- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2010

The Obamaites are proving a much bigger hit than the Bushies ever were on the cap-and-gown circuit.

A survey by the conservative Young America's Foundation found that nine officials from the Obama administration have been invited to speak at commencement exercises at the nation’s 100 top-ranked universities this spring alone — compared with 14 officials from the administration during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office.

Foundation officials say the results, part of an annual survey conducted for the past 17 years, show that the liberal dominance of graduation day has only increased under President Obama.

Despite disclaimers from university officials, Evan Gassman, program officer at the Young America's Foundation, said there is no denying that a bias exists.

“You can see there is a trend,” he said. “Every single year for the past 17 years, these commencement speeches have contained over 50 percent of liberal ideologies, where conservatives are left out of the conversation.”

He added, “You’d think that the officials at the Obama administration would be dealing with the war in Iraq or the 9.5 percent unemployment rate, but it seems they’re all tied up. You think they’re busy but they’re not.”

The survey also found that members of the press and actors are among those scheduled to speak at graduation ceremonies at the nation’s top 100 universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The schools surveyed include Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and Boston University.

The invitations to administration figures is “only the tip of the iceberg,” according to the survey. “This year’s research found that a myriad of speakers were not only White House officials, but also liberal ideologues, newsmakers, authors and entrenched Washington insiders, while conservative best-selling authors, business leaders and free-market Nobel laureates were once again absent from our list.”

Top Obama administration officials and Cabinet officers were the featured speakers at a number of top universities this spring. They included Energy Secretary Stephen Chu (Washington University in St. Louis and Georgia Tech); Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice (Stanford University); Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. (Boston University); Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (University of Vermont at Burlington); Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer (College of William & Mary); and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk (Southern Methodist University).

Cornell has invited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be the “speaker of choice” for its ceremony Saturday, and former President Bill Clinton will do the honors for Yale. Mr. Obama addressed graduates of the University of Michigan and the cadets at West Point, while first lady Michelle Obama was invited to address George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

Retired liberal Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter speaks to Harvard graduates, but not one of the top 100 schools will hear from the top conservative justices still active on the high court, including Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas.

Representatives for a number of universities rejected the idea that the choice of a commencement speaker reflected political biases.

Rick Fitzgerald, senior public affairs and media relations representative at the University of Michigan, said the process for choosing a commencement speaker is different for every university. The decision, he said, centers on a the speaker’s accomplishments.

“Commencement speakers are chosen in order to inspire our graduates,” he said. “And I think [Mr. Obama] certainly meets those qualifications with his distinguished accomplishments. It is a real honor to be selected, and we had an unprecedented turnout for our graduation.”

John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at New York University, which invited actor Alec Baldwin, said the school chooses a commencement speaker through a senate comprising students, faculty, deans and administrators. The group makes recommendations that are sent to the board of trustees for approval.

Mr. Baldwin is a sharp critic of Mr. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, and a board member of the liberal People for the American Way. The decision to invite him, Mr. Beckman said, was not based on ideology but on what the movie and television actor has accomplished.

“All of the honorees are chosen because they are people who have achieved a great deal in their lives and can stand as examples for men and women graduating that day,” Mr. Beckman said. “The politics of the honorary recipients are basically unknown to us and that is not why they are being honored.”

The survey’s authors, however, insist that the results reveal a clear slant in the overall selection process.

“This year the trend proves that just as the media have been in love with Obama, so have America’s universities,” said foundation President Ron Robinson.

Boston University and a few others declined to comment. Harvard officials could not be reached for comment.

In a brief statement, Cornell officials said, “Cornell University is a very large place and we have every imaginable political stripe on this campus. We are delighted to be recognized at Cornell from so many walks of life.”

The Young America's Foundation is encouraging students to carry voice recorders and video cameras to their ceremonies to capture speakers attempting to use their speeches as a way to “indoctrinate” young audiences.

“These kids are paying a lot of money to go to these schools and graduations are supposed to be a celebration of hard work,” said Mr. Gassman. “They’ve tainted the ceremonies and that’s unfortunate.”

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