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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.

Pomp, Sanctimony – And Hope
The Ironies of a “Liberal” Education
by Carol Platt Liebau 6/2/03

It doesn’t matter how long ago one’s school days actually were. The early days of June are still flavored with the sweet taste of liberation and the memory of the exhilaration occasioned by the school year’s end, with the promise of slower, lazier summer days.

For this year’s college graduates, the exhilaration is, of course, tempered by nostalgia. For them, it’s not only the end of a school year, but the end of an era. And so, at colleges and universities across California, young people in their early twenties are gathering one final time before venturing on into the working world (or to graduate school).

Here in California, as members of the Class of 2003 are being handed their diplomas, the farewell message ringing in their ears is an overwhelmingly liberal one. In a sense, the ceremony itself becomes emblematic of many students’ college experience – an occasion hijacked by the liberal politics of the university administration, expressed through the choice of a commencement speaker.

At Mills College, graduates heard from Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat congressional representative of Washington, D.C. At Mount St. Mary’s College, U.S. Reps. Linda and Loretta Sanchez -- both Democrats -- offered commencement addresses. At Occidental, the speaker was civil rights activist Connie Rice, while at Pitzer College, feminist social critic Naomi Wolf held center stage. Liberal syndicated columnist Molly Ivins was speaker at the Scripps College graduation, Clinton White House chief of staff Leon Panetta did the honors at Berkeley, and Peter Yarrow of the ‘60’s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary offered his thoughts at San Francisco State.

The list, statewide, goes on and on. In fact, U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and Bill McCartney (founder and president of Promise Keepers) are the only readily identifiable, presumptive Republicans or conservatives to address college graduates in California this year. And no one can pretend that outstanding conservative speakers are unavailable here – California is home to syndicated radio talk show host and author Hugh Hewitt, businessman and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, U.S. Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, and aspiring governor Rep. Darrrell Issa, just to name a few.

Nationally, the situation is the same – the left-wing politics of graduation speakers mirror those of university faculties. This year, only four of the top 50 schools in the nation (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report) hosted conservative commencement speakers -- Centre College (Sen. Mitch McConnell and his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao); Georgia Institute of Technology (Sen. Elizabeth Dole); University of Notre Dame (Sen. Richard Lugar); and Yeshiva University (scholar Daniel Pipes). In contrast, former Democratic senator George Mitchell spoke at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed students at Duke, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered speeches at both Smith College and Washington University in St. Louis, and radical law professor Lani Guinier spoke at Bard College.

But while the views of the graduation speakers may match those of the faculty, increasingly, they are at odds with student opinion. In fact, according to the U.C.L.A. Higher Education Research Institute, student views are moving appreciably rightward on many issues, including sexual mores, abortion, taxes, and firearms.

Given this disjunction and the heightened emotions elicited by 9/11 and the resulting Iraq war, it was perhaps inevitable that controversy would erupt at this year’s commencement ceremonies – including the much-publicized incident when students booed and heckled the anti-war speech of New York Times reporter Chris Hedges at Rockford College in Illinois. And as spring turns to summer and a new group of young people set out to take on the world, there is reason for hope.

Back in the days when liberal students booed and shouted down speakers like Nicaraguan Contra leader Adolfo Calero (he was thereby prevented from speaking at Harvard in 1987), their rudeness was countenanced by elite opinion makers as a commendable, or at least excusable, show of “civil disobedience.” Now that conservative students have started to emulate those demonstrations of disagreement, we have started to hear a new call for “civility” on college campuses. What a refreshing irony it would be for liberals to sound the clarion call for a long-overdue, much-needed drive to bring some decorum back to the way that campus debates are conducted!

And even more importantly, as they sit one last time as a “captive audience” for a final leftist lecture, conservative college students should draw consolation from one fact: all the sanctimonious liberal academics they have endured over the past four years have done them a huge favor. The dogma that they have endured, debated and disputed has taught these young conservatives how to think for themselves, and how to understand, defend and articulate their own principles. In the crowning irony, through the disdain and opposition that is too often heaped on college-age Republicans, the liberal professoriate has created a class of conservative gladiators who – unlike their Democratic compatriots – are used to being challenged, ridiculed and even attacked. They are prepared to enter the political fray, and can do so without illusion and without fear.

So when the liberal political establishment wonders why their fevered fulminations, their constant sanctimony and their withering contempt cannot stifle the vitality of the conservative movement, perhaps they should consider one possibility: it was the training the conservatives received at college. And maybe, just maybe, that education was worth every penny.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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