefer to fend off speakers who’ve struggled with the complexity and contradictions that come with any high-level career.

The students who protested did counter with their own speech and this editorial is complaining about that. Why is it so hard to understand that some students want more say at who will speak at their graduation paid for with their money?

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