Education & Academia

Conservative Commencement Speakers Trickle in at Top 100 Universities

Young America’s Foundation’s 18th annual commencement speaker survey reveals that the nation’s top 100 universities, as determined by U.S. News & World Report, once again have mostly chosen to use their commencement ceremonies as platforms to showcase predictable leftist lectures to captive audiences of graduates.

However, while last year’s results counted only three recognizable conservatives and included a wide array of Obama administration officials, this year’s list shows slightly more ideological balance.

For the class of 2011, many schools look to successful business executives and leaders to inspire and offer guidance to their students, as many graduating seniors have one thing on their minds: jobs.  At a time when employment is difficult to attain, graduates can better benefit from hearing speakers who have successfully started companies or worked their way to the top.

Among the numerous business executives chosen to speak at commencement ceremonies this year, several are conservative as determined by their Federal Election Commission data.  Accounting for four of the 13 conservatives on this year’s list, these business giants are John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) at Duke University, Joseph J. Plumeri (president and CEO of Willis Group Holdings) at the College of William and Mary, Michael Duke (president and CEO of Walmart) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Rex Tillerson (chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Unlike the assortment of officials in the Obama administration who preached the same old, worn-out leftist rhetoric in 2010, these CEOs are much more likely and better equipped to offer graduates substantive and realistic advice and inspiration as they go off into the working world.

Moreover, there is an increase in the  number of conservative legislators slotted to give commencement remarks this year.  Speakers include Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell at the University of Virginia, Speaker of the House John Boehner at Ohio State University and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson at the University of Texas at Austin.

Conservative speakers, nevertheless, are still in the minority, and some are met with disdain by the Left on campus.  The choice of Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan, who is set to address the University of Michigan, from which he is a triple alumnus (B.A., J.D. and M.B.A.), has come under attack by leftists on campus.  They claim the decision to invite an elected official to speak is divisive, even though they had no such complaints when President Obama and President Clinton spoke in 2010 and 2007, respectively.

Obama White House officials, furthermore, have not disappeared completely from the list.  Officials including Janet Napolitano (secretary of Homeland Security), Kathleen Sebelius (secretary of Health and Human Services), Ray LaHood (secretary of Transportation), Bill Daley (chief of staff), Ray Mabus (secretary of the Navy), Robert Gates (secretary of Defense) and Regina M. Benjamin (surgeon general of the United States ) have been welcomed by liberal administrators to speak at top universities.

The ideological balance is yet again tipped heavily in favor of the Left on campus.  In fact, Young America’s Foundation found that out of 51 speakers who can clearly be identified as either liberal or conservative, only 13 were conservative.  Although this is an increase from last year’s result of only three identifiable conservatives, there remains a wide gap between the number of conservative officials and commentators welcomed on campuses compared with their liberal counterparts.

While President Bill Clinton is on the list, President George W. Bush is not.  Similarly, while Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw of NBC, Katie Couric of CBS, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, Conan O’Brien of TBS, and Wolf Blitzer and Larry King of CNN are set to give remarks, journalists and reporters including Fox News Hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity and best-selling authors Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin are left out.  Furthermore, boisterous leftist celebrities, including Tom Hanks and Billie Jean King, are welcomed on campuses while conservative celebrities, such as Ben Stein and Chuck Norris, receive no attention from the top 100 schools.

These and other leaders in the conservative movement have all garnered standing-room-only crowds at our nations’ universities throughout the past few years and would undoubtedly impart insightful and worthwhile advice to the class of 2011.

The slight increase in the number of identifiable conservative commencement speakers shows that some schools are looking beyond the rhetoric of the Obama administration to provide lasting words for their graduates.  However, the number of liberal officials and commentators who are set to give graduation remarks is still overwhelmingly disproportionate, and the lack of representation by their conservative peers highlights the stark ideological imbalance on today’s campuses.


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