By David Hill - 05/04/05 12:00 AM EDT
During May, many conservative parents attending college and university graduation ceremonies will get a full helping of the liberal orthodoxy that was routinely dished out to their students for four years.
Like Earth Day or Martin Luther King’s birthday, commencement seems to be a celebration of left-wing values. It’s a last chance for liberals to proselytize from a podium.
A check of this year’s commencement-speaker lineup confirms conservative parents’ worst fears. Of the 425 speakers listed in a database maintained by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the overwhelming majority are dedicated left-wingers. Al Gore’s speaking at Johns Hopkins, Donna Brazile at Lane, Ted Turner at New England College, Marian Wright Edelman at Colgate University and Salem College, and Kweisi Mfume at Washington College. If they all met on the same campus for a retro-style “teach-in,” it would have to be called a “liberalpalooza.”
Commencements are an excuse, too, for Clinton administration class reunions. Hazel O’Leary, Joycelyn Elders, Robert Rubin, David Gergen and Janet Reno all have a skin in the game. Even liberal Democrat congressional has-beens from Tom Daschle to Dick Gephardt have a speaking gig on some campus. And you couldn’t begin to name all the liberal columnists who will hold forth their “progressive” views to this year’s graduates and their guests.
Not all the news is bad, however. Some genuine conservatives have been tapped for the honors. Barbara Bush takes the podium at South Carolina’s Columbia College. Sean Hannity holds forth at Liberty University, Franklin Graham at Montreat College, John Ashcroft at Northwest University and Rich DeVos at Palm Beach Atlantic University. But the influence of these cultural conservatives is limited to smaller, Southern or distinctively Christian schools.
More encouraging is that a majority of elected officeholders who are commencement speakers are Republicans. Twelve percent of the 2005 speakers in the Chronicle’s database May 2 are federal or state elected officeholders. Twenty-eight commencement speeches will be delivered by Republicans and just 22 by Democrats.
Yet Democrats still seem to have a qualitative advantage among the electeds. Only one real congressional leader has accepted an invitation to speak, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Leader Tom Delay are all missing from the lineup. The Republicans chosen to speak tend to be more junior members.
There is also a tendency for Republicans to get parochial assignments just in their own states. By comparison, Democrats often get more prestigious invites across state lines. Maverick Republican John McCain of Arizona is the only exception to both patterns. He’ll be speaking at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and the Maine Maritime Academy.
The most interesting omission from this year’s ceremonies is funnyman Bill Cosby. From 2000 to 2004, Cosby delivered at least 19 commencement addresses, more than any other public figure. But at present he appears nowhere in this year’s database of speakers. Clearly, Cosby crossed the line when he spoke out last year about aspects of contemporary African-American culture, offending the liberals who hand out most of these speaking offers.
For Republican parents’ sake, the safest state universities on graduation day would appear to be Georgia Tech and Louisiana State University. Since 2000, Tech’s commencement has featured a steady stream of Bush appointees, Republican officeholders, real scientists or business leaders. LSU’s ceremonies featured President George W. Bush last year, Dick Cheney in 2003 and former President George H.W. Bush in 2001.
Reformer David Horowitz is going before state legislatures around the nation promoting an “academic bill of rights” that would prevent liberal colleges and universities from discriminating against conservative (or liberal) students and faculty. Let’s hope that enough conservative parents get offended by liberal commencement speakers to lend Horowitz a hand in his efforts.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.