Commencement Bias, 2005 · 14 May 2005

By Young America's Foundation-06/15/05

A survey released today by Young America's Foundation indicates top students across the nation overwhelmingly heard from liberal guest speakers during commencement ceremonies, but more conservatives and moderate Republicans are speaking than in previous years.

Using U.S. News & World Report's ranking of the nation's top 100 colleges and top 100 universities, Young America's Foundation found for the twelfth consecutive year that commencement speakers at these prestigious institutions are heavily weighted to the Left.

Commenting on the annual study, Young America's Foundation President Ron Robinson explained, "For twelve years, we've shownthat college administrators are using commencement ceremonies to send their students off with one more predictable leftist lecture. This year, the most prestigious schools exclude scholars like Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas for the likes of Al Gore, Kofi Annan, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Zinn. But some positive changes are being made."

The long parade of liberal figures delivering commencement addresses at top schools include:

  • former Vice President Al Gore at Johns Hopkins University;
  • UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the University of Pennsylvania;
  • Writer Howard Zinn at Spelman College;
  • General Wesley Clark at Cornell University;
  • Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin at the University of Washington;
  • Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell at Dickinson College;
  • Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman at New York University;
  • Columbia University president Lee Bollinger at Lawrence College;
  • former UNICEF director Carol Bellamy at Grinnell College;
  • Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole at North Carolina State University;
  • Far-Left former Congressman Ron Dellums at Mills College;
  • activist Marian Wright Edelman at Colgate University;
  • Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume at Howard University and Washington College; and
  • Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall at Brandeis University.

University administrators' love of liberal media personalities continues. This year's cast includes:

  • NBC's Tim Russert at College of the Holy Cross, Skidmore College, and American University;
  • MSNBC's Chris Matthews at Case Western Reserve University;
  • actor Tom Hanks at Vassar College;
  • New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman at Williams College;
  • NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw at Dartmouth University and Emory University;
  • journalist Nina Totenberg of NPR at Mount Holyoke College;
  • CBS commentator Andy Rooney at George Washington University;
  • CNN field reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault at Wheaton College of Massachusetts;
  • actor John Lithgow at Harvard University; and
  • actor Chevy Chase at Princeton University.

This year's list features more conservatives than it has in the last eleven years. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at Auburn University, philanthropist Roberta Ahmanson spoke at Iowa State University, Pepperdine University Dean Ken Starr spoke at Hillsdale College, and businessman Bill Simon spoke at Pepperdine University. Yet there is a long way to go before commencements are balanced.

Notably, successful conservative media personalities such as Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Tony Snow are absent from the list of commencement speakers at top universities despite FOX News Channel's growing ratings and the success of talk radio. Instead, speakers similar to Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, and Andy Rooney appear on the list each year.

Prominent intellectual conservatives such as Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, and Dinesh D'Souza, are absent from the top school commencements while liberals such as Thomas Friedman, Howard Zinn, and controversy-ridden Kweise Mfume frequently speak at top schools' commencements.

In a time of war, there was only one military official, a liberal, who spoke: General Wesley Clarkat Cornell University. Conservative military heroes such as General Tommy Franks, General Colin Powell, and General Norman Schwarzkopf were absent from the list.

Several other incidents occurred which supplement the liberal domination of commencement speakers.

  • At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, students submitted a list of ten desired commencement speakers, including Colin Powell and Ben Stein, but not including the administration's chosen speaker: Senator Hillary Clinton.
  • Columbia Business School's commencement speaker, PepsiCo President Indra Nooyi, apologized on the company's website for comparing the United States to a country making a rude gesture toward the rest of the world.
  • The University of California at Berkeley has not one, but four liberal commencement speakers this year as part of its ceremonies. The speakers included political theorist and former Clinton advisor Benjamin Barber, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, actor Warren Beatty, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.
  • Pulitzer Prize winning writer William Kennedy asked graduates at St. Lawrence University, "Does [President Bush] actually have a mind? If he does, why don't we detect it?"

Young America's Foundation is one of the oldest and most significant campus outreach organizations in the conservative movement. For more information, visit their website.