Haverford commencement speaker calls some students ‘immature’ and arrogant’

The commencement address at Haverford College in Pennsylvania on Sunday wasn’t your typical commencement address.

One of the speeches at the event was delivered by William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University, who was chosen after the first choice for speaker, Robert J. Birgeneau, became the target of protesters and withdrew. Bowen, speaking before some 2,800 people, said that the students and faculty who had protested Birgeneau had been “immature” and “arrogant.” He also said that Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, had reacted ” intemperately,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Bowen got a standing ovation.

Several dozen students and a few faculty members opposed the choice of Birgeneau to speak at the Quaker college because of an incident in 2011 in which campus police at Berkeley used force to break up a student protest about the high cost of college. The protesters asked Birgeneau in a letter to publicly apologize for the use of force and agree to eight other conditions. Birgeneau rejected the demands and withdrew, a move that Bowen thought was wrong.

He said, according to the Inquirer:

“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.”

He also said:

“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protestors. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · May 18