Former Princeton president William Bowen had strong words for select graduating students at Haverford College.
Some students and faculty members of the private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania had protested proposed commencement speaker Robert Joseph Birgeneau. Protesters were taking aim at Birgeneau due to his position as Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley during the 2011 Occupy Cal incidents.
During those 2011 student protests, police used force to break through a line of students who were holding hands. Police in riot gear pulled students hair and jabbed them with batons in order to remove protesters using tents. The university had stated earlier that the students could protest, but not set up encampments. In a statement by UC Berkeley Public Affairs, the university stated that holding hands to block passage is not non-violent.
“It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.”
Whether Bowen agreed with the double-negative implication that holding hands is a violent form of protest or not, his opinion of how the Haverford protesters handled their distaste for Birgeneau was clear.
“In this instance, I am disappointed that those who wanted to criticize Birgeneau’s handling of events at Berkeley chose to send him such an intemperate list of ‘demands.’ In my view, they should have encouraged him to come and engage in a genuine discussion, not to come, tail between his legs, to respond to an indictment that a self-chosen jury had reached without hearing counter-arguments.”
The Haverford protesters wrote Birgeneau a letter demanding a public apology and concerning the events that took place, something stating “what you learned from them.” Birgeneau was scheduled to receive an honorary degree at the commencement. To protesters, this would have been turning a blind eye to what they believed was his incorrect handling of the 2011 Occupy Cal incidents.
Michael Rushmore, one of the graduating protesters, referred to Birgeneau’s backing out as a minor victory. Bowen replied to that remark during his speech, saying that the outcome was “… a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford – no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”
The former Princeton president didn’t leave Birgeneau off the hook either, telling the crowd that despite the protesters’ arrogance, Birgeneau should have kept his promise to attend.
“I think that Birgeneau, in turn, responded intemperately, failing to make proper allowance for the immature, and, yes, arrogant inclinations of some protesters. Aggravated as he had every right to be, I think he should be with us today.”
William Bowen received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Image via NBC News