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Haverford College commencement speaker has harsh words for graduates

William Bowen, former president of Princeton University, used part of his commencement speech to comment on the recent controversy involving Robert Birgeneau, a former chancellor at University of California Berkeley who declined an honorary degree at Haverford College after students protested his selection.

After delivering his original commencement speech, Bowen spoke on what he called the “troubling, sad situation created by conflict between some protestors and Chancellor Birgeneau.”

Bowen said he volunteered to speak on the situation as an outsider. He said Haverford College President Daniel Weiss consented without knowing what he would say.

“I regard this outcome as a defeat pure and simple for Haverford, no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”

“I’m disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkley, as they had every right to do, chose to send him such an intemperate list of demands. In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a serious discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter arguments.”

Bowen called some of the protesters’ inclinations “immature and arrogant.”

“Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he (Birgeneau) should be with us today.”

Bowen mentioned other incidents which he called better courses of action. One example he cited was when President Obama was invited to Notre Dame despite his pro-choice position.

The audience and students gave Bowen a standing ovation following his speech.

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