When it comes to selecting a graduation
speaker for Spring Commencement, there is a disturbing trend that
afflicts not just the University, but also a majority of colleges
and universities — the consistent and deliberate blackballing
of conservative scholars at commencement podiums.

D.C. Lee

Almost every school in the country selects commencement speakers
from the political Left. Take a minute to think about some liberal
political figures and media personalities who have recently
delivered commencement addresses. Names that might come to mind are
Walter Mondale, Madeleine Albright, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and
Jonathon Kozol. Here at the University, our last two Spring
Commencement speakers have been Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm
and William H. Gray III of the United Negro College Fund.

This year’s speaker, David E. Davis, Jr., is the founder
and editor emeritus of Automobile Magazine, a decidedly nonpartisan
journal. That Davis’s political views are not transparent,
however, does not undermine the contention that conservative
scholars are severely unrepresented in university commencements.
According to the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the ratio
of commencement speakers on the Left and Right is 226 to 15.
That’s a 15 to 1 ratio. That’s 0.066.

Now, are these numbers conclusive proof of consistent and
deliberate blackballing of conservative scholars at commencement
podiums? No, of course not. But, it is possible these numbers tend
to prove the existence of consistent and deliberate blackballing of
conservative scholars at commencement podiums? Absolutely.

Just recently, the National Football League instituted the
“Rooney Rule,” a rule requiring teams with head
coaching vacancies to make a good faith effort to interview and
hire minority coaches. The NFL implemented the rule after a group
of civil rights advocates threatened to sue the NFL if it
didn’t hire more black coaches. So, is the fact that there
are only three black coaches out of 30 in the NFL conclusive proof
of racially discriminatory hiring practices? No, of course not.
But, it is possible that these numbers tend to prove the existence
of racially discriminatory hiring practices? Absolutely. The civil
rights advocates are right, at least in part, and the evidence
suggests the possibility of discriminatory practices on the part of
the NFL.

Moreover, a further comparison of the universities’ and
NFL’s practices shows that it’s even more likely that
there is consistent and deliberate blackballing of conservative
scholars in the commencement speaker selection process than there
is racially discriminatory hiring practices in the NFL. There are
just as many conservative scholars as there are liberal scholars,
but the percentage of whites and blacks who want to be head coaches
in the NFL is much closer to the perceived discriminatory
difference. In other words, the ratio of whites to blacks is close
to 10 to 1, and the allegedly discriminatory hiring practices of
the NFL led to the hiring of three black head coaches out of thirty
teams, a 10 to 1 ratio. Thus, in the case of the NFL, the
allegations of racial discrimination are weak. On the other hand,
the ratio of conservatives to liberals is close to 1 to 1, but the
numbers indicate a 15 to 1 discrepancy in the selection process of
commencement speakers. Thus, in the case of the consistent and
deliberate blackballing of conservative scholars, the allegations
of discrimination are very strong.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that the
Constitution and various federal statutes protect against racially
discriminatory hiring practices, whereas colleges and universities
are self-regulated when it comes to the selection of commencement
speakers. Nevertheless, in a society in which colleges and
universities claim to be bastions of intellectual debate,
wouldn’t it make sense to have a proportionate number, or
even a “critical mass,” of conservative scholars on
campuses? I’m no constitutional law scholar, but I’m
pretty sure 0.066 would not be an acceptable “critical
mass” of minority students enrolled at the University if its
admissions policies were challenged as unconstitutional, so why
should it be an acceptable percentage of conservative scholars
giving commencement speeches when the selection process has been
called into question?

Lee can be reached at
“mailto:leedc@umich.edu”>leedc@umich.edu.

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