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Commencement Watch 2022

In our examination of the top twenty-five US News research universities and liberal arts colleges, we found that not a single conservative was invited to give a commencement speech or receive an honorary degree. What we have here is, to put it bluntly, a scandal. It’s hard to see an explanation outside of ideological prejudice for the gross imbalance.

At the twenty-five US News top-ranked research universities and the twenty-five US News top-ranked liberal arts colleges this past spring, many graduation speakers delivered remarks, and many honorary degrees were conferred. Not all the speakers and degree recipients had easily discoverable political or ideological profiles. But many did.

Not a single one was a conservative. That’s right. Not one.

Is that because no conservative in the country has a record of accomplishment in civic life, the legal or medical professions, the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, business, religion, philanthropy, or the arts, on a par with those who gave honorific addresses or received honorary degrees?

Only a hardened ideologue could believe such arrant nonsense. There are, of course, many exceptionally accomplished conservatives who have distinguished themselves in scholarship, public service, business, the arts, and the learned professions.

So what we have here is, to put it bluntly, a scandal. Leading colleges and universities deny that they are ideologically biased or partisan. That simply cannot be squared, however, with what our examination of the spring 2022 honorific addresses and honorary degrees revealed.

Let us say a word about how we decided to categorize or “code” speakers and degree recipients. We conducted Google searches and roamed around in the honorees’ websites, where they were available (as they are in many cases). We read news articles about them, studied their CVs (if available), and examined their profile pages at their home institutions and organizations.

 

There are not, of course, canonical definitions of terms like “progressive,” “liberal,” “moderate,” and so on. So we only classified individuals as “progressive” or “liberal” or “moderate” if they were clearly so by contemporary standards of common usage. Otherwise, we left them uncategorized.

Although it is possible that we made a mistake or two in classifying someone as “progressive” or “liberal” who should be classified by today’s standards as “moderate,” we were so cautious in applying the left-leaning labels that it is more likely that we are undercounting progressives and liberals (categorizing some as moderates or unclassifiable).

Another noteworthy finding was that some speakers and honorary degree recipients, such as Anthony Fauci and Isabel Wilkerson, were honored at several schools. (Remember, our list was based on the twenty-five US News top-ranked universities and the twenty-five US News top-ranked liberal arts colleges. Fauci was feted at several that were not on either top twenty-five list).

Many women were honored for their achievements, which was good to see, though no women with a conservative profile were that we could discover—leaving us wondering if the people choosing honorees are simply unaware that women like the eminent Harvard legal scholar and diplomat Mary Ann Glendon exist. Harvard itself conferred honorary degrees on Gloria Steinem and Martha Nussbaum, both notable people, to be sure, but clearly on the left side of the ideological spectrum.

Athletes were popular choices as speakers at colleges and universities around the country, including those whose choices we examined—particularly if they were also politically outspoken and, of course, on the left. Gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, for example, gave the Commencement Address at UCLA.

People from the corporate world—big business—were represented, but no identifiably conservative businesspeople. Rather, there were “progressive” or “liberal” figures, especially from Big Tech. One was Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings (one of two commencement speakers at Stanford); another was Reid Hoffman, an entrepreneur, investor, and co-founder of LinkedIn, chosen to deliver the 2022 Graduates Day address at Vanderbilt University and to receive the school’s Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal.

 

We plan to send this article to the presidents of the fifty colleges and universities whose records we examined, with a request that they correct us if we missed a conservative speaker who was honored at their institution or one of the others. We make this same request to all our readers. If you are aware of conservatives—or even a single conservative—who in the 2022 commencement season spoke at a graduation or other event or received an honorary degree from one of the US News top-ranked colleges or universities, please let us know by contacting us here.

To college and university presidents: our aim is not to berate or embarrass you. Rather it is to bring attention to what we hope you will agree is a serious failing. In our opinion, it’s hard to see an explanation outside of ideological prejudice for the gross imbalance we have brought to light. If you believe we are wrong about that, we would be grateful to you for explaining why.

We are not calling for “affirmative action” for conservatives, or anybody else. We are simply asking that honorific speaking roles and honorary degrees be offered and awarded on an ideologically nonpartisan basis. If you agree, we respectfully ask you to take steps to rectify a system of selection that has clearly gone awry. If you disagree, we invite you to tell us why accomplished conservatives should be excluded in the selection process on account of their beliefs.

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