I mentally write this column as I sit through yet another college graduation ceremony—one of many I have participated in over the last 39 years. Former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was invited to give the commencement address at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York recently. The president of St. John Fisher College should be congratulated not just for his choice of Giuliani, but for actually landing the Mayor as commencement speaker. Having spent 39 years in higher education I can attest to what a struggle it is to secure a big-name speaker for the commencement address—someone the graduates will remember for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, few college graduates can even recall who their commencement speaker was or what that individual had to say, which makes my point about how difficult it is to land a really good graduation speaker. Having heard Mayor Giuliani speak on more than one occasion, I can attest to the fact that—regardless of what one thinks of him—his speeches are always memorable. The Mayor is refreshingly honest, straight forward, and frank. Giuliani does not beat around the bush or water down his speeches with politically correct mush-mouthing. He will tell you what he thinks without concern for whether you want to hear it or not.
Consequently, one would think the faculty of St. John Fisher College would have been delighted to have Mayor Giuliani as a commencement speaker. He is an internationally known figure, former mayor of America’s largest city, and was once a viable presidential candidate. But none of this means anything to the narrow-minded faculty members of St. John Fisher College. “Delighted” is hardly the sentiment expressed by left-leaning professors concerning this distinguished American speaking at their graduation ceremony. In fact, knowing the state of higher education in American you would have to be from another planet to think a college faculty would be delighted to hear an outspoken conservative deliver the commencement address or any other kind of speech for that matter.
Not only was the faculty at St. John Fisher College underwhelmed by their president’s accomplishment in landing Rudy Giuliani, they were actually incensed that he even extended the invitation. So incensed were these supposed exemplars of tolerance that 49 members of the faculty signed a letter asking the college’s president to rescind the invitation. What is truly ironic in this situation is that the letter drafted by the faculty of St. John Fisher College based its opposition to having Giuliani speak on his supposed record of “intolerance and insensitivity.” You read that right. These mushy-headed college professors actually took an intolerant stand to make a statement about perceived intolerance. I guess nobody ever told these self-important professors about teaching by example.
What really had these faculty members up in arms and applying the double standard that so permeates leftist thinking these days is that the college proposed to award the mayor an honorary degree; something that is often done for commencement speakers. On this subject, their letter to college President Donald Bain stated: “We believe that in bestowing an honorary degree on Mr. Giuliani, Fisher is in danger of betraying our fundamental campus values.” Oh really? What values would those be? Perhaps the professors should have reviewed their own institution’s stated core values before penning their ill-informed letter to their institution’s president.
The stated values that are common to institutions of higher education including St. John Fisher College include pluralism, diversity, critical thinking, openness, fairness, academic freedom, and freedom of speech. Rejecting a speaker who was an effective mayor of America’s largest city and is an authority on the response to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York simply because he disagrees with President Obama’s policies hardly comports with the stated values of pluralism, diversity, critical thinking, openness, fairness, academic freedom, or freedom of speech. In fact, for a faculty to take a stand that in essence says “agree with us or we will reject you” is academic tyranny, not academic freedom, and academic tyranny violates the cornerstone values of higher education. How are students supposed to become critical thinkers if all they are allowed to hear is the uniform beliefs of intolerant liberals?
To his credit, college President Donald Bain rejected the letter from his intolerant faculty members, reminding them that “dissent” is an important part of a healthy democracy. He also reminded his narrow-minded colleagues that diversity is not just about race and gender—it is also about opinions, perspectives, and points of view. He might also have brought up the inconvenient little fact that exposing students to differing opinions, perspectives, and points of view is an important part of a college professor’s responsibilities. Exposure to differing points of view is how college students develop critical intelligence.
President Bain went on to state that “Mr. Giuliani is expected to speak about his role in the 9/11 recovery. I believe this will be of interest and value to our students.” So far so good. But then Bain went off track and almost apologetically and imploringly wrote: “While we intend to continue with the invitation to Mayor Giuliani (the apology), I am confident that out of respect for our campus community the focus of the ceremony will remain with the graduates (the imploring plea). Actually Bain is not “confident” at all or he would not have gotten down on his knees—rhetorically speaking—and implored the faculty to behave themselves during Giuliani’s commencement address. Obviously he is afraid that his left-leaning faculty will show its true colors by protesting, demonstrating, walking out, or undertaking some other childish stunt that will show the world what a bunch of intolerant juvenile tyrants they really are.
But then in his defense, President Bain is in an awkward position. If the world gets a first-hand look at the behavior of his intolerant, childish faculty members, moms and dads might begin to wonder why they are spending so much money sending their sons and daughters to St. John Fisher College. Worse yet, major donors might begin to question why they are providing endowments, gifts, and scholarships to a college that would employ such intellectually immature individuals as professors. Actually that is a good question.
The College should not employ intellectual bigots in the first place. But having done so, it should correct the error by discontinuing the tenure of narrow-minded professors who reject the fundamental principles of higher education—pluralism, diversity, academic freedom, etc.—in favor of tyrannical suppression of differing points of view. As far as I am concerned, all 49 of the professors at St. John Fisher College who signed the letter to President Bain protesting the choice of Mayor Giuliani as commencement speaker should be fired for failing to live up to the principles upon which their institution was founded.