It has been well established that in academia Democrats outnumber Republicans and Liberals outnumber Conservatives. While this indisputable fact has been longstanding, there was a time when the college campus was still thought to be THE place for the free expression of ideas and reasonable debate on the issues of the day.
That is no longer the case as that those with conservative perspectives are not routinely hired into professorships or administrative positions. Conservative speakers are rarely invited to present on campus, and when they do are at times disinvited or ultimately shouted down when the protesting roar of the cancel culture reaches fever pitch. Students wishing to espouse a conservative point of view feel the need to self-censor for fear of ridicule from peers, grade retaliation by professors, or even disciplinary actions from administrators.
As Spring is upon us and college semesters are heading toward final exams, thoughts of commencement ceremonies are in the air and planning for them has begun in earnest. Aside from conferring diplomas, the highlight of any commencement ceremony is the keynote address, typically given by a person of prominence in popular culture, academia, business, or government. It is here where we could glean a picture of the ideological bent of any given campus, and indeed confirmation that for the most part it is only one ideology that is heard at institutions of higher learning. The University of California system does not fail to disappoint in this regard.
The UC system is made of up ten different institutions in the Golden State, and as with most universities across the nation, they all struggled with the need for remote education over the last two years of the Covid pandemic. Additionally, they found themselves putting forth virtual commencements. In 2021, most institutions had virtual graduation ceremonies, and in some cases had limited in-person gatherings. Before we look toward the commencements being plan for 2022, let’s remember who and what was presented in 2021.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA alumnus D’Artagnan Scorza was introduced in the commencement program as a civic leader, social justice advocate, and founder of The Social Justice Learning Institute. Speaking to the challenges confronted during this pandemic, Scorza said:
“My mask protects me, and your mask protects you is not just about protecting us from the
spread of Covid, instead it has become a symbol for our responsibility to each other’s humanity.”
“The pandemic wasn’t a crisis all by itself. Instead, it was an awakening that revealed deep
seeded and deep rooted inequities in our communities and created the space for a global
call to action”
University of California San Diego (UCSD) Keynote speaker Alicia Garza was introduced as a civil rights activist and co-founder of International Black Lives Matter.
She related that she was once accepted as a teacher in the Teach for America Program in Orleans Parish, Lousiana,
“….just a year before the man-made disaster known as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.”
She went on to say,
“We have the responsibility to reshape this world in a way that makes room for all of us.”
“Make no mistake that everything–absolutely everything in this world today is political.”
UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) Forrest Stewart (Oakes College, UC Santa Cruz, ’04, politics), was introduced as now Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. Stewart’s work focuses on the societal underpinnings of poverty and criminalization across disciplines. He said,
“So much of my journey began at Oakes, alongside brilliant friends and faculty.
Whether it was designing federal lawsuits to fight police brutality in Los Angeles,
or whether it’s launching after-school programs in Chicago to help young people
process violence and trauma, or maybe it’s writing books that celebrate the voices
of long-neglected communities, I can trace all of these to the conversations I had
and the lessons I learned at Oakes.”
UC Merced (UCM) Fall Graduation. Na’ilah Suad Nasir is the sixth President of the Spencer Foundation. She also served as Chair of African American Studies and the Vice-Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion at Cal Berkeley. Her work focuses on issues of race, culture, learning, and identity. She is the author of Racialized Identities: Race and Achievement for African-American Youth. She said:
“The world you graduate into is imperfect–deeply and fundamentally flawed, in fact. And
for many of us–black, Latino, indigenous, women, queer identifying, differently abled, those
of us from immigrant roots, it is a world that can seem dead-set against our very survival,
much less our thriving.”
UC Santa Barbara (UCSB). Oprah Winfrey, media executive, talk show host, author and philanthropist. Oprah proclaimed:
You get a diploma. You get a diploma. EVERYBODY gets a diploma!”
Well, no. She did not say that. I kid. But she did say this:
“Pick a problem–any problem. The list is looong. Gun violence, Climate Change. Systemic
Racism. Social Justice. Economic Inequality. Media Bias. The homeless need opportunity.
The addicted need treatment. The prison system needs reforming. The LGBTQ+ community
needs acceptance. The social safety net needs saving. The misogyny needs to stop.”
UC Riverside (UCR) UC Davis (UCD) and UC Irvine (UCI) all had virtual ceremonies and shared a generic graduation message from the First Couple of California introduced as “Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.” Gov. Newsom remarked:
“This is the generation prioritizing addressing things like climate change, a generation that
won’t tolerate economic or racial injustice. You just don’t dream of a better future and a
more inclusive world, you’re out there actually acting on it and manifesting it.”
And finally, there is UC Berkeley. Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo is the U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. He was the first president of the Obama Foundation and also served during the Obama administration as the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. He said:
“…..I confess that was not immediately obvious when I arrived on this campus a quarter-century
ago. My freshman year at Cal wasn’t long after the passage of Proposition 209, which effectively
ended affirmative action; it restricted the university’s ability to bring together a student body that actually looked like California.”
He went on to say,
“We embrace our diversity, our different opinions, and in embracing them become something
Well, Dep. Secretary Adeyemo, we may be embracing our diversity, but we are hardly embracing our different opinions–certainly not on university campuses and evidently not in UC Commencement addresses for 2021.
An argument can and has been made that college graduates ought to have some say in who delivers the keynote addresses at their respective graduations. It is, after all, their day, and they want to hear what they want to hear. An argument has also been made that a liberal education ought to provide for exposure to a diversity of thought which would include, but not be limited to keynote commencement addresses. In that regard, here’s what President Barack Obama had to say at an Education Town Hall in Des Moines, Iowa in 2015:
“I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is
too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book if it had language that is offensive to
African Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I’ve got to tell you,
I don’t agree with that either — that when you become students at colleges, you have to be
coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and
you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn’t silence them by
saying you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.”
Perhaps the approach 2022 UC commencement keynoters take will be different. Maybe we will hear from them on a true diversity of thought and topics. Is it possible that speakers will encourage graduates to embark on a career in law enforcement or service in our armed forces–or at the very least, support and respect for same? Might we hear about the continuing battle against Islamo-terrorism and the nations that support it? Support for our most important ally in the Middle East, Israel? Advocating for 2nd Amendment rights? Stemming the growing tide of illegal immigration at our borders? Once again ramping up our production of fossil fuels so as not to be held financial hostage by foreign oil interests like Russia? Any other right of center viewpoints?
If 2021 and prior are any indication, we won’t hold our breath on the above prospects for 2022, but we look forward to university commencements this Spring, and will certainly follow up to see where we stand, what we hear, and from whom.