Students Really Don't Want George Will as Their Commencement Speaker


George Will, the fossilized Washington Post columnist who only gets attention when he writes something moronic about rape, has been chosen as Michigan State University’s commencement speaker. Not happy: Michigan State University students, who are calling on MSU to rescind his invitation and, if they don’t, plan to protest before Will’s remarks on Saturday.

As Media Matters reports, Will is both serving as the commencement speaker and being given an honorary degree by MSU. Students there are not impressed, pointing out that Will’s main claim to fame as of late was a vile and stupid column in which he said that being a rape victim is now “a coveted status that confers privileges.” That hasn’t stopped universities from asking him to speak: he was recently paid $48,000 to speak at Miami University, where he promptly stepped in it again, telling the students he supported services for “real survivors of real rape.”

Michigan students are planning a protest, writing that the choice to honor Will is “insensitive” and calling his values “backwards and hurtful.” In response, MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon issued a very long statement defending the choice to invite him, writing that Will was chosen to speak before he wrote the controversial column, and that choosing to invite him wasn’t an endorsement of his views:

Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault.
What it does mean is this: Great universities are committed to serving the public good by creating space for discourse and exchange of ideas, though that exchange may be uncomfortable and will sometimes challenge values and beliefs. There is no mandate to agree, only to serve society by allowing learning to take place. If universities do not hold onto this, we do not serve the greater good. Because next time it will be a different speaker and a different issue, and the dividing lines will not be the same.
Holding this value in no way diminishes the value we place on student safety or our commitment to continue our efforts against sexual assault on this campus. We will continue to bring the issue into the light. Nothing changes that.

But commencement speeches aren’t actually where an “exchange of ideas” happens on college campuses; a lecture series, maybe, a Q&A, something where there’s actual back and forth between the speaker and the audience. A commencement speaker is meant to be aspirational, an example to students of what the lofty heights they can achieve after graduation.

Like, say, writing a widely reviled column about rape, we guess. Nearly 800 people have already RSVPed saying they plan to attend the protest.

Image via AP

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