Friday, May 19, 2006

More Crushing of Dissent

McCain Finds Unfriendly Audience in NYC

NEW YORK - Arizona Sen. John McCain received a cantankerous reception Friday at the New School's commencement, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised protest signs and a student speaker mocked him as he sat silently on stage.

The historically liberal university has been roiled in controversy in recent weeks over the selection of the Republican and likely 2008 presidential candidate to speak to its 2,700 graduates and thousands of family, friends and faculty.

The Madison Square Garden crowd cheered loudly as Jean Sarah Rohe said McCain "does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded."


"He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."


Sticking to the remarks he made in earlier speeches, McCain reaffirmed his support for the Iraq war but urged debate and dissent. And he repeated the theme that drew Rohe's derision.


As he delivered his remarks, several dozen students and faculty turned their backs and lifted signs saying "Our commencement is not your platform."

Some 1,200 students and faculty had signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind his invitation for McCain to speak, saying McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and abortion were not in keeping with the prevailing views on campus.

Kerrey urged students to exercise the open-mindedness he said was at the heart of the university's progressive history.

"Sen. McCain, you have much to teach us," Kerrey said toward the beginning of the ceremony, drawing a smattering of boos and hisses.

Emphasis added throughout.

What an interesting place.

In an intellectual setting where disciplinary boundaries are easily crossed, students learn to practice creative democracy—the concepts, techniques, and commitments that will be required if the world’s people, with their multiple and conflicting interests, are to live together peacefully and justly.

I wish someone would teach them to avoid an ugly and confusing word like "justly" in reference to justice (at least I assume they don't meant "to just live together").

The school has a colorful history, not all of it devoted to the notion that certain people and ideas simply should not be heard by young people. In fact, it seems to have been founded and supported over the years by people who believed rather the opposite:

Speaking at a University in Exile convocation in 1937, Thomas Mann remarked that a plaque bearing the inscription “To the living spirit” had been torn down by the Nazis from a building at the University of Heidelberg. He suggested that the University in Exile adopt that inscription as its motto, to indicate that the “living spirit,“ mortally threatened in Europe, would have a home in this country. Alvin Johnson adopted that idea, and the motto continues to guide the division in its present-day endeavors.

How much better would John McCain's life have been, one wonders, if instead of accepting military service as a young man he had spent his time in a classroom studying Sex and the City:

Behind the purposive decision to engage in one act or another by the resident, the tourist, the voyeur, stands an intricate array of assumptions about how the city is configured and defined. To a certain extent, the way the city is demarcated and defined depends on the mental templates we employ regarding various eco-structural overlays that are both natural and people-made features of the environment.

Much better, I am sure!