Study of Bias in the Selection of Commencement Speakers at 32 Elite Colleges and Universities · 15 November 2007

By David Horowitz
Filed under: Reports

August 28, 2003

Executive Summary
(David Horowitz)

This study of the selection of commencement speakers is intended to supplement the Study of Political Bias in the Administration and to provide an independent measure of its accuracy. In this case we were able to assign an identity to all the subjects with a political profile. The results are, in fact, even more imbalanced than what we discovered in our more imperfect inquiry into the political views of faculty and administrators. The ratio of commencement speakers on the left and right was 226-15, a ratio of over 15-1. Removing the three schools that featured multiple speakers every year, the count of 172-15 still almost perfectly mirrors the similar 10-1 ratio we observed with faculty political alignment.

Commencement speakers at different universities are selected through different procedures but in almost all cases through committees composed of administrative staff, faculty, and students. They may be said, therefore, to reflect the preferences of the respective campus communities.

The position of Commencement Speaker is a high honorific and the individuals chosen are generally regarded as role models for each graduating class, reflecting values that students are encouraged to emulate. The occasion - the passage of students into society as a new generation of potential leaders - makes the selection of these individuals an important statement by the selection committee as to what that leadership should entail. For these reasons, we believe that the selection of commencement speakers is a good index of the preferences of the institutions themselves.

The list of commencement speakers has the additional advantage of being transparent. The names of most speakers will be familiar to anyone examining these results. Therefore the judgments we have made in matching speakers with viewpoints is open to instant review.

For each of the thirty-two schools we acquired lists of the last ten commencement speakers and identified them using five categories: Liberal, Democrat, Conservative, Republican and No (Public) Political or Partisan Identification. The last category is important since some commencement speakers are leaders in scientific, charitable and civic fields that are not partisan in nature.

In conducting our study we felt it was the public identities of speakers that were important for our purposes and not the fact that they may have cast a secret ballot for one political party or another. Molly Ivins and George Will - writers about political issues from opposite sides of the spectrum - are thus identified as "liberal" and "conservative" rather than "Democrat" and "Republican." Actors like Alan Alda, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Cosby and Danny Glover who publicly associate themselves with liberal causes are identified as liberals.


Summary of Results

  • Twenty-two of the thirty-two schools surveyed did not have a single Republican or conservative commencement speaker in the entire ten years surveyed. The same schools invited 173 liberals and Democrats to address their graduating classes in the same ten-year period.
  • Six of the remaining schools invited only one Republican or conservative each, as compared to 38 liberals or Democrats.
  • The three schools (Haverford, Swarthmore and UCLA) which host multiple speakers every year did not feature a single Republican or conservative speaker as balanced against 54 liberals and Democrats.
  • Overall, the ratio of commencement speakers on the left to commencement speakers on the right is 226 to 15, a little over 15-1.
  • 141 commencement speakers were not associated with a partisan viewpoint.

DATA:

Total schools surveyed: 32
Total speakers: 382
Political Breakdown: 226 Left, 15 Right (54 Democrats, 172 Liberals, 2 Conservatives, 13 Republicans 141 Nonpartisan)
Political Breakdown (without Haverford, Swarthmore and UCLA which have multiple commencement speakers): 172 Left, 15 Right (48 Democrats, 124 Liberals, 2 Conservatives, 13 Republicans, 86 Nonpartisan)

Amherst
1994 Molly Ivins Journalist L
1995 Paul J Adams III School principal N
1996 Doris Kearns Goodwin Historian L
1997 Wynton Marsalis Musician N
1998 Joseph Hartzler Prosecutor N
1999 Jim Lehrer PBS L
2000 William J Amend Cartoonist N
2001 Tom Gerety Amherst President N
2002 Peter Jennings NBC L
2003 Dr. Asma Jahangir UN official L
5L, 0R, 0C, 0R, 5N

Bates
1994 Henry Louis Gates Jr. Professor L
1995 Garry Wills Author L
1996 Chinua Achebe Novelist L
1997 Oscar Arias Nobel Peace Prize N
1998 Doris Kearns Goodwin Pulitzer Prize L
1999 Richard C Holbrooke American diplomat D
2000 Desmond Tutu Archbishop L
2001 Robert B. Reich Secretary of Labor D
2002 Stephen Weinberg Physicist N
2003 Stephen L. Carter Novelist L
2D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 2N

Bowdoin
1994 Dr. Angelo J Eraklis Hospital founder N
1995 Dr. Philip Sharp Scientist N
1996 James Eells Jr Professor N
1997 Paul R Brountas Dukakis campaigner D
1998 F Washington Jarvis Prep school headmaster N
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Peter Gomes Reverend L
2001 Mamphela Ramphele World Bank L
2002 Dr Kenneth Paige Scientist N
2003 Dr Margaret Hamburg Scientist N
1D, 2L, 0C, 0R, 8N

Brandeis
1994 Itamar Rabinovich Israeli ambassador N
1995 Daniel Schorr NPR L
1996 Madeleine K Albright Clinton Cabinet D
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Helmut Kohl Germany President N
1999 John H Glenn Senator D
2000 Desmond M Tutu Archbishop L
2001 Peter S Lynch Business N
2002 Ted Koppel ABC L
2003 Aharon Barak Liberal Israeli N
2D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 4N

Brown
1994 Michael Paley Rabbi L
1995 James Forbes Reverend L
1996 Aga Khan Muslim leader N
1997 Bill Moyers PBS L
1998 Margaret R Miles Religious critic L
1999 John Hume Ireland leader N
2000 Gustavo Gutierrez Liberationist L
2001 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court L
2003 Xu Wenli Chinese dissident N
1D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 3N

Bryn Mawr
1994 Ellen Goodman Columnist L
1995 Ilana Diamon Rovner Judge N
1996 Jill Ker Conway Author L
1997 Ariana Holborn Gray Academic N
1998 Zeba M Rasmussen Liberal Muslim L
1999 Lynne Meadow Artistic Director N
2000 Marian Wright Edelman President CDF L
2001 Drew Gilpin Faust Dean L
2002 Linda Fairstein Lawyer N
2003 David W. Oxtoby Dean N
0D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 5N
Cal Tech
1994 Jewel Plummer Cobb Trustee L
1995 Multiple Speakers
1996 Bobby Ray Inman CIA R
1997 David Ho AIDS Researcher N
1998 Bill Nye Scientist N
1999 Tom Brokaw Journalist L
2000 Ray Bradbury Writer N
2001 Gordon Moore Intel co-founder N
2002 Alan Alda Actor L
2003 Harold Varmus Nobel Prize N
0D, 3L, 0C, 1R, 7N

Carnegie Mellon
1994 Lawrence Ellison Oracle CEO N
1995 Jack Klugman Actor N
1996 Steven Bochco Producer L
1997 Raymond W Smith Bell Atlantic CEO N
1998 Jared L Cohon CMU President N
1999 Iris Rainer Dart Author L
2000 Blair Underwood Actor N
2001 Rene Auberjonois Actor N
2002 Tom Ridge Bush Cabinet R
2003 Teresa Heinz Philanthropist L
0D, 3L, 0C, 1R, 6N

U Chicago
1996 Bill Clinton US President D
0D, 1L, 0C, 0R, 0N

Colgate
1994 Seamus Heaney Poet N
1995 Vernon E Jordan Jr Clinton Cabinet D
1996 Andrew Rooney CBS C
1997 Christine Todd Whitman Bush Cabinet R
1998 George E Pataki Governor R
1999 Bill Cosby Comedian L
2000 John McCain US Senator R
2001 Dan Rather CBS L
2002 Charlie Rose PBS L
2003 Anna Quindlen Writer L
1D, 4L, 1C, 3R, 1N

Columbia
1994 Fritz Stern Professor N
1995 Tom Brokaw NBC L
1996 Robert Rubin Clinton Cabinet D
1997 Jonathan Kozol Writer L
1998 Joseph A Greenaway Judge L
1999 Claire Shipman ABC L
2000 Brian Dennehy Actor N
2001 David Boies Lawyer L
2002 David J Stern NBA N
2003 George Stephanopolous Clinton Cabinet D
2D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 3N

Cornell
1994 Dr. Mae Jemison Astronaut N
1995 Morris Dees Lawyer L
1996 Robert F Kennedy Jr Lawyer L
1997 Dr. Bertice Berry Talk show host L
1998 Keith Obermann ESPN L
1999 Sandy Berger Clinton Cabinet D
2000 Charles Schumer Senator D
2001 Janet Reno Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Danny Glover Actor L
2003 James Carville Clinton Cabinet D
4D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 1N

Dartmouth
1994 Robert Reich Clinton Cabinet D
1995 Bill Clinton US President D
1996 David Halberstam Author L
1997 Paavo Lipponen Finland PM N
1998 Doris Kearns Goodwin Historian L
1999 George Mitchell Senator D
2000 Shirley Ann Jackson RPI President L
2001 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Fred Rogers Actor N
2003 David McCullough Writer N
4D, 2L, 0C, 0R, 3N

Davidson

Duke
1994 Judy Woodruff Journalist L
1995 Dr. David Gergen Professor N
1996 Jane Alexander NEA Chair L
1997 Jimmy Carter US President D
1998 George H W Bush US President R
1999 Cokie Roberts Journalist L
2000 Elizabeth Hanford Dole Red Cross R
2001 Charlayne Hunter-Gault Journalist L
2002 Thomas K Wolfe Jr Author C
2003 Nannerl O Keohane Duke President L
1D, 5L, 1C, 2R, 1N

Harvard
1994 Albert Gore Jr Vice President D
1995 Vaclav Havel Czech President N
1996 Harold Varmus NIH N
1997 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
1998 Mary Robinson UN N
1999 Alan Greenspan Federal Reserve N
2000 Amartya K Sen Professor L
2001 Robert E Rubin Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Senator D
2003 Ernesto Zedillo Mexico President N
4D, 1L, 0C, 0R, 5N

Haverford
1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Multiple speakers
2003 Multiple speakers
0D, 26L, 0C, 0R, 12N


MIT
1994 The Aga Khan Muslim leader N
1995 Hanna Gray Uchicago President N
1996 Albert Gore Vice President D
1997 Kofi Annan UN Secretary General L
1998 Multiple Speakers
1999 Tom and Ray Magliozzi NPR N
2000 Carly S Fiorina HP CEO N
2001 Daniel S Goldin NASA N
2002 James D Wolfensohn World Bank N
2003 George Mitchell US Senator D
3D, 1L, 0C, 0R 7N

Northwestern
1994 Arnold R Weber Northwestern President N
1995 Henry S Bienen Northwestern President L
1996 Robert Redford Actor L
1997 Bill Cosby Comedian L
1998 Ruther Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court L
1999 Walter E Massey Morehouse President N
2000 Robert Pinsky Poet N
2001 Scott Turow Lawyer L
2002 Kofi Annan UN L
2003 Wendy Chamberlin Ambassador N
0D, 6L, 0C, 0R, 4N

Oberlin
1994 Romulus Linney Playwright N
1995 Johnetta Betsch Cole Spelman President L
1996 Dr. Robert Coles Professor L
1997 Allan Spear Minnesota Senator D
1998 Damon Keith Judge L
1999 John J Sweeney AFL-CIO President L
2000 Oscar Arias Sanchez Costa Rica President L
2001 William Grat III UNCF President L
2001 Dr. Judah Folkman Medical Researcher N
2002 Anthony Lewis NY Times L
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

Pennsylvania
1994 Henry G Cisneros Clinton Cabinet D
1995 Jane Alexander NEA Chair L
1996 Tom Brokaw NBC L
1997 Bill Cosby Comedian L
1998 Jimmy Carter US President D
1999 Robert E Rubin Clinton Cabinet D
2000 Seamus Heaney Poet N
2001 John McCain US Senator R
2002 Jim Lehrer PBS L
2003 Desmond Tutu Archbishop L
3D, 5L, 0C, 1R, 1N

Princeton
1994 Wynton Marsalis Musician N
1995 Jane Alexander NEA Chair L
1996 Bill Bradley US Senator D
1997 William Frist US Senator R
1998 Ruth and Tom Harkin US Senator D
1999 Marian Wright Edelman CDF President L
2000 Queen Noor Foreign leader N
2001 Garrison Keillor NPR L
2002 Meg Whitman eBay CEO N
2003 Fred Hargadon Dean N
2D, 3L, 0C, 0R, 4N

Smith
1994 Jane L Harman US Representative D
1995 Gloria Steinem Author L
1996 Anna Quindlen Columnist L
1997 Marian Wright Edelman CDF President L
1998 Elizabeth Dole Red Cross R
1999 Jane Alexander NEA Chair L
2000 Judy Chicago Artist L
2001 Toni Morrison Author L
2002 Lani Guinier Professor L
2003 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
2D, 7L, 0C, 1R, 0N

Stanford
1994 Stephen Carter Professor L
1995 William Perry Bush Cabinet R
1996 Mae C Jemison Astronaut N
1997 Stephen Breyer Supreme Court L
1998 Ted Koppel ABC L
1999 Robert Pinsky Poet N
2000 Kofi Annan UN L
2001 Carly S Fiorina CEO Hewlett-Packard N
2002 Condoleezza Rice Bush Cabinet R
2003 Alejandro Toledo Peru President N
0D, 4L, 0C, 2R, 4N

Swarthmore
1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Multiple speakers
2003 Multiple speakers
0D, 17L, 0C, 0R, 15N

Tufts
1994 Ted Koppel Media L
1995 Doris and Richard Goodwin Authors L
1996 Bette Bao Lord Author N
1997 William B Richardson Clinton Cabinet D
1998 Gary Trudeau Cartoonist L
1999 David Halberstam Author L
2000 Bill Cosby Comedian L
2001 Jim Lehrer PBS L
2002 Pierre and Pamela Omidyar eBay N
2003 Margaret Marshall Judge L
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

UC Berkeley
1994 Oliver Stone Director L
1995 Robert Reich Clinton Cabinet D
1996 Pedro Noguerra Professor L
1997 Bill Cosby Comedian L
1998 Steve Wozniak Apple Computers L
1999 Terry McMillan Author L
2000 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
2001 Janet Reno Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Jonny Moseley Athlete N
2003 Leon Panetta Clinton Cabinet D
4D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 1N

UCLA
1994 Multiple speakers
1995 Multiple speakers
1996 Multiple speakers
1997 Multiple speakers
1998 Multiple speakers
1999 Multiple speakers
2000 Multiple speakers
2001 Multiple speakers
2002 Dov Seidman CEO N
2003 Zev Yaroslavsky LA County Supervisor D
6D, 5L, 0C, 0R, 28N

Wellesley
1994 Cokie Roberts ABC L
1995 Madeleine Albright Clinton Cabinet D
1996 Nora Ephron Writer L
1997 Oprah Winfrey Talk show host L
1998 Pamela A Melroy Astronaut N
1999 Lynn Sherr ABC L
2000 Pamela Daniels Dean L
2001 Jehan Sadat Human rights N
2002 Whoopi Goldberg Actress L
2003 Linda Wertheimer NPR L
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

Wesleyan
1994 Lowel P Weicker Governor L
1995 Charles S Stone Journalist L
1996 A Leo Higginbotham Judge L
1997 Paul Simon US Senator D
1998 Oprah Winfrey Talk show host L
1999 Amartya Kumar Sen Nobel Prize L
2000 Harold Varmus Nobel Prize N
2001 Evelyn Fox Keller Professor L
2002 Martha Nussbaum Professor L
2003 Jody Williams Nobel Prize N
1D, 7L, 0C, 0R, 2N

Williams
1994 Michael S Dukakis Governor L
1995 Bernice Johnson Reagon Composer L
1996 George Bush US President R
1997 Grace Paley Author L
1998 Yo-Yo Ma Musician N
1999 Christopher Reeve Actor L
2000 George J Mitchell US Senator D
2001 Robert E Rubin Clinton Cabinet D
2002 Morris Dees Lawyer L
2003 Eric Lander Scientist N
2D, 5L, 0C, 1R, 2N

Yale
1994 Sargent Shriver Peace Corps L
1995 Kurt Schmoke Mayor L
1996 Henry Winkler Actor L
1997 David McCullough Historian L
1998 Tom Brokaw Journalist L
1999 David Gergen Journalist N
2000 Robert Woodward Journalist L
2001 Hillary Clinton US Senator D
2002 George E Pataki Governor R
2003 Thomas L Friedman NY Times L
1D, 7L, 0C, 1R, 1N