Former Chancellor of UC Berkeley Backs out as Haverford’s Commencement Speaker


Commencement speakers seem to succumb to non-violent protests by students rather too quickly.

After Condoleezza Rice and Christine Lagarde, Robert J. Birgeneau - former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley - withdrew his name from Haverford College's commencement speech Sunday. Spokesman Chris Mills said that since the school already has three other commencement speakers, Birgeneau's successor will not be named.

Birgeneau, who was one of the four commencement speakers and was set to receive an honorary degree, cancelled the event after concerns were raised about his actions during a 2011 UC student protest. Police used force and batons on students who were protesting against rising tuition costs as part of the Occupy movement on the California campus. As many as 39 people were arrested in connection with the protest.

Haverford College President Daniel H. Weiss described Birgeneau as an ardent supporter of LGBT rights, faculty diversity and affordable education for the middle class.

"The Board of Managers, campus colleagues and I express our appreciation for the views of those who were opposed to Dr. Birgeneau's selection," Weiss said in a statement. "It is nonetheless deeply regrettable that we have lost an opportunity to recognize and hear from one of the most consequential leaders in American higher education."

For Birgeneau to be welcomed as the commencement speaker by the Haverford community, protestors had put forward nine conditions including a public apology and compensation for the victims among others. Birgeneau refused to comply with the terms in a letter.

Senior Michael Rushmore, a 23-year-old political science major from London, said that Birgeneau should have had at least fulfilled certain conditions and attended the commencement ceremony.

"Given that he was unwilling to do any of that, this is a minor victory in solidarity with the students at Berkeley and I'll take that," Rushmore said, Philly reports.

This is the third time in a month that a commencement speaker has backed down. Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, withdrew as Rutgers University's commencement speaker after non-violent protests questioned her role in Iraq and Afghanistan wars. On Monday Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, cancelled the invitation at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, Reuters reports.

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