Are today's colleges and universities still bastions of free speech or just degree mills for spoiled kids?

One speaker brought on to replace another speaker who had been forced out surprised the students by castigating those responsible in no uncertain terms.

The stunning move by a commencement speaker at Haverford College on Sunday to use the celebratory occasion to lambaste students who had protested against another speaker drew a standing ovation but also sharp criticism.

William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton, called the protestors’ approach both “immature” and “arrogant” and the subsequent withdrawal as a speaker of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California Berkeley, a “defeat” for the Quaker college and its ideals.

Bowen’s remarks to an audience of about 2,800, plus nearly 300 graduates, added a new twist to commencement speaker controversies playing out increasingly on college campuses. Bowen — one of three speakers who received an honorary degree — faced no opposition, but chose to address the issue, calling it “sad” and “troubling.”

The controversy arose over Birgeneau’s leadership during a 2011 incident in which UC Berkeley police used force on students protesting college costs. A group of more than 40 students and three Haverford professors — all Berkeley alums — objected to Birgeneau’s appearance, noting that many of them had participated in Occupy protests as well and wanted to stand in solidarity with Berkeley students. (source)

I went to college in the 60's, an era rife with student protests and the clash of political ideas. But we invited and listened to one speaker after another. Today's students often appear to lack enough confidence in their own ideas to let their minds be exposed to alternative ideas. Most students were eager to hear opposing ideas. Sure there were the few who tried to shout down a speaker, but most sat and waited for a chance to talk to those they oppose either in a question and answer session or in a reception or by debating about the speaker in the student newspaper.

Why to do so many of today's students just want silence alternative ideas?

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At what point of life being difficult does being focused and working hard not work towards getting what you want in life?

At the point where jobs for people with less than a college degree are fewer and fewer and closer to the poverty level. 

At the point where higher education costs have spiraled out of control, saddling graduates with mountains of debt and still not ensuring gainful employment. 

At the point where those lucky enough to get jobs end up working for a company whose management decides that 3 people can do the job of 5 and in fewer hours; or they decide to cut hours so they don't have to offer health insurance; or they decide that outsourcing the jobs is the best way to increase profits. 

At the point where even if you manage to navigate that minefield and stay gainfully employed until retirement age and without any major medical problems that bankrupt you, some upper management jackhole invests your retirement into over-leveraged derivatives or some other such nonsense, loses it all, and uses his golden parachute to retire to some island.

It's an unfair generalization to blame an entire generation for this, but one can't deny the bulge in the demographics the boomers represent.  There has always been disparity, but since the 80s, when many boomers decided they would rather work on Wall Street than on Main Street, the incomes of the upper 1% have steadily outpaced and drastically left behind the incomes of the other 99%.  They (the upper 1%) have used their money and its influence to further un-level the playing field in favor of themselves and their kids, all the while suggesting that everyone else needs to work harder and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. 

many boomers decided they would rather work on Wall Street than on Main Street, the incomes of the upper 1% have steadily outpaced and drastically left behind the incomes of the other 99%. 

Which is a class situation that has been common through every generation since at least feudalism, and is the very point that I'm trying to make.

They (the upper 1%) have used their money and its influence to further un-level the playing field.. while suggesting that everyone else needs to work harder

True, and I agree that it is reprehensible. It doesn't change the fact that if you focus and work toward a goal, then you are far more likely to achieve something than if you whine and do nothing.  If somebody refuses to put forth effort, then they should have no expectations of achievement.

Since the times of feudalism, gradual changes to the class system have come about; great strides in this country especially.  A middle class has been established and had grown to become the greatest strength and backbone of this country.  The 1% have chipped away at the underpinnings, and now the middle class is teetering on the brink (or at least shrinking); and they want more.

Movements like Occupy, for example, serve to increase awareness of the ever-growing disparity.  It is social and political activism; in other words, it is doing something.  It is unfortunate it has been characterized by some media as whining and doing nothing.  But by which media?  Who owns them?  Who benefits from Occupy (for example) being marginalized?

The initial Occupy participants had a focus and worked toward a goal, and had some successes.  Me gusta.  I would be taking a closer look at some of the entryists that came in later that helped fracture the movement and reduce it's effectiveness.

I would also point out that the 1% message brings us back to an issue of socio-economic class and not a generational issue.  You would be hard pressed to convince all of the people in their 40s and 50s who are unemployed, underemployed, and working shit jobs that they've been riding high at the expense of everybody else.

I'm not saying the boomers caused all this, but it does correlate.  A significant shift in the socio-economic structure in this country occurred in the 80s.  That so happens to be about the time the boomers were reaching the typical age range of people who put aside idealism and buy into the system.  And there were a lot of them.  I don't know if they caused it; maybe it was Ronald Reagan, maybe it was the death of John Lennon, maybe it was the movie Wall Street.  Who knows? 

And I hear what you're saying.  I am 45 years old and about 8 years into my second career.  Changing careers meant more schooling, so more debt.  My company decided within the past year that I plus 2 part-timers can do in 32 hours what 4 full-timers used to do in 40 hours.  So being perpetually behind in paperwork makes for a crap job, and keeps my crap job in jeopardy.  The 1% love me.  I don't have the time, the energy, or the piss-and-vinegar to protest.  I go to work, pay my bills, and repeat.  But I'm damn glad somebody's out there stirring it up.  It needs to change; maybe they can do it.

The blame game is the first step toward giving up, because blaming is just griping and griping is notoriously nonproductive. I mean, unless the idea is to line all the boomers (or 1%'ers) up against a wall and shoot them.

I think there are a lot of pieces to this answer.  On one hand, every generation seems to look at the generation ahead and think that they did it all wrong, while the older generation looks at the generation coming up and thinks they’re a bunch of slackers.  I think that happens because people have a cynical and realistic perspective when they hit their 40s and 50s, while people in their teens and 20s have the idealism that is cognitively developed in that age group, combined with a vast lack of life experience compared to the older group.  I don’t see that factor ever changing.

we invited and listened to one speaker after another. Today's students often appear to lack enough confidence in their own ideas to let their minds be exposed to alternative ideas…  Why to do so many of today's students just want silence alternative ideas?

I don’t think this is a generational issue; I see it more as a common societal ill.  Pre-internet, people engaged each other in these discussions face to face, and were more social out of simple necessity.  Now, people tend to group into enclaves where there are fewer dissenting opinions, and people of all ages have a slower time developing the social and communication skills (or the maturity) to deal with that.  That is why you see campaigns were dissent is treated as harassment, and the whole ‘trigger warning’ fiasco which takes a sound basic concept and exaggerates it into something ridiculous.

Now, on the other side of the coin, the current younger generation (in industrialized nations) did grow up in an era of plenty, and have naturally developed expectations.  This is also a generation who (in the suburban US at least) grew up in an “everybody gets a trophy” atmosphere.  When you take the fairly well off demographic that can afford college, take into account their relative privilege and sense of entitlement, and then throw them into the real world where they quickly realize that they aren’t the special boy or girl who can do anything they want in life, it isn’t hard to see why some of them choose to act like spoiled children.

On the upside, each generation also has the hard workers, the focused, and the determined, and as in any generation, they will thrive while the whiners and the slackers slide into obscurity.

A pertinent question would be: What is the criteria each of these universities employs in determining whom will speak at these processions? Do they invite those with boring backgrounds or individuals with a controversial past?

@ Andy

I wouldn't even try to defend the actions of my generation (I'm in my late 50's) in areas such as environmental responsibility and a propensity to engage in military conflict. Baby boomers made mistakes that are adversely affecting the younger generations. We all paid the price with the housing/bank debacle. But as others have noted the Boomers have tried to make our world a better place. Unfortunately the old incumbent geezers in Washington D.C. are hellbent on lining their pockets and not seriously addressing the issues that face young and old alike. We're not all bad Andy. 

A generation is judged on it's legacy. Yeah, all boomers are not bad, but the boomer legacy is an American dream has been willfully "sold out". It's all written in the fucking fine print. I say good luck to the next generations...If they seem like slackers, I take that as a good sign. Perhaps they are generating "other priorities", such as being a honest person or salvaging the Mother Earth.

It's only a legacy if the generation foresaw and willed the bad or the good. To look back and blame boomers is to engage in presentism, the fallacy of evaluating the past based on the knowledge available to day and on today's values.

If every person in their 18-28 years today had been born in the post WW2 years, chances are they would have done all the same things. As human beings, we are all the same in many ways. What accounts for generational differences is the times they live/d in. What justifies blame?

Ok, yeah it's just business as usual, as Mr. accountant pleases his boss just trying to milk the last dime of low wage workers. As that person who could have settled the accident with a handshake, instead calls Lawyers Dewey Screwem and Howe, that engineer who is content that defective steering column in every car they build because they saved 0.32 cents per unit, or that manager who decides his performance review is more important than passenger safety. It's the manager who without a flinch outsources thousands of jobs, shuts down a plant or the school administrator who worries about profit way more than edumacation.

Let us just call it capitalism and the American way. I agree it may not be "maliciously willful", but everyone knows they are selling out in the long term and they just don't care. As an engineer, I can tell you whenever I mention "long term goals" in my capacity, I get to be very unpopular with management. Still, I always bring it up and at least the deciders get to feel uncomfortable for a while.


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