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March 15, 2010

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Eric Muller

John Roberts is a "politician?"

Faculties do nothing but embarrass their institutions when they do something as bone-headed as publicly uninviting the Chief Justice of the United States from speaking at commencement exercises.

anon

Well, they could have just not given him an honorary degree, but that would be disingenuous as well:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-04-10-obama-honorary-degrees_N.htm

Chris

I disagree with Eric. Roberts may not be a politician, but he is clearly a political figure, associated with a certain politics, toward whom many law students feel negatively. By all means invite him to speak on campus, but I can understand why Butler would conclude that making him the commencement speaker would put a political cast on what should be a relatively non-political event. I might have taken a different approach to political figures, but their approach seems very defensible -- though they should certainly apply it consistently, if they apply it at all.

What they definitely shouldn't do is keep the rule but invite Roberts anyway, on the grounds that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is not a political figure or is somehow above politics. Then the school itself would be taking a political position, and one that, in my view, is very hard to defend.

Peter L. Reich

I'm sorry, but turning down the U.S. Chief Justice is nothing but a disservice to the students and makes academia seem even more irrelevant than it already is. As a lifetime progressive, I think we should not feel threatened by ideas with which we disagree. Rather, bring out the Chief and use his presence to facilitate discussion in the campus and broader communities about the political role of the Supremes, past and present. Peter L. Reich, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Law, Whittier Law School.

Scott Boone

To be clear, they didn't turn down Roberts. It wasn't as if he had accepted an invitation or indicated in any way that he would actually come and speak and they revoked the invitation. It wasn't as if Roberts offered and they said no. He was never invited to speak at their graduation.

If they open the door to inviting controversial political figures, there doesn't seem any way back for them. So what do they do next year when the student democrats organize a petition to bring in Nancy Pelosi or President Obama or when the student republicans organize a petition to bring in Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck to speak at graduation? Do they start making political decisions on who to invite? Because if they invite one controversial political figure, and then don't invite the next, they are making politically based decisions (or can at least be accused of doing so).

(Maybe they crossed that bridge with the gubernatorial speakers - or maybe their experience with those speakers led them to their current policy.)

Certainly in an ideal world the Chief Justice would not be a controversial figure, but we don't live in that ideal world. And certainly, the Butler faculty could make decision to fight for that ideal world by inviting the Chief Justice. What Peter says is very appealing, but I don't think graduation is the proper venue for that.

I think that they would be doing a disservice to their graduating students by subordinating what should be a celebration of their graduating students' accomplishments to some sort of statement about what the world should be like. Despite the best possible intentions of the Butler faculty under Peter's proposal, we all know it would very likely be a divisive event and not what the graduating students deserve.

anon

Let's get this straight. Butler won't invite a conservative Chief Justice because that would be divisive ("Last year, I watched half of the audience cheer and half of the audience frown" and "[t]hat's not what someone's commencement ought to be.") But it's perfectly fine to invite a liberal cleric to speak at the commencement of a secular university. That won't be divisive. Can you say cognitive dissonance?

Scott Boone

I can both say cognitive dissonance and say that it isn't generated here unless you are somehow arguing that Butler's rule (backed up by their own recent experiences) about avoiding political figures means that no one can be invited to speak who has any sort of political views or who can have any sort of political views attributed to them. That's not what it means. It is a specific rule addressing political figures that actually makes a lot of sense in the current incredibly divisive political climate. Does that mean now that every potential invited speaker will be perfect? No, the rule doesn't address every possible speaker and doesn't address every situation.

Never mind that you are accusing the faculty of some sort of anti-conservative agenda when that very same faculty invited a Republican to speak at graduation last year. So the faculty that invited a Republican to speak last year has some sort of liberal bias leading them to blackball conservative speakers? Really? The cognitive dissonance you are asking about is what you must be experiencing. They experienced that, saw that it was detrimental to the purposes of the ceremony, and decided to avoid it in the future.

And the President of the Disciples of Christ Church? You really can't get any more middle of the road in today's America than that.

(Plus we haven't even started discussing that this whole petition (outside the normal process) positively reeks of contrived political theater.)

Peter Reich

Scott is correct that the faculty did not "turn down" Roberts after he was invited, so we can eliminate the problem of insult. He is also correct that the Chief could be a controversial or even divisive figure. The rejoinders to that are a) any speaker is going to offend somebody; following that reasoning we should only have completely boring, anodyne addresses; and b) going further, maybe we should encourage fora for the "marketplace of ideas" -- isn't controversy part of what universities should be about, to encourage debate? Perhaps my perspective is informed by the notion that nothing is apolitical, even though some (parents of graduating seniors) might like to think so. Another argument is that it is a measure of a college's prestige that it could draw a speaker of Roberts's prominence, even if some don't like him generally or what he has to say on a particular occasion. Just to be clear, I don't think his opinions are very well reasoned jurisprudentially or supportable from a policy point of view. Nevertheless, I would rather have him than some lesser, more PC figure. Where would I draw the line? No mass murderers, so Hitler, Stalin, and Idi Amin are out (but that's just a personal preference). Other than that let the listeners decide. Peter L. Reich, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Law, Whittier Law School.

James Bennett

To bring a word of personal experience to this forum... My daughter graduated from Butler last year (Summa Cum Laude). I was present and heard Governor Daniel's address. It was not political. It was an extremely good discussion of the state of our society the role the parents had in bringint us to this place, and the role the graduates would be playing in moving the country forward. I saw not one individual who was frowning. Maybe all the frowns were in the faculty section where they were segregated in their medieval robes far from the parents who paid for those expensive degrees.

I also assert that the Chief Justice is not a politician. He has never stood for election, and has a lifetime appointment, meaning he is NOT answerable to voters. To be sure, by the time a jurist reaches the point in their career that they would be a candidate for the Supremes, he certainly will have a judicial philosophy, and that philosophy may well endear him to a politician, but thats different. By design in the Constitution, Supreme Court jurists are not politicians (although politicians may be nominated to the job).

Butler does a fairly good job of giving its students all sides of the issues, but clearly here the Faculty is overreaching and has damaged the Butler brand. I've written to the President of the school.

ann dalpiaz

I guess Obama should not have been invited by Notre Dame to speak at their graduation and receive an honorary degree.
What makes you think that Roberts would even accept an invitation? He gets invited to speak all over the world. Butler should be so lucky.

Benny

Let's get this straight. Butler won't invite a conservative Chief Justice because that would be divisive ("Last year, I watched half of the audience cheer and half of the audience frown" and "[t]hat's not what someone's commencement ought to be.") But it's perfectly fine to invite a liberal cleric to speak at the commencement of a secular university. That won't be divisive. Can you say cognitive dissonance? http://www.mediafiretorrent.com

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