NBC Fears Colleges Becoming 'Islands of Intolerance' As MSNBC Cheers How Commencement Speakers 'Drop Like Flies'
While a Thursday article posted on MSNBC.com celebrated college commencement speakers who "drop like flies" due to to "feisty campus dissent," on Friday's NBC Today, correspondent Peter Alexander warned: "On campuses in the last two years, 25 speakers have withdrawn or been disinvited....The growing trend is fueling concern that campuses could become islands of intolerance." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
A soundbite was included of Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education observing: "The danger here is that we send a message to students that they have a right to only hear from people that they already agree with. It becomes very difficult to find anyone you can invite to speak who's done anything interesting with their lives."
Alexander noted International Monetary Fund president Christine Laguarde being "among the latest targets" of protest and her decision to drop out of a planned commencement address to Smith College. Alexander quoted the president of the school: "...those who objected to the selection of Christine Laguarde had their 'desired effect,' 'But at what cost to Smith College?'"
Alexander failed to label such intolerant protests as being liberal or left-wing.
Here is a full transcript of Alexander's May 16 report:
7:15 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: The college commencement season is in full swing now, but this year the pomp and circumstance on some campuses is also being met with controversy. Protests leading a number of invited speakers to walk away or drop out. NBC's national correspondent Peter Alexander has more on this story. Peter, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Commencement Controversy; Wave of Protests Force Speakers to Back Out]
PETER ALEXANDER: Savannah, good morning to you. Some are now calling this disinvitation season. The push-back against selected speakers has become increasingly intense. And you know, this trend is all the more stunning because commencement addresses are traditionally less about politics and more about sharing those pearls of wisdom with new graduates.
JOE BIDEN: Congratulations to all of you.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Go forth, make a difference.
REP. JOHN LEWIS [D-GA]: This is your day.
ALEXANDER: It's supposed to be a celebrated moment, with speakers literally out of this world.
RICK MASTRACCHIO [NASA ASTRONAUT SPEAKING FROM SPACE STATION]: Maybe I should give the speech in a different orientation.
ALEXANDER: But this commencement season, those caps and gowns can't cover up all the controversy. Among the latest targets, one of the world's most powerful women, head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Laguarde. After student protests, with one blasting the IMF as "imperialistic, ineffective, and oppressive," Lagaurde backed out of Sunday's ceremony, telling Smith College she wanted "to preserve the celebratory spirit of commencement day."
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew from commencement at Rutgers University, saying she didn't want to be a "distraction" after student objections to her role in the Iraq war. And at Brandeis, a human rights activist had her invitation yanked for her criticism of Islam.
Even music mogul Sean P. Diddy Combs, call him Dr. Diddy now, came under fire ahead of his address at Howard University's commencement because Combs didn't actually get his degree. On campuses in the last two years, 25 speakers have withdrawn or been disinvited.
GREG LUKIANOFF [FOUNDATION FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS IN EDUCATION]: The danger here is that we send a message to students that they have a right to only hear from people that they already agree with. It becomes very difficult to find anyone you can invite to speak who's done anything interesting with their lives.
ALEXANDER: The growing trend is fueling concern that campuses could become islands of intolerance. Smith College's president conceded those who objected to the selection of Christine Laguarde had their "desired effect," "But at what cost to Smith College?"
And Smith's president said she remains committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect.
It can, as we noted, be hard to find a prominent speaker who doesn't offend someone. As our expert joked, if we head down this road, Matt and Savannah, ,schools may have to follow Long Island University from back in the day, Kermit the Frog addressed the class of '96.
GUTHRIE: Right, it's a bizarre one.
AL ROKER [DOING A KERMIT THE FROG IMPRESSION]: What if I don't like green? He's out.
GUTHRIE: Yeah, exactly.
NATALIE MORALES: Miss Piggy wouldn't like it.
GUTHRIE: Peter, thank you very much.