Free speech or polite speech?
It is disappointing that an educator such as Boston University president Robert Brown shows such a lack of knowledge of the history and nature of labor struggles in this country (“Battle over BU speaker rages on,” Page A1, June 1). Those protesting Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav were not trying to “cancel” what he was saying; they were trying to bring to the attention of the wider public what his company was doing. The screenwriters who create the product Zaslav and his shareholders profit from are on strike and have serious grievances. Strikers and their supporters rely on picketing and other public demonstrations to keep pressure on recalcitrant management. It was too easy for Brown to wrap himself in the current definition of “free speech” as a way to denigrate legitimate labor struggles. What, one might ask, would he recommend as a more polite way to promote public awareness?
It is so heartwarming to see that our soon-to-be graduates have been taught to have such decency and tolerance — not!
I am appalled by the behavior of these soon-to-be leaders of the world. Even after prestigious educations, they have no tolerance or respect for speakers. In their lives, they will always encounter opposing beliefs. Are they to boo, jeer, and demonstrate against them all? We have lost common decency and tolerance in this country and all the expensive educations cannot replace them.
As a Boston University alumnus and retired union activist, I write in support of those 2023 BU graduates who protested the speech by David Zaslav. Contrary to the suggestions by school president Robert Brown, Zaslav was not “canceled” by a peaceful, if sometimes raucous, protest.
Whatever the original intention of Brown’s administration in inviting Zaslav, strike action by the Writers Guild had been in the cards for weeks before May 2. Against this backdrop, the decision to insist that he appear as an honored guest at the 2023 commencement came across as a deliberate provocation to many. The president’s stance created the strong impression that BU was taking sides — the wrong side — in a significant conflict between big business, personified by Zaslav as a powerful corporate executive, and organized labor.
At a time when graduates enter a grossly unequal world of work, often with staggering debts, it is little wonder that Zaslav’s appearance triggered a vocal response among so many in BU’s class of 2023.
In 1986, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government awarded Attorney General Edwin Meese III its first public service medal. Despite considerable pushback from students for the pick of Richard Nixon’s appointee repeatedly charged with unethical conduct, Dean Graham Allison went forward with the honor.
At the event, dozens of us came early and filled the majority of the floor seats. When Meese entered, we silently stood up and filed out of the building.
The next day I was called into the office of formidable administrator Edith Stokey. Uh-oh. She looked at me sternly and said, “Next time, you should all dress better.”
It was the school’s last public service medal.
Ground rules need to be set before we can talk
In “Speaking up on campus doesn’t mean shouting down others” (Opinion, June 2), the outgoing and incoming presidents of Dartmouth College, Phil Hanlon and Sian Beilock, respectively, lament the dwindling of robust debate on college campuses (and elsewhere), and its replacement by highly partisan trench warfare. Institutions of higher education are complicit in this trend, they say, by allowing biases to run unchecked and unacknowledged. I agree, but they don’t take responsibility, which they clearly have, to set the foundation upon which debate can ensue. The foundation they need to establish is basic civility and common humanity.
The presidents seem surprised that a survey found that almost 50 percent of college students would not consider rooming with a person who voted differently than they did in the 2020 election. The real surprise is the percentage isn’t higher. Consider a Hispanic student who hears echoes of the accusation of rapist and murderer. Or a Muslim person accused of terrorism, or an Asian student considered a threat to the American way of life. Or a Black person accused of unjustified violence.
There are more, of course, but the point is clear. Debate cannot take place when one side denies the right of the other side to even be in the debate. This is not a “good people on both sides” situation. Institutions must insist that entry into discussions begins with acceptance of the nation’s founding statement: All men and women are created equal. Then let’s talk about how we can make the world a better place.