Commencement addresses at the nation’s top colleges and universities this year mostly were given by left-leaning or Democratic speakers with few conservatives snagging the honor, according to a report released yesterday by the Young America’s Foundation.
The conservative group conducts the review each year using the U.S. News & World Report ranking of top schools. This year, it found left-leaning speakers outnumbered conservatives by a ratio of 8-to-1.
“It’s not that there’s a few cases here and there. It’s that there’s a consistent pattern where conservatives are shunned,” said Jason Mattera, spokesman for YAF. “For 14 years, we’ve shown that college administrators are using commencement ceremonies to send their students off with one more predictable leftist lecture.”
On the group’s list of left-leaning speakers were former President Bill Clinton at the University of Michigan, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, at New York University.
The list included “liberal media personalities,” such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer at George Washington University. With some schools yet to announce their speakers at the time of the review and some schools’ speakers listed as neutral, YAF found 42 “blue” speakers and eight “red” speakers.
Alexandra Acker, executive director of the Young Democrats of America, called the list laughable, especially for how it categorized who is liberal. She said “NBC Nightly News” host Brian Williams was counted as left-leaning, as was Microsoft founder Bill Gates, even though most Americans wouldn’t categorize them that way.
“They’re really going to extremes,” she said of YAF.
The YAF list described Mr. Gates, who spoke at Harvard University, as giving money “to many left-wing causes, including gun-control ballot and tax-hike initiatives.”
It described Jared Diamond, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who spoke at California Institute of Technology, as someone who “strongly believes in the leftist positions of overpopulation and man-induced global warming,” and it criticized Duke University’s president and speaker, Richard Brodhead, because he “allowed leftist professors and racists, including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, to accuse members of the Duke lacrosse team of rape.”
Ms. Acker said many of the reasons for the categorizations are “shoddy” and YAF criticized speakers for agreeing with most Americans on global warming, civil rights and health care.
Ward Connerly, a conservative activist who fights racial preferences and founded the American Civil Rights Institute, disagreed and said that if rank-and-file students could choose speakers, the list probably would look different. Mr. Connerly said he was surprised that eight of the schools had conservative commencement speakers.
“Wow,” he said with a laugh. “We’re making progress.”
Mr. Connerly said conservatives such as himself, Ann Coulter and David Horowitz rarely make it past the “gatekeeper” at top universities and colleges.
Most schools use a committee to select graduation speakers.
Steve Allred, executive associate provost and chairman of the commencement committee at UNC-Chapel Hill, called the YAF list insulting and said his committee of faculty and elected student leaders hold a high standard for their speaker recommendations.
Among the eight speakers listed on the conservative side of the political spectrum were Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the College of William & Mary, first lady Laura Bush at Pepperdine University and conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks at Wake Forest University.