Much of the political discourse on university campuses can be written off as harmless, but efforts to silence speakers, like those at commencement ceremonies, are ugly and dangerous.
The University of Illinois' 143rd Commencement was a big success, thanks to good weather, a good speaker and general good spirits.
If ever a commencement speaker was the perfect choice, UI graduate, former Fighting Illini football captain and astronaut Mike Hopkins was it. He's the kind of guy who makes one proud to be an American, let alone a member of the smaller tribe of Fighting Illini. Hopkins was an inspired choice.
But the general delight surrounding the choice of Hopkins here was offset by a disturbing trend at other campuses across the country with regard to their commencement speakers. Brandeis, Rutgers, Haverford and Smith joined the disgraced pantheon of institutions of higher education to suffer the embarrassment of losing scheduled commencement speakers because of campus protests.
Brandeis withdrew its invitation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who's been a victim of Islamic violence, after protesters expressed outrage at Ali's legitimate criticism of Islam. Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. secretary of state and a longtime administrator at Stanford, opted not to speak at Rutgers rather than take a chance on protesters disrupting graduation ceremonies.
Critics are certainly free to express their opinions, but bowing to what amounts to a heckler's veto is a disturbing trend.
What's even more disturbing is that college campuses — once thought to be citadels of free thought, free inquiry and free speech — are showing signs of degenerating into islands of intolerance.
Nothing could be worse for higher education, or the country for that matter, than subjecting speakers to ideological litmus tests, with only those who pass receiving a cordial reception and a fair hearing.
This, of course, is not the first time that the nation's campuses have been the site of disputes over inviting controversial speakers and allowing them to be heard. Decades ago, it was the political right wing who attempted to determine who was an acceptable campus speaker, usually targeting political leftists or outright communists. Their heavy-handed tactics ultimately were discredited.
These days, it's the left wing, sometimes operating under the strictures of a repulsive political correctness, who want to decide what other people are allowed to see and hear. This kind of authoritarian mind set is intolerable, not solely because individual speakers will be disinvited or choose not to visit but because of the dangerous precedent it sets.
People are certainly free to object to any or all commencement speakers for whatever reasons they choose. It's the university administrators who need to push back, making it clear that they will not be intimidated by the objections of a noisy minority and that their campuses will be open to all ideas. That way, everyone can be heard, and people can make up their own minds about what they think.